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My lifetime desire to return to my Jewish roots

My lifetime desire to return to my Jewish roots
Judaism and Israel have been an integral part of me since I was born. As the Dutch/Israeli child of an Israeli father of Sephardic origin and a Dutch mother – however – my Jewish identity was always coupled with a feeling of incompleteness that was reflected in a long spiritual and physical journey that I can only apprehend today, when looking back at my life path so far. As so often in life, it is only in retrospect that one can better understand the course of one’s life experience that is so unique to each human being. It hides lessons of one’s unique development as an individual soul, bestowed upon oneself with its own unique and divine message of development during its physical lifetime.

My longing for Judaism and Israel is probably strengthened because of of my early childhood experience in Israel. My parents migrated to Israel in 1985 – on Aliya – and decided to continue their life in Israel, in the moshav of Reg’ba in the North. While in ulpan my mother immersed herself in Hebrew and Judaism, the distance from her parents – who were living in Holland – made it too difficult for her to stay in Israel and thus my father decided to go back with his family and continue life in Leeuwarden (North of Holland). Although my mother had not finished her giyur in Israel, me and my brother were raised in a liberal Jewish manner whilst living in Holland and my mother followed my father’s Judaism in daily life. We celebrated all Jewish holidays, ate in kosher style, were part of a Jewish community and identified ourselves as Jewish.

Feelings of longing for Judaism were first expressed when I was six years old; probably also as a consequence of my childhood experience in Israel. I remember well that listening to a Israeli folksong on the radio (by Shoshana Damari) made me cry in front of my parents saying that I was missing Israel. This led to my first trip with my father to Israel that I can still remember. Many other holidays would follow that strengthend my bonds with the country.

From my adolescence until my late twenties, I have been engaged in a spiritual and physical journey that would take me to many countries, immerse me in several languages and cultures. This path of soul-searching coincided with the years of my PhD that I am finishing today. In some regard, one could say that it is the end of a long cycle which has made me realize that my identity is Jewish and that I would like to raise a Jewish family. It all started in 2007 when I moved to Paris to start my Master’s in Political Science , pecializing in the politics of the Middle East. I have had a long-time passion for the Middle East and this is inextricably linked to my Jewish and Sephardi roots. What started as a bold decision – moving at the age of 23 to Paris – resulted in a long period of personal development? Throughout my studies, I had to accustom myself to the Arab world, its language and even lived for times in Egypt and Kuwait as part of my doctoral fieldwork. I always wanted to understand the ‘other’. Yet, it is these experiences that only strengthened my Jewish identity and faith and I now see why I needed to pass through this journey of research, which made me realize that Judaism is such a strong part of me that it has come necessary to complete my identity and return to my Jewish roots by converting according to the halacha.

It is often by stepping out of one’s group and context that one can better understand one’s real identity. It is also via the other that we define our identity and this experience in the Arab world was important in my life path in order to complete my Jewishness. It was likely part of my destiny to live in Kuwait and meet two Jewish students there with whom I could celebrate Shabbat and whose friendship has been invaluable. Antisemitism unfortunately is so much engrained in the Islamic culture today, that were confronted daily our Jewishness. This only served to strengthen my longing for Jewish life and the possibility to practice it to the fullest, spiritually and in a community. It also made me understand that the only community with which I fully identity is the Jewish one.

Although I always went to the synagogue and local Jewish communities in the cities where I lived (Paris/Geneva/The Hague), I often felt incomplete in my Jewish identity. As a patrilineal Jew, I am not considered Halachicaly Jewish. I always found this difficult, as it does not represent my inner feelings and way of life. Descending from a pious Sephardi (Cohanim) family with rabbis, me and my brother have deeply felt connected with Judaism. Actually, both of us feel the extreme desire to return to our Jewish roots and I believe this is a consequence of our genetic belonging to the Jewish people. I also feel that the moments of religious celebration in the Jewish community are truly joyful moments and that following my heart means continuing my Jewish development.

Another reason for my desire to return to my Jewish roots is my wish to immerse myself in Judaism and to be able to start a Jewish household. Having almost finished my PhD, I would like to spend more of my time working towards the fulfillment of this desire and learning about the beauty and the mysteries of Judaism in order to be able to transmit it to future generations and keep the community alive.

As real intensive Torah-study prepares oneself and sets the stage for real-life struggle and vice-versa, I believe that my personal struggle with the Jewish question has prepared me for immersing myself in the Torah’s message. In some way, this path towards fulfillment will always be incomplete (as the Torah is not about the fulfillment of dreams), yet knowing which path to take means living Jewish life to the fullest: wandering, struggling and preparing.

Rivka A.
Leeuwarden, The Netherlands
25th of October 2015

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