David's return: A Success Story

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David de Andrade is a gentleman who, having learned that he is

descended of anusim came here from Brazil to formalize his return to

Judaism.  He was lost; he had been in the country for about a year

spending his time on a religious Kibbutz and in a Yeshiva, but not

sensing that any progress at all was being made toward his goal.

David felt that no one was paying attention to him, no one cared, no

one seemed to even know his name.  People would ask "do you have a

file with the rabbinate?"  "Who are you" "Do we know you?"

 

Born and raised in the State of Ceara in Brazil, his family was living

on a farm outside a small town, and interaction with the community was

kept to a minimum.  The land is arid and was used for grazing, not

farming.  Animal slaughter was done at home, pigs were raised but not

eaten.  Although blood is typically used for sauce and sausage in this

region, it was either spilled and covered or fed to the pigs.  Meat

and milk were not eaten together; clay utensils were used for meat and

aluminum for milk.  In the morning they ate dairy foods and no meat;

at dinner either milk or meat were served.  Fish without fins and

scales were avoided.  The reason given for avoiding pork and scavenger

fish was that it was forbidden, and the reason given for separating

meat and milk was that mixing them was bad for one's health.  Eating

at strangers' homes and eating food cooked by non-family members was

not acceptable.

 

Upon death of a family member the body was washed, all the gold and

silver was removed from the teeth.  Burial was kept simple; some were

covered only with mortalia (burial shrouds), and the rest in an

extremely simple coffin, though others did have elaborate ones.  Also

unlike neighbors the body was not laid out in church before it was

taken to the cemetery for burial.  The burial was carried out as quick

as possible, and except under very unusual circumstances, never more

than 24 hours.  A grave was typically seven feet deep, and family

members were the first to put earth over the interred body.  In the

house of the deceased water was spilled, glass windows and mirrors

were covered with dark cloth, pictures with glass panes reversed.

Simple foods were served; the family sat in hammocks, in a dark room,

relatives would serve the mourners light food for at least 7 days,

depending on degree of closeness.  When David's father died the

children wore black for a year and till today mom does not wear red.

David was told these customs were according to the Bible does not

remember prayers.

 

David knew the padre nosso and ave maria, but did not have his first

communion till he was 13.  Communion was not customary in his mother's

family but David wanted an education and in 70s, there were no

education opportunities outside the church.

 

Only upon arriving in Sao Paulo for his university education did David

learn that modern day Jews existed and were walking the streets.  This

was astonishing to him.  He could not believe they talked about Israel

openly in the cafes, could not believe his eyes, David does not know

how he came to feel that Judaism was not something one would discuss

publicly, but in his mind all this would have to be kept secret.  It

all seemed like a dream to him, surreal!

 

Some of these Jews became his friends.  He became aware that many of

the customs he remembers from childhood were much like the Jewish

customs his new Jewish friends kept, and he started to question the

reasons for the separateness in his upbringing, the secrecy, the many

Bible stories at bedtime, the Biblical explanations for customs not

kept by Christians.  All these memories began to re-emerge with new

meanings.  When he was little every Easter, David's maternal

grandparents cloistered themselves and the family in the house,

locking the doors and dimming the light, and left gifts of food

outside.  Toward the end of the day and into the night, people from

all over the region would come by, wearing masks and yelling that they

were looking for Judas "cad Judas?; "talvez ele esteja escondido

aqui?" as the family huddled inside silent and scared.  Eventually the

intruders took what was left for them outside and went away, but these

were fearful hours, fearful memories.

 

After obtaining his degree David went to work for the government in

Brazilia.  There he had an English tutor who was Jewish.  David

learned more and more about Judaism, and the more he learned, the

better he understood his roots.  Eventually David decided that the

time has come for him to rejoin the open Jewish community.  He wrote

many places: to the Israeli Embassy, the Israeli Consulate in Rio, the

Hebraica society in Sao Paulo, and others.  Finally he decided that

the right way for him was to go to Israel, get himself a good Jewish

education and make his return formal there.  The opportunity presented

itself with a special course offered in Israel in his professional

area.  David received a letter of recommendation from rabbi Abraham

Anidjar from Rio, addressed to the general secretary in Heichal

Shelomo.  He and others all pointed in the same direction, and so

David spent 5 months in kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, and then transferred to

Machon Meir.

