6/15/2006

Giyur Stories

I just received the Summer 2006 edition of Jewish Action, which profiles stories of five gerei tzedek (which should be available online soon). It would seem that this was intended long before the current situation became big. In any event, the stories are interesting and often inspiring.

These articles are a part of a growing corpus of people chronicling their journeys to Judaism, many of whom use blogs to tell past and ongoing experiences – Naphtoli, Malka Esther, David (who actually makes a very funny cameo appearance in one of the JA stories), MissShona, and Ger Tzadik are but a few who have given glimpses of the process.

It’s also encouraging that many gerim are willing to speak more and more openly about prejudices that they faced before, during, and after their giyur. There’s a relatively recent book called Strangers No More by Shlomo ben Avraham Brunell, a Finnish former Lutheran minister, which candidly describes the encounters that he and his family had with the Rabbanut. He draws a delicate balance between trying to understand why the Rabbanut must operate in a particular way and feeling rebuffed and estranged by those encounters. The book is a bit preachy, but, well, the author was a preacher.

I’ll share another story – not for its inspirational value – that’s actually related to this week’s parsha (in chu”l), and is not very inspiring at all.

I’d also like to share an email that I received a few weeks ago from the apartment-mate of a woman that my wife and I have been working with, and who will iy”h be megayeret this summer. Several proper names have been changed:

This is Plonit Almonit, Sarah’s roommate.  I wanted to just tell you about an experience Sarah had this morning, as I'm sure she's too modest to tell you about it herself.
I teach 4th grade at B'nai Israel Hebrew School, and I invited Sarah to come speak to my class this morning about her conversion process.  Well, as soon as the other teachers heard about it and met her, they begged us to let their classes come and hear her speak.  So five classes, from 4th grade to 7th grade (approximately 35 students, most kids were absent because of Mothers' Day), came to my classroom, and for 45 minutes the kids asked Sarah question after question about her conversion.
Not only were the kids completely engaged by and interested in Sarah's story, but the other teachers were asking questions as well.  And the only reason the session ended was because we ran out of time-- otherwise, there's no doubt the discussion could have continued for an hour. 
When we ended, I asked the students why they thought I brought Sarah in, and what kinds of things we can learn as Jews from someone like her and the things she shared with us.  Their answers were wonderful-- they said things such as, if a non-Jew can appreciate Judaism so much, we should feel lucky to be able to come to Hebrew school and learn...We should feel proud that we were born into Judaism and not take it for granted...etc. etc.
It was an amazing morning for everyone.  Sarah was able to reach these kids on a level that sometimes their teachers cannot.  She showed them that being Jewish is a struggle, but a struggle well worth it, one in which we should take pride.  She showed them that our struggles to keep Hashem's mitzvot should not burden us, that they instead set us apart and make us special as Jews.  She showed them that being Jewish and becoming more religious is an ongoing process, and that no one can do everything at once, but can only take steps in the right direction at their own pace.  For these kids--kids who feel that the only reason they come to Hebrew school is because their parents force them to--to hear a perspective on Judaism, one that is so passionate and full of belief, coming from someone who was not even born a Jew, was an experience I know they will never forget.  And Sarah answered every question with genuine conviction.  She was great.
Anyway I just wanted to let you know about this since I know how close you are with Sarah, and since it was with your help  that she's been able to get this far. 
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