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A personal tribute concerning my respected teacher and dear friend Rabbi Ahron Daum, shlita

B’’H

25 Tishrei 577
223 October 2011

A personal tribute concerning my respected teacher and dear friend Rabbi Ahron Daum, shlita

It is with great and sincere pleasure that I recommend Rabbi Ahron Daum, shlita, to all those who are looking for a competent and trustworthy person who can guide, teach and assist them on the – often testing and arduous - path towards a conversion to legitimate, Thora-observant Judaism.

I can make this recommendation without reservation as I have been a student of Rabbi Ahron Daum for these last two and a half years and I can safely say, as I stand before the finalization of my conversion, that meeting him and engaging him as my teacher has been the single most important and decisive step in my whole journey towards joining into the sacred covenant established at Sinai between the Almighty and the Jewish people. To illustrate how decisive this step was I need to give a brief sketch of my spiritual journey that led to this point.
I was born and raised in a, to all intents and purposes, very secular family. Although we were nominally catholic – both my sister and I were baptized and we attended catholic schools – religion was not a part of my childhood experience. The attitude in our household towards religion was indifferent at best. However, in these early years I was already introduced to the Jewish people and Judaism. First of all, ancestors on both sides of my family had been deeply involved in the resistance against Nazism during World War II and I was raised by my parents in that spirit. They imbued in me a sense of defiant humanism and taught me about the evils of racism and persecution. As such my parents also raised me to respect the Jewish people and taught me about their historical plight marked by the senseless hatred known as anti-Semitism that culminated in the unspeakable atrocities of the Shoah. Secondly, I spent many an hour playing with the children of my grandparents’ Jewish neighbors which, even though they were mostly secular, gave me a sense of some elements of Jewish life such as mezuzot or Hebrew.
When I was thirteen I underwent a very strong conversion experience. Although raised with a mild resentment of religion, I suddenly felt the urge for a connection with G-d. It was logical that this urge for the divine would lead me to Catholic Christianity as this was the religious tradition I was nominally part of. And this is exactly what happened: I became an extremely devout catholic and altar boy ,firmly resolved to become a priest. But at the same time I always continued to hold the Jewish people in high esteem. I was extremely interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity and had a lot of interest and sympathy for the “judaizing” sects within early Christianity.
As I became 16, however, I started to have more and more doubts about Christianity. More and more elements of the theology started to bother me and I became convinced that the Christian outlook on G-d, man and the world was too passive, too defeatist. I felt that there was too much a focus on our human sinfulness and the need for redemption, instead of on our G-dgiven human intellect and responsibility with which we should be improving the world. As these doubts became stronger my commitment to Catholicism became weaker and weaker. This was a period of spiritual homelessness in which I became briefly fascinated by Marxism with its promise of a “concrete” and “realizable” messianism, although I could never resign myself to the atheism and crude materialism that seemed so intertwined with it.
It was also during this time that I started studying the Jewish religion intensely and I was taken aback by what I learned. Here I found a religious tradition that seemed to be a perfect fit, a feeling that only deepened the more I learned about it. Quite quickly I realized that I could not imagine myself being anything else but a Thora-observant Jew and I decided that I would convert to Judaism.

But, as so many of you will know, this decision to convert is only the start of your problems. For, a conversion to legitimate orthodox Judaism is not an easy step to undertake. First of all, you have to study a great deal and assimilate to an entirely new way of life. Secondly, you have to establish contact with the proper authorities who can carry through your conversion. These are both daunting tasks that no-one could hope to achieve on his own. A good and competent guide an teacher is therefore an absolute must for those who sincerely wish to become Jewish. Finding such a person, however, is in itself a daunting task. This fact I experienced myself the hard way . For years I tried to establish contact with my local Jewish Orthodox community in order to find a good teacher, but all to no avail. Every door I opened seemed to only lead to a new door without ever finding someone who could help me. After many such years of frustration and immobility, I realized that I was not getting a single step closer to becoming a Jew. As a result I really started to despair and even suffered from mild depression. But thank G-d , just around that time, someone put in me touch with Rabbi Ahron Daum and I can’t thank that person enough for doing so. For, Rabbi Daum immediately put me at ease and from the first moment I met him and I knew that his was the man who would guide me towards the flock of Hashem. As I stand now before the finalization of my conversion, I can categorically state that he has not disappointed me in this respect. He has shown himself to be the ideal teacher and guide for all potential “Jews-by choice”. I say this because of three reasons.

Firstly, is it undeniably so that a conversion to Judaism is, first and foremost, a process of intensive study and learning. One not only has to study and acquaintance oneself with the basic premises of Jewish law and their daily application. One also has to acquire a firm base in Hebrew as to be able to meaningfully participate in the liturgy. So the first and foremost need of a prospective student is a good teacher: a person who knows how to effectively go about teaching all of this. I can wholeheartedly attest and affirm to the fact that Rabbi Ahron Daum is such a person. He is a very firm and effective teacher who’s method of study is systematic and focused. Equally important is the fact that his program of studies is very comprehensive and extensively covers all the domains and issues that a convert to Judaism should be familiar with. Thanks to his many years of experience in this field, he knows exactly how to go about preparing someone for the big “Yom HaDin”#.

Secondly, it must be recognized that a conversion is more then just a mere scholastic undertaking. It is firstly a deeply transformative and emotionally demanding process that can easily become the better of you. Secondly, it is also, practically speaking, an extremely complex administrative process that is almost impossible to navigate oneself. A prospective convert therefore not only needs a teacher, he is also in dire need of a guide who can tackle both of these problems. Such a guide must, on the one hand, be sensitive to the personal and emotional issues the convert is faced with and be able to give them the support they need. On the other hand he needs to be intimately familiar with the inns and outs of the conversion process, be familiar with the proper channels and people, so that he can smoothly guide his pupils through it until they have reached their goal of becoming halachically “valid” Jews. It can without a doubt be said that Rabbi Ahron Daum, is such a guide and that he fits the above description perfectly. To start with: In the time that I have known him I have personally experienced his warmth and compassion when I was faced with problems of a personal nature. He is genuinely interested in the emotional well-being of his students. But also as far as the practical side is concerned, I have seen that he knows all the right people, has all the right connections and has gone through the grinds enough times as to be able to smoothly guide his student throughout the administrative process. The fact that there are quite a few of committed Jews-by-choice today who have had him as their teacher is a living testament to this fact.

Thirdly, I can guarantee that you will not find it difficult to make a connection with Rabbi Ahron Daum as a person. For he is most certainly not some ghettoized fanatic whom you have to fear. On the contrary, he is a very reasonable, well-travelled and educated man with a lively sense of humor. He stands firmly with both feet in the Modern-Orthodox stream of Judaism, which entails that he is unwaveringly committed to a Thora-observant lifestyle without isolating himself from the broader world or being hostile towards it.

In conclusion I can therefore advise all those who are going through the frustrating search for a competent and amicable guide on their path to Judaism, as I once did, to contact Rabbi Ahron Daum. You will most certainly not regret it.

Mordechai Margitsz
Antwerp (Belgium)

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