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From Temple to Church to Chabad

On the marriage certificate from their fundamentalist Christian wedding in 1990, their names were listed as Roy and Pamela. On their ketuba, signed this past September, their names are Levi Yitzchak and Penina Leah.

Pamela grew up in an assimilated Jewish home in Northern California where she attended the local Conservative synagogue for Sunday school.

"The Judaism I had been given wasn't enough. I needed a big G‑d; I wanted to believe that the Bible is true." Instead, Pamela was expected to limit her spiritual yearnings to the few hours at Sunday school where she was taught that G‑d doesn't have much to do with our lives and how to refute the miracles of the Bible.

Pamela remembers watching many of the Christian holiday television programs. For her, the holiday specials were just as enjoyable as the televised sermons and masses. And so, at the age of 13, after one very inspiring holiday special, Pamela offered her own prayer: "If all of this is real, show me a sign and I will believe that Christianity is true."

But no sign was forthcoming.

Pamela finished high school and left home to attend college. Right before her nineteenth birthday, her boyfriend broke up with her. At the ice cream parlor where she worked part-time, a co-worker, who was part of a fundamentalist Christian organization on campus, told her: "You're devastated because you don't have a relationship with G‑d. The way to have a relationship with G‑d is to accept [the Nazarene] into your heart. If you say this little prayer, you'll have a relationship with G‑d. Say this short prayer, you'll feel better."

Pamela hesitated but then said the prayer. "I did feel better! And I suddenly felt that this was the sign that I had prayed for when I was 13 years old."

Pamela got involved with the missionaries on campus and, she says, was somewhat of a star. "I was special to the Christians because I validated them. Even non-fundamentalist, mainstream churches that don't actually missionize Jews give a tremendous amount of money to organizations whose main objective is missionizing Jews."

Pamela's parents told her to speak to their rabbi, but "he had no idea how to work with someone who had been missionized," she recalls. "He had no answers. He couldn't refute any of the missionary claims. He reinforced my feeling that Judaism doesn't have answers and that Christianity is true."

Pamela moved back home, at her parents' insistence, and began taking courses at the local junior college. She attached herself to the Maranatha Church which was preaching on her campus.

Two years later, in 1984, Roy Weese appeared in Pamela's life, sort of. Roy came from a Christian family and had been part of the Maranatha Church in Alabama. Unable to find an engineering job there, he wanted to try his luck in California. Roy began doing administrative work for the church in San Jose and looked for an engineering job.

Pamela had noticed Roy at church and was interested in finding out more about him. After a few years of very casual interaction, Pamela privately submitted his name to the church. From that time on she was not permitted to show any interest in him. If and when Roy submitted her name, they could date. Roy revealed to her six years later when she finally confronted him and asked him what he thought of her, "I've always wanted to marry you but I didn't think you would want me."

Pamela and Roy were married soon after that revelation in a "very Christian wedding." Pamela's parents did not attend. "I'd been missionizing to them for years, telling them that they were going to hell. I had hurt them too much," says Pamela

Two weeks after they returned from their honeymoon, Pamela and Roy began looking for a new church. They had left the Maranatha Church after it had merged with another denomination.

"We began attending a fundamentalist church, but it was huge and wealthy and very fancy. We didn't feel as if we fit in. We went to a smaller church that was more casual but we just couldn't make friends. It was as if G‑d was pushing us along, showing us that there was no place for us in Christianity. We tried a Messianic church but the services were long and boring. We were thinking about how we would raise our family. We wanted tradition, a short prayer service, nice music..."

Pamela and Roy decided to convert to Catholicism because, as Pamela explains, the Catholics seemed to have answers to the questions in the Bible that still disturbed them. "We were still searching for Truth."

The Weeses became disenchanted with Catholicism when they had major disagreements with policies of the Pope. "My husband eventually shared with me that he had always had trouble with the trinity. 'Maybe we should see what Jews believe,' he suggested. Personally, I was tired of telling people that they were going to hell. I was tired of feeling guilty when I wasn't preaching, but preaching is really there was. You're either a slave to their god or to the devil. It's all emotion."

