Rabbi, community help give non-Jewish couple a fresh start

Rabbi Lynn Goldstein officiates at the wedding of a non-Jewish couple in 2010 as part of her effort to help local underserved populations.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

The small lump on Roydell Mondaine’s right arm isn’t easy to spot but it’s visible if you look closely. It’s where a 9-mm round has remained lodged since 1982, a last reminder of the time when Mondaine, three days before her birthday, found herself hanging out with a man who had robbed the wrong people. She was shot nine times.

“I didn’t look for anything but just living one day at a time, doing this and doing that,” she said of her former life on the streets. “I could not even see daylight. Honestly, I could not see daylight. I did not know where I was going.”


She knows now. Last week, thanks to help from friends in both the Jewish and general communities, Mondaine seems to exude daylight. At 48, she is a radiant blushing bride. Much of her wedding, held at the Tower Grove Abbey on Tennessee Street, was the result of an effort spearheaded by Rabbi Lynn Goldstein. Neither the newly minted Mrs. Mondaine nor her husband, Darryl, 52, are Jewish but Goldstein, who among other work in the community directs the religious school at B’nai El Congregation, was happy to perform the ceremony. She met Roydell a year ago through the Healing Circle, a small therapy group she leads in association with Community Alternatives, an initiative founded in 1995 to assist underserved populations in the metro area, particularly those who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse issues as well as those recovering from torture.

“It has brought a huge healing process for our clients because we’ve done pretty well helping them with their physical and emotional healing,” said Barbara Zawier, clinical director of the group. “But we’ve not had the opportunity to go into their spiritual healing until Lynn showed up. She just accepts them exactly where they are with whatever belief system they have, brings people together and says ‘How do you want to celebrate and honor life?'”

Goldstein said she was just glad to be a part of a new beginning.

“I think Roydell said it best when she said that she had discovered that she was a wonderful person and she is lovable and deserves to be loved,” she said. “The same thing for Darryl. They’ve come to a place where through all the traumas they’ve suffered, they can believe in themselves. Through loving themselves, they can love someone else and together create something really special for themselves and all of us who know them.”

It’s been a tough road for the Mondaines, one filled with homelessness, substance abuse and incarceration on drug charges. There has also been heartache. Of Roydell’s 12 children, nine were stillborn.

Despite her history Roydell is upbeat about her future. It’s a more common response than one might assume, said Julia Day, Community Alternatives development coordinator.

“What amazes me is that in their situations what they never fail to express is their gratitude for the things that are done for them,” she said of her agency’s clients. “They are phenomenally grateful.”

It’s a simple enough equation for Roydell.

“They took time with me,” she said. “And look at where I am. I got married today and I am so blessed.”

Her new husband agreed. Despite the setbacks of the past, the future looks prosperous. Roydell said she’s been off drugs for nine months, Darryl for two years.

“We’ve come out of that and we’re just living for each other now,” Darryl said. “This is just a step to a better life for us.”

The event that kicked off that better life began to come into focus when Goldstein helped arrange the participation of others from the Jewish community in the Mondaine’s wedding. Jeane Vogel, a Crestwood photographer, donated her services to the couple. She’s done work with community organizations before including the Missouri Heart Gallery adoption project.

“She knows I’m a soft touch,” Vogel chuckled of Goldstein.

“I think it’s wonderful to provide opportunities for people who don’t normally have them,” she added. “I hope it will inspire others. In this time, everyone has so few resources and when the community comes together it really is a magical thing.”

Leslie Caplan was also there to lend a hand. Caplan has been a wedding consultant since 1982 but has been selective of the jobs she takes for the past decade. She said it’s important for the bride and groom to have their values in the right place. That’s why donating her talents to the Mondaines’ big day appealed to her.

“Whenever I see a couple like this I think ‘Yes, that’s why I spent all those years in the wedding business, so I could take what I learned and do a great big fat mitzvah,'” she said. “That feels great.”

Caplan did a lot of the legwork for the event, tracking down a DJ, a cake and even a veil, which she pulled from her personal collection. Except for donations from a local Chinese restaurant, all the food came from Jewish sources including leftovers from a recent funeral at Congregation B’nai Amoona. Like Vogel, Caplan is a congregant at Central Reform where she is on the cantorial staff.

“CRC is a breeding ground for purveyors of mitzvot,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I love it so much.”

But CRC wasn’t the only congregation represented nor was Caplan the only one on hand with a background in congregational music. Ron Eichaker, cantor at United Hebrew Congregation, sang during the Mondaines’ ceremony. He said that their story was especially appropriate given this time of year.

“This is proof that miracles happen,” he said. “These are privileges that clergy, not just Jewish but all clergy, love to do. When we are ask to perform mitzvot like this, especially in the month of Elul as we approach the Holy Days, this, regardless of religion is what life and love is all about.”

Suzy Green of Congregation Shaare Emeth helped provide transportation for the couple. Other congregants helped pick up and deliver donated breads and pastries.

“What a beautiful thing Rabbi Lynn did by putting this all together and making this a reality for these people,” she said. “It’s really a blessing. We’re lucky to have her in our faith to do something like this.”

Goldstein said it felt good to help a pair who is clearly in love.

“They’ve been through an amazing amount,” she said. “As I said during the ceremony, this is really the start of a brighter, better future. It’s a clean slate. It’s moving forward new and fresh together.”

Roydell is effusive in her praise of Goldstein, adding she has helped with everything from acquiring clothes and food to getting furniture. The emotional component through the Healing Circle has been vital as well.

“She takes time to listen to you,” Roydell said. “She doesn’t just say ‘Well, OK, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that.’ She takes her time with people and makes sure you are OK. I love Miss Lynn, I really do.”

She also credits Community Alternatives for all the help she received. Now she plans to go back to school and become a peer specialist, using her experiences to assist others.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” she said. “It has helped me to where I recognize myself better because now I open my home as well as my heart to others who, like me, needed help and I’m always there for them.”