15 Iyar 5764
Ahuvah’s Story, Part 2: An End and a Beginning
By Sheina Medwed
It was a long, hard journey fraught with discouragement. But Dolores was determined to be accepted by the Beis Din. Finally, after over a year’s time of intensive study and at least two more rejections, the day that was to become Ahuvah’s Jewish birthday arrived.
She took a very close friend with her. Before she left the seminary, her Rebbetzin, the principal of the school, said to her, “Please come directly back here. I really don’t want you to miss the Rosh Chodesh seudah.”
“Okay Rebbetzin, I’ll come right back.”
For the weeks preceding her conversion, Ahuvah had been very somber.
“Ahuvah,” a friend asked, “is everything okay? You look sad.”
“Well, I think the seriousness of my decision is weighing on me. There are six hundred and thirteen mitzovs. Right now I only have to keep seven. But you know what, I know that the same G-d Who brought me this far, will help me keep those mitzvos.”
The long-awaited day dawned clear and bright. It was Rosh Chodesh Nissan, a day that is crowned with ten crowns. For Ahuvah it was the day she would be crowned with a Jewish soul.
After the conversion procedure, Ahuvah went directly back to the seminary but when she went to the Rebbetzin’s office, no one was there. Then she remembered that the Rebbetzin had said she would see her in the study hall. When Ahuvah turned the corner, she saw the bright pink-and-green sign saying “Mazal Tov, Ahuvah” and the brightly colored balloons.
“What wonderful people,” she thought. “What a fantastic way to start a new life!”
She placed her fingers on the mezuzah and walked through the door for the first time as a Jew. The scene that greeted her was an overwhelming outpouring of love. The whole student body and many of her friends from the neighborhood were waiting for her. As she entered, they stood up and began singing “Siman tov u’mazal tov.” Before she knew it she was pulled into a circle of dancing well-wishers. Ahuvah felt a joy she had never felt before, a joy rooted in holiness and purity.
She made it. Her long journey was both over…and just beginning.
Cries of “Speech! Speech!” went up. The Rebbetzin led Ahuvah to the podium and adjusted the microphone for her. “Ahuvah,” she said, “this is a special day for us. We are very grateful that we were able to be a part of your decision.”
Ahuvah cleared her throat and tried to regain her composure. “You all know,” she began, “that I have traveled all over the world. I’ve conducted seminars and given hundreds of lectures and I’ve had many incredible experiences, but my decision to join the Jewish people has been the most quality decision of my life. There are some people who aren’t’ here today because they are in the next world. I feel I would like very much to thank and acknowledge them and also to share a little bit more bout how I came to be here, how Hashem guided me on this path without my even knowing it.
“I’d like to start with my grandparents. My grandparents lived in Mount Bayou, Mississippi, on a one hundred and twenty-five acre piece of land bought by my grandpa. They wrote in their will that any of their descendants can go do and build the land and live there, and that holds good right up to this very day.
“I used to spend my vacation time in their home and I want to tell you that my grandparents introduced me to two things that I see even more of in your homes: shalom bayis and the sanctity of the Sabbath. Now I know that non-Jews don’t keep Shabbos, but when I describe what went on down there you will understand what I mean.
“First of all, my grandparents were gentle and refined people, married from their youth. I never heard a harsh word or a raised voice. They were interested in two things: the word of G-d and helping people. The Sabbath in their house was unlike anything I have seen anywhere else except in a Jewish home. My grandmother prepared everything in advance. She would braid our hair, set out our clothes, and cook all the food. My granddaddy would kindle the stove the day before because Grandma didn’t touch a fire on the Sabbath. After we came home from services, we would eat our meals and study together. Grandma would sit at the table and say, “Today is the L-rd’s day. Everything we do we must know we are doing it for Him.’
“I just loved to go visit them, and even when I was into my forties I would use my vacation time to fly down there.
“I also want to share something with you about my parents. My parents were always extremely supportive of my studies and my travels. But I was, to be honest, a little apprehensive about how they would react when I told them I was becoming a Jew. After I had been in Jerusalem for my first Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I went home to visit my parents and tell them my decision. We were sitting at the dinner table and I just said, ‘Mother, Father, I have something I have to tell you. I’m going back to Israel and I’m planning to become a Jew.’
“My mother looked at me with a smile and said, ‘Dolores, that’s just fine with us,’ and my father said, ‘Dolores, I hope there is something I have done in my life that influenced your decision. You have our blessings.’
“I have always loved the story of Ruth. And during this time of preparation I have thought about it very often. That little exchange with Orpah and Ruth and Naomi was extremely emotional. Orpah cried too, but she turned back. That shows us that tears are not always a prime example of sincerity.
“How does a person like me connect with a Ruth? I connect by coming into your homes. I connect by coming into a Jewish home and seeing the love and kindness generated there. I watch parents bless their children on Friday night. It just brings such joy to me because I think, what would it have been like if I had been raised like that? To have someone actually pronouncing the blessings of Hashem on me week after week – that is spiritual nurturing. Where else do you get it? That is living Torah.
“In the Jewish woman’s home I see the Name of G-d being sanctified daily. I marvel at how you women can have a family, a husband, a career and do your davening and fulfill all your halachic responsibilities with Shabbos…and with simcha!
“Whenever I walk through the door of a Torah home, I know I am entering a place of sanctity that is also a sanctuary and place of protection from the outside world. It is a place where my weariness can be refreshed and replenished. I was drawn to Judaism like a magnet. And I want to thank you all for welcoming me with such love, for taking me into your homes and for allowing me to be an intimate part of your life.”
In the book, The Bridge of Life (p. 49), Harav Tucazinksy, ztz”l offers an interesting explanation of the morning blessings, “…Who has not made me a gentile.” He asks, “Why don’t we say ‘Who has made me a Jew’?” and answers: “Because to really be a Jew – the epitome of what Hashem intended us to be – that is something we must make ourselves into.”
Yes, a Jew essentially “makes himself,” and Ahuvah Grey had made and continually makes herself into a Jew. Let us learn from Ahuvah’s story to cultivate an even deeper appreciation for our heritage, and to understand that the Jewish home is a place where individuals can, with support and nurturing, “make themselves into Jews” on a daily basis.
You can read more about Ahuvah in her book, My Sister, The Jew, published by Targum Press. Ahuvah will be in America, November-December, 2004, and is available for lectures. You can look up her website at www.mysisterthejew.com, or contact her directly at email@example.com
Look for Ahuvah’s new book, The Gift Of A Stranger, published by Targum Press.
About the Author
Sheina Medwed is the author of A Mother’s Favorite Stories, (Mesorah, Artscroll, 1998). ISBN 1-57819-298-6, www.artscroll.com
She is presently completing Live, Remember, Tell The World, The Story of Leah Kaufman, Hidden Child Survivor of Transnistria. (As told by Leah Kaufman, written by Sheina Medwed), to be published by Mesorah, Artscroll Publishers. Look for it in the bookstores before Chanukah. You can meet Leah Kaufman on the Aish HaTorah website. Look in the Holocaust Studies section in www.aish.com, where you will find her audiotape, “A Nine Year Old Beats The Nazis,” and her story, “Bubbie Tell Me Your Life,” as it appears in A Mother’s Favorite Stories.