It was supposed to be just the two of us. I found a table in the corner away from the buffet and the crowd. Although we had never met, we felt like old friends, through all of our correspondence. It didn’t surprise me that we instantly recognized each other from just the emails. With a hug and a kiss we greeted and agreed to get our food first so we could talk uninterrupted. I had been looking forward to this day; Aliza was so fascinating, earnest and a seeker. She had moved mountains to get where she is today and I had been granted a short time in her travels before she was off to teach another class.
I told her since we had already discussed the many details of her Jewish journey; I was going to skip most of the preamble, unless of course I had gotten my facts misconstrue. (This actually is not such a far fetch idea considering my knack for missing details, a very poor trait considering the job I profess to have.) I jumped in and went for the jugular.
“Do you feel that you are really a Jew?’ I asked the women in front of me who teaches young rebbetzins around the world and was converted 36 years ago.
“It’s funny you should mentioned that, it was really something I was just thinking recently. You know when a non-religious Jew faces anything religious he doesn’t just look at anything with new eyes and see what is in front of him. His eyes are clouded with his past. His grandfather used to take him to shul and shared the old men herring. Or she was a girl that helped make hamantashen for Purim in her Sunday school. Or another is named after someone who was killed in the holocaust. All Jews walk around with a three thousand year history which is more based on survivor miracles. So no, I may be a Jew for my entire adult, marriage and motherhood, but I am only a Jew for a short time and can’t compete with the history that is loaded on everyone’ else’s back.’
As I was about to answer, I looked up and around the table, and suddenly there were women of my past all materialized around listening intently. My Rebbetzin, and several administrators that I knew way back when we were the students had joined us and were all listening intently. The conversation became quickly a round table discussion. Although this was a school for baeli tshuva; the concept that a convert is that much different struck everyone with a bit of a surprise. Though, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise – we know that Judaism is in the blood, so it’s not in the head and heart too?
“Does that mean we born-Jews think like victims? We owe our past ancestors to be Jews because they died for us?”
“No, you are not victims – you are survivors! More than that you are all miracles! Anyone who is a Jew today is because they survived through miracles – because there is no logical reason Jews are here – they should be a footnote in some history book. Not only is the history of the Jews miraculous that any grandmother and mother who tell their children about their Jewish stock are from a miracle too. How many mothers hid that fact in the hope to protect their children?
Baeli Tshuva come to Judaism with a past. Converts come with a future. They are in touch with the beauty. My husband used to tease me that I became a Jew before I ever met a Jew. If I had known how they really function beyond textbook information, he says, I might have had a change of heart then. ”
The women at the table were fascinated and plied her with many questions, until she needed to leave for the speech she was giving to the new girls who just arrived to the Jerusalem school for baeli tshuva women. I asked if I could accompany her.
Smiling and immediately gaining a good ambiance with the young women; Aliza asked the girls, “How many of you were born after 1980?” At which point most of the girls raised their hands. “Well, that makes me longer a Jew than most of you. I am a convert. Thirty – six years ago…”