(OpEd published on NRG in honor of Shavuot – 5 June, 2014)
“One Day I Found Out I Wasn’t a Jew”
At the age of 27, in the course of registering for marriage at the Israeli rabbinate, Luisa discovered that she was not Jewish according to Jewish law. Now, after completing her conversion process, she describes her way back to the fold.
By LUISA SOSA
Since I was born, in Argentina, I have lived my entire life as a Jew.
Growing up, my family lived for a while in Israel, but my parents returned to Argentina where they live to this day. I came back to Israel as part of an educational program and studied at the University in Jerusalem, where he met Joseph. We fell in love to the depths of our souls and after some time passed, we decided to get married.
The wedding date was set and, like any couple, we went to register at the rabbinate. That’s when I discovered that I would have to undergo a process confirming my Judaism, part of which involved providing proof of my parents’ Jewishness – especially my mother’s. I presented authorization from our community rabbi in Argentina, but the Chief Rabbinate did not accept it, because my mother had undergone a Conservative conversion. Thus, I found myself suddenly thrust out of the Jewish fold which had enveloped me with warmth and significance for 27 years.
How could this happen to me? I couldn’t understand. I felt Jewish, I lived as a Jew, I grew up in a home that always lit candles on Shabbat and made Kiddush. Even the identity of my mother on her Israeli identity card is listed as Jewish.
The questions rose and flooded me with anger and despair – why me? Why was I being punished? My parents also had difficulty accepting the decree and did not understand how it could be possible; nor did Joseph’s traditional family understand how the the young lady they had so warmly and lovingly embraced into their family was not actually Jewish according to halacha.
Given the fact that the wedding date was set, we felt helpless. And then we came across the Ohr Torah Stone Conversion Institute, which helped us understand for the first time that along with the anger, frustration and tears, the only solution was to go through the conversion process.
With the wedding just around the corner, the Institute applied to the rabbinate for special dispensation for a crash course and intense conversion procedure. And so we embarked on six months of intensive learning accompanied intimately by the Institute’s staff every step of the way. We traveled several times a week for an hour each way to study at the Institute; we were adopted by a wonderful, Orthodox family affiliated with the Institute; and we prayed to be able to finish the process on time for the wedding. The Institute itself was not difficult for me as Judaism has always been part of my life. Rather, for me, the emotional aspect was most challenging.
With the help of the Almighty and with the spiritual, emotional and practical support from the Institute’s team, we completed the process and just a few weeks before the wedding, my long-awaited conversion was approved. We were married in a Jewish ceremony, with the staff of the Institute accompanying us and playing a pivotal role in our wedding. They were wonderful, good people who will doubtless continue to guide me and for what they did on our behalf, we will forever be grateful.
In retrospect, now that I am married with children, I can look back at these things as an empowering experience and be happy that the process passed and that I was able to return to Judaism – even though in my heart I never even left.