Dear Mrs. Bluth,
While in Israel on an assignment, I became very intrigued with Judaism. What made this odd is that I am Jewish. My mother is Jewish, but I am not sure about my father – we never considered it important enough to talk about.
I recall taking part in the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in school and with friends and my parents always threw parties that time of year, but not for religious reasons.
My upbringing and young adult years were fairly ordinary. I am the youngest of three, with an oldest sister and brother. My parents lead a very full life – they were very community oriented, and a lively social life. My sister married a Marine and moved down south and my brother joined the army and did two tours of duty before being killed by a road bomb in Afghanistan.
I picked a safe profession and went into geographical photography for a magazine, a job that took me around the world. After my brother Gerald died, my parents forbade me from doing shoots in any country that was at war, and for a long while I honored that. Yet, one day, when my boss could not find anyone to cover the Israel junket, I volunteered without hesitation. Upon rethinking my promise to my parents, I felt a twinge of guilt, but for some unfathomable reason, I was consumed with an unexplained excitement, something I had never experienced before traveling to any other place.
I convinced my mother that all would be fine, and with parent’s okay, I was off on an adventure that would change my life.
My office had a wonderful regard for it’s employees and we were booked into a beautiful hotel in Jerusalem. Knowing nothing about Israel or its culture, I joined a group of my colleagues who were scouting out areas for the project. Along the way we passed the Great Synagogue and something made me want to go in. My friends had no interest for anything religious, although we would be including a large grouping of antiquities and historical dig photos, and they broke for lunch nearby. I know what I am imparting to you sounds like a movie script, but it is nothing short of the truth and as much a mystery to me as it may be to you.
As I sat in the pew not far from the entrance, I felt a very strange sensation of having been in a place such as this before. Yet, there was nothing in my memory banks to give credence to this. In the comforting quiet of these surroundings, I must have dozed off because I had a dream of my late brother coming toward me, accompanied by my maternal grandparents, who both passed away when I was very young. They had their arms linked and seemed so at peace that I just wanted to stay and be with them. Just then, a door closed with a bang, and I returned to myself, still enveloped in that wonderful feeling of being where I belong. Sadly, the visages of my brother and grandparents were gone. From that moment on, I was on a mission to find what it was that had been so comforting.
A gentleman who noticed me sitting slumped over approached and asked if I was Jewish. It took me a moment to reply in the affirmative to a question that had almost never been asked of me. We conversed for a while and he invited me to his home for the Sabbath meal the next day. Luckily, he lived just four short blocks from the synagogue and suggested that we meet for prayers and walk back to his place together. I told him that I may have to work and he told me that it is forbidden for Jews to work on the Sabbath and that nothing would even be open to see. He explained that everything closed down and that even the train and busses would not be operating. The next morning I was amazed to see that he was correct, and my boss gave us the day off. My colleagues were in awe and there is still a running joke amongst us that most of them considered converting.
I met Uriel, my host, at the Great Synagogue and was transported by the beauty of the Sabbath prayers. Hearing the cantor and the choral renditions awakened something in me, even though I couldn’t understand the prayers. After the service, he took me to his home, where I met his wife and children. I was so moved by their joy of celebrating the Shabbat and their graciousness in welcoming a total stranger into their home. Suddenly, the feeling that I had found my true home, here in Israel, with these people who were, in fact, my people, was overwhelming. It was only the beginning.
Uriel told me he was involved with an organization that helped people like me, people who had no connection to Judaism and wanted to find out more. He took me under his wings, arranged classes for me and spoke to someone back in the States who would be my contact when I got him.
At age twenty-seven, not quite as old as Rabi Akiva, I began to navigate the road of my ancestry. The bond forged with my Creator, Hashem, was growing and my spiritual discovery became the source of my greatest joy and happiness. I had finally found my way home.
Fast-forward eight years. I no longer call myself Patrick. Today, I answer to the name Pinchas, with whom I share a great affinity because of his total devotion to Hashem. Like Pinchas, I stand tall in my faith and accept the Torah and Hashem’s commandments with every fiber of my being and without question. I dress differently; gone are the t-shirts and jeans; they have been replaced by button down shirts and slacks. Starbucks is not my first stop every morning before work, now I attend a hashkama minyan and, twice a week, I have a seder with my chavrusa. I work for a shomer Shabbos company and have worked my way up to being the boss’ son-in-law. I adhere to every mitzvah that is commanded of me and welcome learning that which I still need to know. But then, the learning never ceases to reveal new and beautiful hidden understandings that only come from deeper study and debate. I no longer care whether art imitates life or life imitates art; there are more wonderful things to study and delve deeper into than silly clichés.
But there is one problem – my family wants nothing to do with me. It’s almost as if the birth of Pinchas was to them the death of Patrick, and they mourn the one and shun the other. I would love to find a way to reach out to them, so that we could have a different kind of relationship, one of family and friendship bridged by way of acceptance and understanding. After all, I have children of my own and, hopefully, more to come. I would like for them to know that they have another set of grandparents, whom I remember as being loving and caring, but who simply cannot understand or accept the metamorphosis that has changed the family dynamics. Do you have any advice on how I may be able to achieve this?
Speaking for myself and, I’m sure, for the readership, welcome back to the family! What an amazing story, and yes, it does read much like a Hollywood script, but I’m thrilled all the same. May your journey in Yiddishkeit and learning be never-ending and always satisfying and fulfilling and may you always be surrounded by loved ones who will lift you up and give you the fortitude and nachas to keep moving forward.
How unfortunate that your biological family has chosen to cast you out because you decided to follow your destiny and find your own path home. One would think that, after losing one son to war, they would cherish and hold on to their two remaining children, regardless of what may seem like a betrayal or disappointment to them. Sadder still is the fact that they have grandchildren whom they have not met, simply because you have chosen to return to your faith and are raising them in that way. What a terrible loss for them.
I have seen many strange and unpredictable things over the years, so I can tell you not to give up hope; there may yet come a moment of logic and clarity that will enable your family to see that the path you have chosen is the one you were born into. You might consider enlisting the aid of a local rabbi in the area where your parents live who will soften the way to a reunion. Or, you might want to send them this letter that you so generously shared with us, so they may see the hidden power of those family members no longer with them who set your feet on the path of return. Enclose a family picture of yourself, your wife and your children. This will show them that Patrick has not physically disappeared; he has just evolved into Pinchas who wants to come home and bring a new generation of Jewish pride and joy with him. If that doesn’t help to melt their hearts and set the wheels in motion, then, perhaps, more patience is required until the time is right.
Until then, we wish you hatzlocha in your studies and pursuits in Yiddishkeit and to let you know that we are so happy and proud to have you back in the fold and amongst our family of Klal Yisroel.