post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author
I don’t write often about my work at Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, on Kibbutz Hannaton, because of the intimate nature of the work. But I am going to tell you about the conversion I officiated earlier this week of a woman named Darya (which means God dwells in Hebrew) who immigrated to Israel from Moldova. She has given me permission to share our story.
As soon as she told me where she was from, I became emotional. One of my seven children is adopted, and his biological mother was a foreign worker here in Israel from Moldova.
We adopted our son, whose name means a wish for God, when he was a baby. His birth mother, who was not Jewish, left him in the hospital with social services, requesting he be adopted by a Jewish family. Apparently she already had a family back home and did not feel she could bring him with her when she went back. That is all I know. There is no record of a biological father. My son can open his adoption file when he is 18 and find out more if he so chooses.
I imagine sometimes what my son’s biological parents might look like, based on his appearance. His most striking feature when he was a baby was his big brown eyes. Darya has big brown eyes. I wondered: Could this be her? Maybe his birth mother did not go back to Moldova after all.
When I officiate a conversion immersion ceremony, I always first sit with the person and talk about the deeper meaning of mikveh. I also ask to hear their story, so I can tailor the ceremony to them.
Darya left two children back in Moldova with their grandmother (Darya’s mother) when she came to Israel to earn money to send back home. This, too, could match my son’s biological mother’s story. She had not planned to stay in Israel, she told me, but she met a man here and married and brought her two children here four years ago. This, too, could line up.
She told me she has always been a spiritual seeker, and that already back in Moldova she was attracted to Judaism. She was involved in a Seventh Day Adventist community there before coming to Israel. For years she wondered if keeping the seven Noahide laws would be enough for her, but she decided at some point she wanted to fully embrace Judaism. She feels certain Judaism is her spiritual home.
Darya is deeply committed to and observant of the religious practices, but not strictly enough to satisfy the conversion process of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which makes unreasonable demands on conversion candidates. So she decided to convert through the Reform movement.
Maybe this really is my son’s biological mother, I thought. That would explain why she wanted him to be raised Jewish. And her Hebrew is excellent, which led me to assume she has been here for at least ten to fifteen years. My son is almost fifteen years old.
As Darya and I talked, we both felt a deep connection. We talked for almost an hour. When she was ready, we did her immersion ceremony. She knew the blessings by heart without needing to use the laminated cards I offered. She had brought with her a white dress especially for the ceremony. Standing at the top of the mikveh steps, ready to descend, she looked like an angel.
Darya was glowing when she emerged from the mikveh waters. She had been preparing for this moment for years. She already felt Jewish before this, she said, yet the immersion helped her close that circle completely and feel embraced by the larger Jewish community. She had been nervous about putting her head under water, she confessed, but she felt held by the water and extremely moved and uplifted by the experience.
We hugged before she left, and I took a deep breath and mustered the courage to ask what year she came to Israel. Her answer: 2008. My son was born in Israel in 2007. Darya did not give birth to my son.
I told her about him, though, and about how his birth mother is from Moldova. I even showed her a photo. Tears came to her eyes. She told me she was sure his biological mother would be so happy to know the baby she brought into this world is with me.
Darya — which she told me means “Gift from God” in Russian — not only looks like an angel. She is one.