She was Maria when I first met her, several years ago. She was also a secular Zionist activist heavily involved in pro Israel Advocacy. Now, she is Moriah and she is a religious Jew, a transformed human being who has kept her love of life which she banded together with her newly discovered love of G-d and His commandments

I met Moriah for breakfast last week. It was hard to believe that  the beautifully shining smile of hers concealed so much suffering, hardships and above all strong determination

Born in Azerbaijan, Moriah emigrated with her family to Germany in the early 1990’s. When she was ten years old, both her parents died of cancer. At the age of eleven she moved to Israel to join members of her family who had departed the former Soviet Union several years earlier

Moriah displayed leadership abilities early on in life. During her school years, she was the recipient of several awards for her various social activities and achievements. After high school, she joined the “Karakal” unit of the IDF and was among the first to partake in a course of female sharpshooters. Following her military service, Moriah became one of the founders of “Cheroot Yisrael,” a right wing Zionist group engaged in organizing demonstrations in support of the Jewish state

It was by sheer accident that Moriah discovered that she is not Halachically Jewish, as her mother was not one. It happened during her service in the IDF. She found it somehow strange as both her parents had always been engaged in Jewish activities. Her father had set up the first Jewish community in Azerbaijan in the post  Soviet Union era. He also founded the first Jewish kindergarten and the first Jewish school there. Her mother who was a Hebrew teacher in that school used to lull Moriah to sleep by telling her about the weekly Torah portions and singing Jewish/Hebrew songs to her

At that time, such a revelation about her Jewish status did not bother Moriah. It did, however, trouble her deeply at another time. It was then that she decided to address it

It all started when she was one day invited for “Hafrashat Challa,” a custom associated with the days of the Temple. According to the Torah, a part of the dough for Challa, the special braided bread Jews eat on Shabbat, should be donated to the Priests. Moriah, a then self declared secular, non – believing Israeli, knew nothing about the custom. Little did she realize that attending this event would change her life forever

That night she met Rebetzen Ronit Barash. A conversation was struck between the two and Moriah learned that the Rebetzen was preparing to take a group of women to Uman, in the Ukraine, to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman

I knew then,” she told me with sparkling eyes, “that I wanted to go there with Rebetzen Barash. A month later, I was on my way to Uman not knowing who Rabbi Nachman was, how to open a prayer book or what I am going there for. During a conversation with the Rebetzen, she suddenly asked me, ‘Maria, are you Jewish?’ Of course I am, I answered her. ‘I mean Halachically Jewish?’ the Rebetzen’s piercing eyes studied me

 That was the most major milestone in my entire life. I suddenly found myself having conversations with G-d. I was upset with Him. I locked myself in the bathroom and with floods of tears rolling down my face, I argued with G-d. How dare He put me through such a challenge, for in order to become Jewish, I have to be an observant one

It is important to note that when Moriah served in the IDF she suffered a back injury which nearly rendered her a cripple. When she visited the grave of Rabbi Nachman, she pledged to have a meal in his honor if her pains disappeared. For over a year and half, since that visit, Moriah has been healthy

Barash 6 When she got back from Uman, Moriah called her orthodox relatives in the U.S. They disclosed to her that on her death bed, when the horrible disease took over and she could not move, her mother kept singing the Hebrew/ Yiddish tunes of Moriah’s childhood. Her ongoing prayer was that her daughter would convert to Judaism

Two weeks ago, through Ami Conversion Organization, Moriah fulfilled her mother’s wish. She partook in the final stage of her conversion to Judaism. She immersed herself in the Mikveh, the ritual Jewish bath

Welcome Home, Moriah. You are a blessing to us all