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My long way back home...

B”H

My long way back home...

After many years of soul searching, being restless, feeling spiritually unsatisfied and a trip around the world I visited Israel for the first time in the beginning of 2004 to visit some friends I met when travelling. I couldn't imagine at the time that my life would never be the same again. Israel and the Jewish people touched my heart and soul. After I spent some more time in Israel, I kept Shabbat a few times and I celebrated some holy days with friends. I became more and more touched and inspired by the Jewish religion. Back in The Netherlands I slowly started to keep kosher, practice the mitzvot, say the berachot and to keep Shabbat by myself. It all started to make more and more sense. There is so much wisdom and knowledge in the Torah, it's incredible. For me there is no doubt that the Torah was given to the Jewish people by G-d himself. Over the course of a few years my desire to become Jewish grew. It became my deepest wish. I hoped and prayed to find my soulmate and to raise a family with Jewish values, traditions and religion. So of course a non-Jewish man was no longer a possibilty for me. My family found this difficult as I wasn't that young any more. But I felt this was my path, so I didn't give up on it.

As I didn't know anybody Jewish in my area in The Netherlands, it was not easy to make the first step towards giur. After checking the possibilities for giur I contacted Aryel Tsion in July 2012. He is originally from The Netherlands and made Aliyah with his family and lives now in Susya. As the international relations director of Beit Moriah in Be'er Sheva he visits The Netherlands regularly for lectures about Israel and to raise funds for Beit Moriah. He told me about Meïr Villegas Henriquez who used to work for the CIDI (Centre Information and Documentation Israel). He started a group for Torah study in Rotterdam called Ohel Abraham. Jews, Noachides and others with love for Torah get together weekly. Aryel also told about the option to study via Skype with Rav Ahron Daum in Antwerp to prepare me for the giur-process. I started to visit Ohel Abraham regularly. After meeting Rav Daum in the spring of 2013 I started to take lessons with him via Skype on the 5th of May 2013. He taught me all about Judaism starting with the basics. He taught me the Aleph Beth, to read Hebrew, to read some short prayers in the children’s Siddur, till I could read all the prayers in a regular Siddur (in my case the interlinear Artscroll - Ashkenaz). We started to study various parts of all subjects that are important for Jewish life, like shabbat, kashrut, the Jewish calendar, holy days, life cycle, the prayers, the brachot and Jewish history. In the beginning I studied just 2 hours a week with Rav Daum online as I was very busy with my former job. At the end of 2014 we went up to 4 hours a week.

At the beginning of August 2013 I finally met, B”H , my soulmate J. Fernandez. In February 2014 I quit my job in The Netherlands and now I partly live in Brussels to bewith J.. As we were not that young anymore and I knew I had some physical problems to get pregnant we decided to focus on building a family first and keep working on the giur in the meantime. After checking out various synagogues in Brussels and some good advice of Rav Daum we went a few times to synagogue Ma'ale in Avenue Messidor of Rav Shmuel Pinson. We felt welcome here and a big plus is that Rav Pinson and his wife speak English very well and there is quite big, nice and active community. J. started to go this synagogue several times a week and to put on tefillin daily.

In the meantime we started the IVF-treatment to ralise our wish for a family. During our visit to Israel we celebrated Rosh HaShanah with Jacque’s family and prayed at the Kotel. Back in Belgium on the morning of Sukkot in 2014 we found out that I was pregnant and it had happened in Israel in the natural. As doctors had claimed that I couldn't get pregnant naturally, this is a real miracle. We were given the most precious and beautiful gift: a baby. Since I started to study for my giur I finally met my soul mate. The pregnancy was for me another proof that I cannot be separated from Israel and Judaism. I finally found my way back home!

At the end of 2014 Rav Daum and I went up to four hours a week. Rav Daum encouraged us to move closer to the synagogue as we used to be almost an hour away from Ma'ale. Due to the pregnancy and upcoming winter it even became harder to go to synagogue regularly. After a while we managed to rent out our own apartment and to rent an apartment very close to the synagogue. Rav Daum made us aware that it was important to kasher our kitchen before we moved in. Unfortunately the internet connection in the new apartment isn't very good. This made the reading of the Siddur in the Skype-lessons with Rav Daum challenging sometimes. As we are now part of the Ma'ale community Rav Daum suggested to me to ask Rebbetzin Shulamit Pinson to help me study the subjects Taharat Mishpacha and Lashon HaRa. I had to suspend my studies with Rav Daum when our son E. David Ari Fernandez was born on the 30th of May 2015 (12 Sivan 5775). As he was very thin and weak, he stayed at the hospital for a month. He already underwent two small surgeries and was miserable during the first 5 months of his life. His Brit Milah was postponed until January 2016. It was performed in the hospital by Rav Pinson and two witnesses for the purpose of giur and with the help of a urologist. We did a small kiddush at home and I was so happy his Brit was finally done and he was ready now to become Jewish together with me when I will pass my giur.

Due to the hard start for our son it has been impossible for me to continue to study properly for my giur. But now we managed to create enough time to catch up and study a lot. So in February 2016 I asked Rebbetzin Pinson if she could help me with the final stages to get me ready for my final exam for my giur. It's an advantage that we do the lessons face to face and as a woman it's more comfortable to talk to her about female matters, like the laws of family purity.

As the lessons with Rebbetzin Pinson are more practical for me, I decided with a painful heart to suspend studies with Rav Daum for now. All together, I had a 165 hours of study with Rav Daum. I owe him a debt of gratitude and a big, big thanks. He taught me to read Hebrew and to read the Siddur properly, with a lot of patience as languages have never been my strong point. He encouraged me to take some important steps like quitting my job in which I had to work sometimes on Shabbat, to look for and move close to a Jewish community where we feel at home, to get the kitchen kashered, to have our son circumcised for the purpose of giur and so on. He taught me extensively about the Halacha. Without his help I never would have gotten so far. It has not always been easy to teach me as I wish my memory would be better. I want to thank Rav Daum and his wife Francine for receiving me and many others so warmly in their house, for the shared knowledge and all they did to help me on my path to Judaism.

B. van der Hoek

14th of Iyar 5786 (Pesach Sheni)/23rd of May 2016

Brussels , Belgium

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