A retired Marine, deputy sheriff Ray Pendleton takes a spiritual journey into Judaism

Ray Pendleton at the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem during his recent visit.

I don’t know too many Marines who become sheriffs who become Jewish. Okay—I don’t know any. 

When I heard about Ray, I had to meet him.  Thus I found myself at Starbucks, sipping a frappuccino with a mild-mannered guy who can be tough when need be—and a recent landsman (Yiddish for fellow Jew).

For 20 years in the Marines, Ray was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and at camps in CA and NC.  He was a small arms and drill instructor and assistant game warden. In ’96, he left the military, enrolled at the U of NC and earned a degree in criminal justice. From childhood in Sarasota, Ray also had a sensitive side and enjoyed the Ringling Museum. Later in college he got a special kick out of his art appreciation class. His teacher, who’d been with Sarasota’s Ringling College,  showed slides of artworks Ray recognized.

Ray Pendleton ready for his day job in his sheriff’s department uniform.

In 2003, Ray joined the Sarasota Co. Sheriff’s office patrol south desk in Venice, FL. He fields calls on assaults, theft, threats, burglaries and scams.  He especially enjoys helping elderly fraud victims recover money stolen from them. One hysterical woman came in and said she’d just wired $4,000 to a scammer. Ray got the receipt, called Western Union’s fraud line and canceled the transaction.

His success that time was rare, Ray says. “Most victims wait too long to ask for help. Many elderly victims of sweepstakes scams are so convinced they’re winners they keep sending money even after I warn them everything the scammer told them was a lie.”

Ray’s parents and grandparents practiced Christianity. As an adult In Sarasota, Ray attended an evangelical Christian church. His daughter, Rhea, thought her father should broaden himself. For one birthday, she gave him a Tanakh, which he recognized as books from the Christian Old Testament he had known. Reading it, Ray decided to attend nearby Temple Emanu-El.

“I really enjoyed that,” he says.  “Especially the music.”

Ray’s first Jewish service was on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. He went to church as well that weekend and was surprised there was no mention of the Holocaust. Ray continued to attend Sabbath (Friday night) services. “I sat in back so if I made a mistake, I wouldn’t embarrass myself.”  He stayed after for the Oneg Shabbat, or social hour.  Renee Gold, past president, Michael Richker and other temple members befriended him.

Rabbi Brenner Glickman suggested Ray attend conversion classes. In 2015, Ray and 2 others dunked under water 3 times as part of the conversion ceremony. Siesta Key’s Gulf of Mexico was  the mikvah, or ritual bath. The service was attended by Ray’s daughter Rhea, whose gift inspired the moment, and many friends. Maggie Mandell and Anthony Koliday converted as well. Maggie and husband Brad welcomed everyone back to their Siesta Key home to celebrate.

Ray’s colleagues are supportive. They’ve volunteered to cover his shift so he can attend Friday night services. One fellow deputy is Jewish.

Traditionally, the Jewish religion doesn’t proselytize. For centuries, antisemitism was so prevalent that Jews in many parts of the world had to practice in secret if at all. In some places, conversion was illegal. Even today, most conversions derive from  interfaith marriage.  Hence my surprise at Ray’s story.

Ray describes his wife Lee, also raised Christian, as “agnostic.  A great person though not religious.”  Lee works in custom cabinetry as a designer/estimator. Lee neither encouraged or discouraged his conversion. “Her attitude was I should do what I want:”

Ray has helped develop a security program for the temple. He researched online what other institutions were doing came up with a plan for dealing with an active shooter incident. He joined the security committee at the temple. “Houses of worship are different than other places groups gather. Synagogues and churches are supposed to be open and welcoming, places you go to forget the craziness in the outside world.”

Rather than metal detectors and wands, the temple uses “reasonable precautions.” They contract with a private security company and off-duty sheriff deputies. During services, a guard is on duty in a marked car with lights flashing. Fourteen temple members, men and women, are Shomers (watchful eyes), responsible for noticing anything suspicious.  Ray oversees them.

Ray getting into his special uniform as a volunteer with the Israeli army, helping out at a base in the Negev Desert.

Ray is just back from 3 weeks in Israel.  He volunteered with Sar-El (Volunteers for Israel) on an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) supply base, helping to inventory equipment for reservists.  He also volunteered to raise the flag in the morning.

“It was an honor to raise and salute the Israeli flag, the symbol of an amazing country and people. The flag represents not just a 70 year history, but the struggle of a people to be free and secure.”  Each morning after the flag raising, the 12 volunteers in his group were led by their two IDF group leaders in singing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem.  (Hatikvah is Hebrew for “The Hope.”)

Ray spent a 3rd week touring Israel. A favorite visit was the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. He toured both the Jewish and Arab sides with a Palestinian guide, ate falafel from a street vendor and drank “the best coffee in Israel.”


Ray doesn’t find his conversion as remarkable as I do.  Seeking some deeper meaning, I ask: Why did you start attending Jewish services in the first place?   He shrugs and says, “I really don’t have a coherent answer.  It’s just how it worked out.”

Glad it did, Ray.  Thanks for your service.  And for attending ours.

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9 thoughts on “A retired Marine, deputy sheriff Ray Pendleton takes a spiritual journey into Judaism

  1. Rabbi Brenner Glickman

    Suzy, I am so glad you found Ray! But you have a talent for that. He is such a blessing to our temple and our people.

  2. Suzy Farbman Post author

    as emailed from Burt Farbman
    Sounds like a man of great character. Great read.

  3. Suzy Farbman Post author

    as emailed from Barry Gerber, president of the Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood
    We at the Temple are fortunate to have Ray as a member. I consider him a dear friend and a real mensch.

  4. Michael Richker

    Are you going to be at TEE on Sunday, April 22nd. For the Ray P. event?

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