A Note from Eastern Europe

Dear Friends,

Last time I wrote to you about a remarkable story of peoplehood. I met a young woman on my mission to Israel and Eastern Europe, Natasha, who I was distantly related to. She grew her Jewish identity through the web of Jewish Agency offerings. In response to my Musings, I got the gift of another story. With permission, I’d like to share a piece of Amanda’s e-mail with you.

Your email really came at a good time for me to read. You see- I'm a young Jewish woman who up until the last few years - had little identity to speak of. I was adopted out of a bad situation at the age of 5 with a brother and sister. My biological mother is a Jewish woman- but she was unable to care for us. My biological father is a drug addict with an extensive prison record and is (brace yourself) a member of the Aryan brotherhood. I also have cousins that are shot callers in the Nazi Lowriders. Obviously- not the ideal environment to be raised in. Anyway, I was adopted by a nice family. Stay at home mom and dad was a cop. We were raised Catholic but I always felt somehow different.

This young woman looked into her background and discovered that her birth mother is Jewish. She found her first family and studied with a rabbi and is now going to Israel herself, hopefully with the help of Masa Israel Journey. She concluded with these words: “I love being Jewish - and I love the mystery and passion we as the Jewish people have. I'm so proud to be Jewish.”Hers is a story of discovering a powerful hidden identity that is now a source of pride.

I write this in the wake of immense turmoil over the conversion bill in Israel and link you to an op/ed I recently wrote for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about this critical topic.

Maimonides, the medieval Jewish thinker, answered a convert who wondered if he could pray referencing the language of his ancestors since he just became Jewish, that when a convert prays he or she uses the same wording. Why? Because when you become Jewish, you inherit the past as well as change your future.

Amanda, welcome to the family. May we all embrace those who want to become part of our people, those with biological roots and those who make the courageous choice to join the fate of Am Yisrael, the Jewish nation.