A third-generation Texan, Debra's prowess as a poet began early when her poem, "God is Everywhere," appeared in the monthly edition of Dallas' Temple Emanu-El newsletter. This was actually the instance of her first recorded publication, and at the time the third-grader was pretty sure based on this early success that she would grow up to be an award-winning author. Her writing career was sidetracked a bit when she attended her big brother's band concert where the first chair flute player won the most medals. Debra wanted medals! She took up the flute and decided to be an award-winning flute player, so countries would pay her to perform, and that's how she would sponsor her love for international travel.
Known for being in the right place at the right time, Debra was the third girl to be bat mitzvahed at Temple Emanu-El, in 1973, when the Reform movement decided it was kosher for girls to become adults through this ritual. Fast-tracked through learning Hebrew, Debra's perfect pitch stood her in good stead as she memorized the trope from the cantor's cassette tape recording in record time. She did, in fact, earn many medals playing her flute and has a whole box of medals to show for it. Although countries have never offered to pay her to play her flute for them, she did one time play the theme song from "Exodus" on top of Mount Masada in Israel as the sun rose over the horizon.
Following her confirmation from a conservative shul, her love for Judaism took a back seat when the Rabbi she adored had an affair with the Sunday school teacher she also adored, and at the age of 16, she turned her back on shul, refusing to participate because of the hypocrisy involved. She returned to shul after a 29-year hiatus to say Kaddish for her beloved mother, Ruthe Winegarten. The daily minyan practice "took," and eight years later, she finds herself attending minyan almost daily. She came to adore her minyan mates so much, that she got inspired to start a Facebook site called "Mitzvah Minyanairres" where 6 days a week, she posts one of the 613 mitzvot and encourages the group to take action based on the daily mitzvah.
Along the way, she got a couple of degrees in sociology, one from Texas Woman's University, and a master's from The Ohio State University. She decided to study sociology because she's interested in almost everything and knew in that discipline, she'd never run out of things to learn. She lives in Austin, Texas with her heart partner, Cindy Huyser, whom she loves to the stars and possibly beyond, and a multitude of cats. Her mother once advised her as a writer "not to quit her day job." "But Mom," she protested, "I don't have a day job!" "Then get one," her mother said. So she did. Now she works for the Department of Astronomy at UT Austin, where she is the First Undersecretary of the American Astronomical Society. By night, she writes.
Lesson given by Debra Winegarten:
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