From Judaism to the Convent. And back to Judaism...
I received a phone call a couple of years ago to perform a circumcision for a newborn. After wishing congratualtions and asking about the heath and welfare of the mom and baby, we began to discuss the upcoming circumcision. I asked the mom if she was interested in having this procedure done out of religious rite, or for other reasons. She hesitated to answer, and when she finally did she said, "I'm not really sure how to answer that." As the conversation progressed, she shared with me a story that was all too common for Jewish families that lived in Europe in the 1940s, where the Jewish people were not allowed to practice Judaism and were being persecuted for their lineage alone. She recalled a faint recollection of her maternal grandmother, now the matriarch of the family, having told her a story of her youth. The mom of this newborn knew it had to do with candles, but could recall the whole story. I asked, "Did she tell you that she used to light candles on Friday nights?" Silence. Then tears. "YES! That is it! How did you know that?" She learned then that it is well known that lighting candles on Friday nights is a long standing Jewish custom, primarily practiced by women, one that is symbolic of one's religious past.
Since her recollection wasn't vivid, I asked if this grandmother was able to be reached. She said that she was able to speak to her grandmother and report back to me. After a tear-filled and powerful conversation with her grandmother, she shared the following story:
"I spoke with my grandmother and told her about the recollection I had about her lighting candles. Her eyes immediately filled with tears and her lips quivered as she shared a remarkably painful memory of her youth. When she was 7 yeards old, she recalls her mother sitting her down and telling her that things were very dangerous in their town and that the parents had to make the heart-wrencing decision to separate from the children. They had opted to place her and her female siblings into a convent. After a hearfelt 'goodbye', my grandmother separated from her parents into the trusting hands of the Mother Superior of the convent. As a 7 year old child, she joined the day-to-day practices of the convent, subsequently becoming a growing member of the institution. When the time came, she married a Catholic man and they moved off to Ireland. They lived a religious life and raised their children accordingly. Their daughter, my mother, also married Catholic and then moved to the United States, to a suburb of Chicago. Then I was born."
I was teary-eyed myself. "You might not be fully aware of this, but you and all 5 of your children and Jewish... No different than me and my children."
The next week, we had a beautiful Bris Milah ceremony in my office with my colleagues. Since then, the mother of this baby has taken strides to grow in her Judaism and strognly identifies herself as a Jew.
You never know where God's many messengers can be found. In this case, it was Google. She had searched for a circumcision for her son and in turn began a new chapter in her life: her first chapter in her family's book of Judaism.