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A Jewish Spark Comes Home
by H. Ben Porat

I was born in a small German city to a Protestant family. I had a good childhood, good parents and a good family. Without knowing why, I felt close to G-d. I was drawn to recite Psalms and I loved anything spiritual.

When I was five, we discovered that my paternal grandmother was Jewish. It seemed that my father himself did not know that he was Jewish until he grew up. His mother had converted and assimilated along with her thirteen brothers and sisters and denied her Jewishness. But as young as I was, I was thrilled with the astonishing news.

My father was her only son among four daughters. He did not like to talk about his past. With wisdom and humor he tried hiding his roots. But with curiosity and persistence, I managed to get some information from my aunts and grandmother (who were all blonde and of Aryan appearance) who had hidden in Denmark during the war.

In my youth I felt an enormous need to dig into my roots, and driven by some inexplicable curiosity,  I began to research what a Jew is.

I went to Frankfurt where I systematically looked through the telephone book for Jewish names, any shred of information that could guide me. I found names and addresses of Jewish hospitals, cemeteries, and old age homes and began walking to every Jewish institution in my vicinity.

One Friday afternoon, I arrived at a Jewish synagogue just as they were beginning the Shabbat evening prayers. That inner urge compelled me to overcome my shyness and walk in. I did not want to stand out, but the men immediately noticed me and motioned to me to go to the women’s section. I stood there hypnotized. I copied what they did: when they sat, I sat and when they stood, I stood. I was moved to the depths of my soul as though I was in paradise.

That first wonderful Shabbat led to additional Shabbats, which were important steps in my journey. I continued to go to shul on Shabbat and to church on Sundays.

When I was 19, I got a job teaching at a preschool in Paris. The principal of the school was a hypocrite and everyone was afraid of her, including her husband and the neighbors.

One day, she called me to her office for a talk. I was afraid. I didn’t know how to stand up to her. I went to the beach that night, alone, barefoot on the sand, and cried to G-d to help me. Then suddenly, I can’t explain it, I heard a voice which said, “What’s the problem? Leave it all and go to Israel.”

To me, Israel was only a concept, but the answer that burst forth from my soul liberated me. When I went to see the principal the following morning, I told her that I wanted to go to Israel. She said, “Oh, if that’s why you’re acting this way, I’ll give you an additional position.” And things changed for the better. She gave me a bonus and I got the address of the Jewish Agency from her. I kept that paper in my wallet like a talisman.

I decided to go to a kibbutz. I acquired a round trip boat ticket and a three month visa and I told my father about it. He actually went to the Jewish Agency and tried to cancel my ticket, but they told him that Israel is like Europe; it wasn’t Egypt. There was nothing to be afraid of. My father did not forbid me to go; he just kept quiet.

Before leaving, I went to a Reform youth home in Frankfurt to attend a Seder. The principal, an Israeli named Uri, let me join together with my sister. I asked him to teach me a little Alef-Beis and he agreed, on condition that I help him out. ‘I have a radio and speakers. Do me a favor. Take this to my sister in Israel.’ We made a deal: I would take the radio and he would teach me Hebrew.

I boarded the ship with my little suitcase and the radio, without a destination. I relied on G-d that all would be well. As we approached the port of Haifa, a storm kicked up. The ship could not anchor and was awash with sea water. Everybody fled below but I stayed alone on deck and was happy.

We finally arrived in Haifa. Where should I go? All I had was the address for where to deliver the radio, Uri’s sister’s house in Cholon. I was warmly welcomed. She spoke a little German and I stayed with them for two weeks, and they arranged a place for me at a kibbutz. When I arrived I found that the kibbutz wasn’t at all religious. So I went to a nearby kibbutz for Shabbat where there was a synagogue for elderly men. I prayed with a kerchief because all the old ladies wore kerchiefs.

They told me at the kibbutz that there is a family that knows everything about Judaism because they were religious in Russia. I went to them and felt I had come home. The husband and wife guided me, answered all my questions and taught me Shabbat songs. In the local paper they wrote about the “German girl with a Chassidic soul.” I sold my return boat ticket and determinedly learned Hebrew. I was content.

Then the Six-Day War broke out. All foreigners received orders from their parents to go home and my parents also begged me to get out. I was a good girl and didn’t want to aggravate them, but I felt that I could not leave. I decided to write to them about how conflicted I felt.

I was very surprised by their response. My mother wrote, “We didn’t know how you felt. You are old enough. We want you to be happy and if you are happy there, then stay. We trust you.”

The war made me think about death and what would happen if my life stopped at this point. It occurred to me that I wanted to die as a Jew. I opened a conversion file in Tel Aviv and waited to move to the Ulpan on a religious kibbutz. In the meantime, I continued working on the kibbutz I was on, on the Jordanian border.

We were surrounded by bombs and mines. I saw miracles. The biggest miracle took place two days after I left for the religious kibbutz. The tractor I had driven for more than a year hit a mine and everyone was killed. It was chilling to think about what would have happened to me if I had stayed another two days on the kibbutz. This open miracle strengthened my feeling that G-d wanted me to be here and was watching over me.

It wasn’t an easy time for me, but as soon as I underwent conversion my soul was calmed. I converted at 21 and married a Jewish man at age 22. Thank G-d, today we have a beautiful family, and every year I celebrate my conversion anniversary as I do my birthday.



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