Pamela decided to learn how to do things Jewishly. She went to a Jewish bookstore and bought "how to" tapes from Chadish Media. She called Rabbi Mordechai Rosenberg, of Chadish Media, who told her, "You must go to Chabad."

Pamela and Roy went to meet with Rabbi Yosef Levin, of Chabad of the Greater South Bay. "After talking with Rabbi Levin I realized that Judaism did have answers. Rabbi Levin was so nice to both of us," Pamela recalls. "He treated us both so well. He was totally non- judgmental."

Even though their experience had been so positive with Rabbi Levin, Pamela decided to speak with other rabbis because, "I didn't think my husband would want to be Chasidic. I went to another rabbi but he just kept telling us over and over again, 'Your marriage is a problem.' My husband was so hurt. Our marriage was all we had! We went back to Rabbi Levin which was the best thing that ever happened to us."

To show how serious Roy was about Judaism, he and Pamela separated. Roy built a shack in their backyard and slept there each evening. "We were very grateful with the rabbis who were supervising Roy's conversion during this whole process," says Pamela. Roy studied Torah and began observing some mitzvot. The Weese's moved to Palo Alto to be closer to the Chabad House and Roy built a new shack.

On a Thursday this past September, the Rabbinical told Rabbi Levin that on Tuesday Roy could undergo conversion. After the conversion, we began planning for our wedding.

"My parents wanted to give us a trip to Israel as a honeymoon, rather than make a lavish wedding," says Pamela. But she told them, "'This is the only real wedding I'm ever going to have.' My mother didn't believe I could pull together anything decent. But I found a dress and Rabbi Levin helped us get the JCC. We had a caterer, flowers, and hassidic dancing. My mother said that had we booked the band a year in advance, we couldn't have done better!"

I am finally home, with my Jewish soul-mate. I feel proud of my heritage, and have answers of why I am a Jew. This void is gone,and my search of being a Jew is finally over after many years.

SAYING KADDISH
IN A NORTH CAROLINA SNOWSTORM

 

North Carolina Jews gather in the rarely seen snow for a minyan.
In the center are Rabbi Pinney Herman and his brother Aaron.

I am writing this article as the snow falls, setting Wake County records.

As you know, rabbis like to turn current events into Jewish thoughts. Sometimes G‑d makes it easy. I know there is a point to be made somewhere in the midst of the swirling snow.

My brother Aaron and I are saying Kaddish for our father, the late Emil Herman. For those of you who live in large Jewish communities, you might not understand how difficult it can be to get together a daily minyan [quorum]to say Kaddish. Raleigh, NC, doesn't exactly make the top ten or even 20 list for Jewish population. So, when I awoke this morning, I didn't just ask how we would get a minyan as I usually do. It was more like, Can we get a minyan? We thought that, perhaps, changing the minyan time from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. would help.

I put on my layers-three pairs of socks, my Nike's, the overalls I use to dress up like a farmer on Purim, two coats, earmuffs and my Pittsburgh Penguins cap.

I left my house a little later than I should have (as is my custom) and began trudging through the snow to shul. No joggers to be found. As I walked down a deserted road questioning my sanity, I started thinking of the stories I had heard from older Jews who lived in Russia. They described a life that would make this snow seem like a few flurries.

I had heard about Reb Mendel and his friends who spent 18 years of hard labor in Siberia for "terrible crimes" against the government like teaching Torah to children, opening shuls and building mikvaot [pools for ritual immersion]. Despite the hardships, they kept Shabbat, holidays and kosher. It was their commitment.

Women told of travelling 12 hours by train to use an unheated mikva. Sometimes they would have to break the ice on top in order to immerse themselves, after which they had another 12-hour train ride home. It was their commitment. They never once compromised their Jewish obligations. This is the epitome of a Jewish hero, not just a hero who is Jewish.

As I waved to the 4-wheel drives that ventured onto the streets, I thought to myself that the Jews who braved the hardships of Russia would be proud.

