OU’s Magazine Spotlights Remarkable Stories of Converts

29 Jun 2006

In a multi-part cover feature, Choosing Judaism, the Summer 2006 edition of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine presents six compelling stories of remarkable individuals who uprooted their personal lives and converted to Orthodox Judaism. Each article offers a detailed look at the inner turmoil and critical thought process that accompanied their monumental and life-altering decision. As the introduction to the profiles states, “We hope that the lives of these extraordinary individuals, all of whom demonstrate the true meaning of genuine geirut (conversion), will serve as a profound source of inspiration to all of our readers.”

• “The past can be recreated…a person always has the opportunity to change.” With this statement, Dr. “Daniel Brown” — a direct descendant of Adolf Hitler, mastermind of the Holocaust — talks about how he rejected his horrific legacy and decided to become an observant member of the very people his diabolical relatives sought to destroy. The article vividly describes how Brown, forced as a youth living in post-war Germany to acknowledge his family’s role in the mass slaughter of European Jewry, went on to question the validity of his Christian beliefs, traveled to Israel to explore Jewish theology, and finally became convinced that his purpose in life would be fulfilled by living as an Orthodox Jew in the Holy Land.

• Raised in a Gentile home where religion was not a factor, teenager Sue Zakar’s search for meaning led to an interest in the Jewish faith, which became fully ignited when she felt emotionally tied to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. With her immersion in Conservative Judaism and subsequent conversion under that movement’s auspices, “Shoshana” married and had children, satisfied that she and her offspring were authentically Jewish. But when she engaged in extensive online discussion with Jewish respondents many years later, Shoshana discovered that her conversion did not conform to classic Jewish law. “I felt like I was returning my soul,” she says. “It was very difficult to hear.” Shoshana’s struggle to overcome this unexpected obstacle will surely inspire readers, and they will feel the joy expressed in the message she finally sent to her online friends — “I just wanted to let you know that I have finally come home!”

• It’s hard to imagine a greater personal transition than the one experienced by Nobutaka – now Moshe – Hattori. Growing up in his native Japan, Hattori’s affinity for Christianity and intellectual prowess led to his becoming a prominent Protestant minister. Yet despite his high church profile, the young man was persistently bothered by doubts about the beliefs he was supposed to represent. Enamored of the Hebrew language, Hattori found himself inexplicably drawn to Jewish practices, gradually incorporating them into his daily life until he reached the moment of truth. “I realized that I no longer believed in the Christian faith,” he states. Hattori’s conversion to Judaism in Israel and development into a recognized Torah scholar makes for captivating reading.

• An Orthodox Jewish couple in the wilds of Montana? If that’s not unusual enough, consider Devorah and Gavriel Snyder’s individual backgrounds. Devorah – -originally Patricia – – grew up a Lutheran with increasing doubts about her church’s teachings. When she married Robert Snyder, who shared her faith and her disillusionment, they moved to Montana and ran a business with a Jewish partner. Joining him on a trip to Israel, the couple took notice of Jewish beliefs and followed up back home with intensive Torah study that served to quell their spiritual confusion. “The Torah gave me answers to all of my questions,” Devorah asserts. The Snyders’ efforts to convert and their current status as sole representatives of Orthodox Judaism in rural Montana will fascinate Jewish Action readers.

• As an African-American youth, Delores Gray was suffused with her grandmother’s love of God and the Bible, a mindset that in her adult years became more focused on Christianity’s Jewish roots. Her devotion led Delores to become a licensed minister who took religious tour groups to Israel. On one visit there, she fell in love with the Hebrew prayer book and committed herself to the traditional daily prayers. Ultimately deciding to move to Israel, Delores was praying one day when, “All of a sudden,” she recounts, “I became very emotional and exclaimed, ‘Oh my God, I think I am a Jew!'” Her subsequent conversion and embrace of Orthodox Judaism have made Delores – now Ahuvah – a popular role model for those seeking greater Jewish fulfillment.

• He could have become the king of Swaziland in his native South Africa, but Natan Gamedze was constantly feeling pulled towards an even higher position in life. While studying overseas, the would-be prince became intrigued with Hebrew and immersed himself in classic Jewish texts. In Israel to further his college studies, Gamedze’s desire to learn more about Judaism inspired him to enroll in a yeshiva there. Soon feeling overwhelmed by his quest’s intensity, he sought escape in Rome, only to find himself confronted with situations that mystically aroused his budding infatuation with Judaism. “I felt that Hashem (God) had been waiting all these years for me to recognize that I possessed a Jewish soul,” Gamedze states. The article profoundly conveys this convert’s fervor and current efforts to publicize his spiritual journey.

Other highlights of the Summer 2006 issue of Jewish Action include a special section on mourning and consolation in Jewish practice; a revealing profile of the late Baltimore Jewish communal leader Rabbi Naftali Neuberger; a powerful first-hand commentary by a religious Zionist youth on the current civil strife in Israel; and a photo essay on the burial of hurricane-damaged Torah scrolls in New Orleans. To obtain a copy of the latest Jewish Action for your editorial consideration or review, call (212) 613-8147.