Antoinette Matlins considers herself 'Jewish by discovery.' Antoinette was born in Washington, DC, in 1945. Although Antoinette studied ballet and was offered a scholarship to the Sadler's Wells Ballet in London, she instead pursued a bachelor's degree. Antoinette graduated from Mary Washington College at the University of Virginia with a BA in sociology. Twenty years later, she found herself following in her father's footprints studying at the Columbia School of Gemology, which her father had founded in Silver Spring, Maryland. Antoinette is a world-renowned gemologist who has written several books on gems and stones. In 1975, Antoinette met her second husband, Stuart Matlins, a practicing Jew living in New York City. They married in 1977. She formally converted to Judaism in the late 1970s in New York. After their children went off to college, Antoinette and Stuart moved to Woodstock, Vermont. Her husband founded Jewish Lights Publications, which is considered the largest independent Jewish publishing company in the world. Antoinette became one of the founders of Shir Shalom, the Woodstock area Jewish Community.
Antoinette describes her heritage, family background, and religious upbringing. Her father's Italian Catholic family came from Sicily, and her mother's Protestant family from England, Ireland, and Scotland. Her parents eloped and were married by a Baptist minister in a small wedding. Antoinette's mother brought up her two daughters in a local Baptist church, inculcating in them her personal values of tolerance and acceptance. Her mother worked as a secretary for the State Department, and her father was a professional gemologist. Antoinette recounts her educational experiences growing up and her time at Mary Washington College, where she graduated with a degree in sociology. Around this time, Antoinette parted ways with the Baptist Church and was introduced to Christian Science through her daughter's ballet teacher. When Antoinette married her second husband, Stuart Matlins, she joined him at the Reform synagogue in New York. Studying under Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, Antoinette began to explore Judaism more and found it fascinating, engaging, and in sync with her own fundamental values and beliefs. She discusses her motivation for converting to Judaism and what that process was like. Antoinette went to the mikveh, and an Orthodox rabbi witnessed her conversion so that she could be recognized as a Jew, even in the State of Israel. After moving to Vermont, Antoinette and Stuart were looking to create a vibrant Jewish community to gather and connect all year long and not just during the High Holy Days. They put an ad in the paper for a potluck Shabbat dinner for anyone interested to attend, which would eventually become Shir Shalom, the Woodstock area Jewish Community. The original congregation of about 35 people first held their Shabbat services in borrowed space at a local church. A much larger congregation now occupies a beautifully renovated barn and farmhouse on the outskirts of Woodstock.
How to cite this page
Oral History of Antoinette Matlins. Interviewed by Sandra Stillman Gartner. 20 July 2006, 28 September 2006. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 11, 2023) <https://jwa.org/oralhistories/matlins-antoinette>.
Oral History of Antoinette Matlins by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.