The footprints outside the shul told me that there were six people waiting for me, and another one on his way. We made some calls, but someone suggested that we make a virtual minyan in an AOL chat room. Ummm ....Not kosher!

Finally we called two boys who recently celebrated their Bar Mitzva. "Now you know what it means to be a Jewish adult," I told them. "Someday you'll be able to tell your kids how you walked in snow up to your waist to make a minyan-and it will actually be true. If you can play in the snow, surely you can walk in it." They came.

Our minyan was an eclectic bunch which included a Jew from Peru, a recent convert, a former Wolfpack offensive lineman from Thomasville, NC and an assortment of Yankees from the North.

I was proud of our group. It would have been a lot easier to claim that the weather made it impossible. Even the mailman stayed home!

Sometimes Jewish commitment is expressed by walking to shul in two feet of snow or not pitching in the World Series on Yom Kippur. Most of the time it is a little less dramatic-but no less vital. Take five or 10 minutes on weekday mornings to put on tefilin, say the Shema and tell G‑d that you appreciate another day on this earth. Light Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon and turn Friday night into a meaningful Shabbat experience.

Is it about infusing life, warmth and enthusiasm into Judaism.

We can all be Jewish heroes. It takes commitment, but it is not impossible. It demonstrates to you, your children and your friends that Judaism is not just important, it is vital. It demonstrates that "Am Yisrael Chai"-the Jewish nation is alive and vibrant in its Judaism.

This self-sacrifice is what connects us to our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. This is what connects us to Moses and Miriam, to David and Deborah. This is what connects us to our ancestors, who lived in good times as well as bad. This is what will connect us to the ultimate purpose of creation.

 

The Jealous Neighbor

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov once said to his disciples:

"There once lived two neighbors, a Torah scholar and an impoverished laborer. The scholar would wake before dawn, rush to the study hall and study for several hours. He would then pray at length and with great devotion, hurry home for a quick bite of breakfast, and return to the study hall for more hours of study. After the noon meal he would go to the market and engage in some minimal dealing — just enough to earn him his basic needs — then back to the study hall. After evening prayers and the evening meal, he would again sit over the sacred books till late into the night.

"His neighbor would also wake early, but his situation did not allow for much Torah study: no matter how hard he struggled to earn a living, he barely succeeded in putting bread on the table. He would pray quickly at daybreak, and then his labor would consume his entire day and the greater part of his night. On Shabbat, when he finally had the opportunity to take a book in his hands, he would soon drop off from exhaustion.

"When the two neighbors would pass each other in the yard, the scholar would throw the crass materialist a look of contempt and hurry on to his holy pursuits. The poor laborer would sigh and think to himself: how unfortunate is my lot, and how fortunate is his. We're both hurrying — but he's rushing to the study hall, while I'm off to my mundane burdens.

"Then, it came to pass that the two men concluded their sojourn on earth and their souls stood before the heavenly court, where the life of every man is weighed upon the balance scales of divine judgment. An advocate-angel placed the scholar's many virtues in the right cup of the balance scales: his many hours of Torah study, his meditative prayers, his frugality and honesty. But then came the prosecuting angel, and placed a single object on the other side of the scales — the look of contempt that the scholar would occasionally send his neighbor's way. Slowly, the left side of the scales began to dip, until it equaled, and then exceeded, the formidable load on the right.

"When the poor laborer came before the heavenly court, the prosecutor loaded his miserable, spiritually void life on the left scales. The advocating angel had but one weight to offer — the sorrowful, covetous  sigh the laborer would emit when he encountered his learned neighbor. But when placed on the right side of the scales, the sigh counterweighted everything on the negative side, lifting and validating every moment of hardship and misery in the laborer's life."

On a Rope

Chassidic master Rabbi Chaim of Krosno observed an acrobat balancing on a rope high above the ground. He told his disciples:

"If that man would think about the money he would earn with his act, instead of concentrating on his rope, he would surely make a mistake and crash to his death..."

Concluded Rabbi Chaim: "Shouldn't we concentrate on our service to G‑d in the same way?"



 

I gotta run, the sled and slopes await.