I used to be a shiksa. A very good shiksa; pure British blood, blonde-haired and from a good family of Bible-believing Christians. Then I came to Israel and fell in love.
I fell in love with a country, with a religion and with a people. Later on, I fell in love with an Israeli. Not just any Israeli, a sabra, a good Jerusalem boy whose mother’s family had escaped from the Nazis in Europe and whose father was the son of a Rabbi from Yemen. Despite the fact I was an ex-shiksa, they welcomed me with warmth and acceptance into their family.
Now I am a proud Jew, an ardent Zionist, and still deeply enamored with my country, my people and my religion … and I have three gorgeous dark Israeli kids who don’t look anything like me.
When I first came to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, it was because, as a scholar of theology and history, I had always been interested in Judaism and the Jewish people. Three weeks after I arrived, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus on its way to the University, killing one of my ulpan classmates. It was tempting to flee, but I stayed. I had found the place I wanted to be and terror was not going to move me away from where my soul felt at peace.
I don’t think that people come to study in Israel, no matter how great the universities are here, if they don’t have some kind of pre-existing interest or curiosity about Israel and Judaism. It is not hard to believe that the Prime Minister’s son’s girlfriend, who is probably not enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame as the world’s most famous shiksa at the moment, was drawn to our country and people for some reason as well.
I chose to tie my fate with that of the Jewish people and join the family. I underwent an orthodox conversion in Jerusalem with some wonderful rabbis who told me from the outset, “First be a good person, then be a good Jew,” and that is how I live my life. I may not be the best Jew but I definitely try. I fill my life and raise my family with Jewish values and traditions; we celebrate holidays, observe ancient rituals; we live and breathe the history of our People in our daily lives.
I joined a long line of shiksas who chose to become part of the Jewish People. Shiksas like Ruth who said, ““Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God,” and even Moses’ wife, Zipporah the Cushite could be considered a convert to Judaism. But without a doubt my favorite biblical shiksa/convert is Rahab, from the Book of Joshua.
A rather unpleasant experience happened to me during my conversion process. My rabbis were amazing, godly people, but my encounter with the rabbinical establishment in Israel was less ‘spiritual’. The whole process is run on the basis of suspicion and accusation. Heaven forbid that someone might actually want to join the Jewish people because of their deep belief in the religion’s tenets. The highlight for me was when a Shaliach Beit HaDin (a rabbinical court official) told me that because I had too many stamps in my passport, I couldn’t open a conversion file at the Interior Ministry because they were suspicious that I might be a “call girl”. I kid you not.
When I completed the conversion process and the day came to immerse in the mikvah and officially become a Jewess, they asked me what name I would take. I answered that my Jewish name would be Rahab. “No, no, no,” they protested. “You cannot be Rahab, you must mean Rachel.” They would not accept such a choice and in the end half my documents say “Rahab” and the other half read “Rachel.” But in my heart, I am Rahab and proud of it.
Rahab was a great biblical figure. She believed in the God of Israel and helped the Israelites. She had an impressive Jewish husband, Joshua, and among her descendants you can find a who’s who list of priests and prophets. And they called her a “call girl” as well.
Years later, when I served in government, I had the opportunity to represent both the Prime Minister, and all the converts in a sense, on the Halfon Committee, an Inter-Ministerial Committee set up to examine the overall organizational structure and pooling of resources in the area of conversion in Israel. Our recommendations, which unfortunately were not all implemented, included the appointment of volunteer rabbis for the special courts for conversion; granting independent status as well as necessary authority to the Conversion Administration in the Office of the Prime Minister and recognition of the unique status of the Joint Institute for Jewish Studies.
I hoped, and still hope, that the conversion process in Israel can be improved so that those who earnestly want to join the Jewish people and tie their fate with ours can be welcomed and nurtured, not humiliated and accused.
David Breakstone, the Vice-Chairman of the World Zionist Organization, recently wrote a blog post about the problem of recognition of the Judaism of the love of his son’s life and the difficulties of the conversion requirements in Israel. Now the Prime Minister’s son is in love with a shiksa, who maybe one day might want to join the Jewish people (as did his father’s second wife), maybe Netanyahu should invest some time and effort into streamlining and improving the conversion process so that it will allow sincere shiksas to become righteous Jews who will raise happy Jewish families in the Land of Israel.