This is the story of a young girl whose life began with Iranian roots, but led to the discovery that she was born to Torah.
P. was born to Iranian parents, each of whom separately fled Iran to Germany following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Her mother’s family, unaffiliated Jews, fled Iran to Germany, intending to continue on to the United States. Simultaneously, her father, a secular Muslim, also escaped to Germany with plans to continue to Australia. During their brief sojourn in Germany, the couple chanced to meet in an open market.
The couple was married and gave birth to P., their eldest daughter, a short while later. Their plans to depart Germany to the United States or Australia were continually delayed, and after their second child, a son, was born, they resolved to remain and raise the children in Europe.
P. grew up in a happy home that promoted liberal values and surpassed boundaries of faith and nationality. “We visited my father’s family in Iran on several occasions. They all knew that I was the daughter of a Jewish mother, but it didn’t really bother anyone.” Despite the family’s acceptance, P. was warned to keep her Jewish roots secret whenever she visited Iran, lest it be discovered and label her family members as potential traitors.
At the age of 12, however, her parents shocked her with the announcement that they were getting divorced. Her father was leaving Germany and moving to Switzerland with her younger brother, and she was to remain with her mother. The sudden change and trauma in her life spurred P. to begin searching for her roots. She sought out the Jewish community in Germany and began volunteering with local Jewish children, helping them with homework and tests.
“It was the first time in my life that I met Jews living in a mainstream Jewish community. I became close with the local rabbi and his daughters, and it was they who introduced me to Judaism and slowly began teaching me all about it.”
Supported by the rabbi and his daughters, P. began joining local Chabad events and participating in activities sponsored by the city branch of World Bnei Akiva, which is directed by an Israeli delegate. The atmosphere, ideology, and deep meaning of Judaism rang true in P.’s heart. Drawn after her heritage, she slowly began accepting some of the mitzvot while adapting some of her longtime habits.
“My dad heard that I was beginning to observe the mitzvot and live a meaningful Jewish life, but he just went with the flow. Even when my brother began practicing some Jewish observances, my dad didn’t mind. He even joined him several times on visits to the Beit Knesset,” P. shared.
Upon her arrival in Israel last summer, P. began searching for a program that would suit her needs before starting school. “At World Bnei Akiva, they suggested that I join the one-year Kashrut program in Israel. As soon as I heard about the program, I realized that this was exactly what I wanted.”
Kashrut is an annual program attracting some 220 students from 18 countries around the world. The program is built on several sectors which consist of Torah study, educational experiences, volunteering on a kibbutz, with each sectors stretching approximately three months.
Youth group members joined the excitement of the Iyar holidays at the close of the program, including the monumental Jerusalem Flag Dance through the streets of the holy city on Yom Yerushalayim.
P. summarizes her feelings, “For me, the Israeli experience has just begun. Now that I’ve encountered Israel in depth, I’m so excited that to be marching through her streets and waving the Israeli flag. I am so happy and excited that I’ve come to this place, and I thank World Bnei Akiva from the bottom of my heart for enabling me to experience all the wonders of Israel.”