 

When he first arrived at my home, David was already studying in the

Yeshiva, but wanted to make sure that when he got his certificate from

the Rabbinate, it would make clear that he is returning to Judaism,

not converting.  I gave him a copy of a letter from rabbi Mordechai

Eliyahu which says that anusim formalizing their return be given a

return certificate, and that when they immerse, the prayer that the

Rashbash (R. Solomon b. Shimon Duran) composed for returning anusim in

the fifteenth century which reads as follows:

 

Our God and God of our fathers, bring success to your servant ... and

bestow your grace upon him.  Just as you have moved his heart to

return in complete repentance before you, so may you plant in his

heart love and fear of you.  Open his heart to your Torah and guide

him in the path of your commandments that he may find grace in your

eyes.  So may it be, and let us say Amen.

 

He thus further distinguishes the process from conversion and gives

the person undertaking the return further affirmation of his/her

historic connection to the Jewish People.  Everything seemed to be

progressing beautifully.  David was enjoying his studies and feeling

more and more eager to be circumcised.  But the consciousness of a man

having made the decision to return and being burdened by the delay as

a Jew, was not understood.  David would speak to me hours about the

urgency he felt to perform this commandment, and how he suffered from

the delay.  When he was finally circumcised, four months later, David

was elated.  Only two days after the painful procedure he walked

across town to visit us for a Shabbat lunch.  Now the countdown for

immersion began.  When the day finally arrived (24 days later, after

the doctor approved it) we sat and sat with divorcing couples and

countless other unhappy people, and with a lost convert sitting by

herself.  The atmosphere was chaotic.  No one seemed to know who to

turn to or what to do; no one knew about the appointment set for

David, the rabbi did not show up.  After persuading the person in

charge to make some previously impossible phone calls, David was

instructed to continue to the ritual bath in two hours.  Rabbi Sebag

took David to lunch, and went on with him to the immersion.  He read

the special (Rashbash) prayer.  We had a party at my home in honor of

this happy event the very same evening, and now all there was to wait

for was the certificate.  When it came at last, 3 months later, David

was beside himself.  The paper read as a conversion certificate; the

father's name was Abraham!  I called the rabbi who signed the

certificate and he refused to budge, saying that his rabbinic court

was only trained to convert, and that he was not warned about this.

We went to see Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, together with the rabbi from

Machon Meir who arranged and informed the rabbinic court about the

return certificate and still no progress.  I called the rabbi who

heads the rabbinic court and wrote Rabbi Aaron Soloveichick from

Chicago who has been very helpful to anusim.  I received his response

by fax, and forwarded it to the rabbinic court.  We will never know

for certain what determined things ultimately, but the same rabbi who

signed the first document arrived at Machon Meir, after another three

months, and gave David a big hug and a certificate that reads

return/precautionary conversion, and records David's biological

father' name (Eliyahu) as the father -- not Abraham, as a conversion

paper would read.

 

In retrospect, David says the feeling that he was Jewish all along,

and must be recognized as such is what gave him the strength and hope

that carried him throughout his many trials; the changing stories and

misguidance, the lack of understanding.  David is a trail blazer; he

always fought with the ones to follow in his mind.  He hopes that his

journey will ease that of others, that other people , his family too,

will follow in his path and build up the courage to reclaim their true

identity.  As David said it, Judaism is a full time religion, and Jews

who live in the diaspora must make compromises.  He is going back to

Brazil to resume his job with the government, so he can regain his

financial independence, and find a position in Israel.  Marriage is

the next important step; not until he has his own wife with to he can

share, and children to whom he can bequeath a whole and undamaged

Jewish identity will David consider his journey, his success complete.

Schulamith C. Halevys