יום ראשון, 27 ביולי 2014

The story behind the picture


It was early morning on Friday, July 25th, 2014. I checked my Facebook notifications and saw that a friend tagged me on a status. There I found a link to an article at the online version of USA Today. Yes, there was a picture on it, but I couldn't care less. It automatically got to the "I can check it later" list. Soon other friends started liking the same status. And I still couldn't see any reason for all that fuzz. The article's headline read: Rockets or not, Birthright still going to Israel. I thought that maybe a brave Brazilian was at the Birthright group.
After couple hours of likes, comments and what's app messages, I went back to the status and decided to give it a third, fourth or fifth look… The picture! I click on the link and the picture's caption read: An Israeli prays at the funeral of Sgt. Max Steinberg. Yes, the Israeli was me. And my first reaction was: "Wow! Somewhere I am indeed Israeli!" And here it starts the story behind the picture:
Officially, I'm not an Israeli citizen. Or, at least, not yet. After a long struggle, only a couple of governmental department stamps from the country of my birth, Brazil, keeps me away from becoming officially Israeli. I am almost there! But what a journey, what an odissey it was.
I wasn't born Jewish by the Jewish Law. But I always knew that Israel was my home. And I cherished the dream of living here for years. Even during the peak of the second Intifada, I didn't allow my dream to fade. I would liv in Israel one day. And whenever I got here, this would be my last stop. Every journey has a starting point and mine was the orthodox conversion... Or conversions. I got two of them, you know, just in case.
After spending five years just trying to convince a rabbi to prepare me for the orthodox conversion, I engaged into a year and half of constant study with my rabbi that prepared me for a written exam about Judaism and Jewish Law. Passing this exam was the condition for my trip to Bnei Brak to the Beit Din that would really convert me, since orthodox conversions are unheard of in Brazil. I honestly think that the rabbi who gave me the test (not the one who prepared me) didn't believe I'd make it through. But I did. And with flying colors.
And I landed in Israel! After weekly visits Bnei Brak for a little bit more than a month, I got my conversion. Not I was Jewish according to the Jewish Law... Not so fast! I learned the hardest way that this conversion is illegal in pIsrael. By no means, it is taken by the Chief Rabbinate. So, legally, in Israel, I was still not Jewish.
I had to take a second conversion at the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. And it was everything but easy. Even renewing my visa to stay in the country was a nightmare. But one day I made to a second Beit Din. This time, at the Chief Rabbinate. Once again I made it through! After the second mikve in two years, I was... No, I wouldn't say I was Jewish again. I had been Jewish for two years before that. I was now Israeli! I could stay in the country, I could become a citizen. Finally!
Now I have a paper where it says I'm Jewish. The problems to renew visas are totally behind me. Only couple of stamps from Brazilian authorities are between me and my Israeli ID or at least I hope so. But I don't care. It will happen. I just hope it happens really soon.
But deep inside, I'm the lone young woman who arrived at Ben Gurion Airport with a backpack weighing nothing more than 11kg. I couldn't speak more than 20 words in Hebrew. I could read, but my vocabulary was limited to 'how are you?', 'my name is...', 'I want to go to...' And this last sentence had to end with the name of a street, a neighborhood, I had no idea how a drugstore was called in Hebrew. Except for a handful of Brazilian friends I knew no one. No family. No connections. And guess what? Yes! I made it through! Later, I understood why some of the Brazilian rabbis involved in my conconversion counseled me to have it in Bnei Brak. No one would seriously believe I would survive here. They probably thought I would soon be back to Brazil. But do you know when you finally get home after a long day? Even if your best friend invites you to the most amazing event you simply want to stay in. And I am at home.
But I also know what it is to be alone here. The distance from friends and family. I also got adoptive families, to whom I'm eternally grateful for everything, from help with apartment searching, job hunting, shabat and festivals meals, friendship, warmth... I had been so blessed so far that I have never really felt lonely.
And on the day I got the news that some lone soldier had passed away in the current military op, my heart broke. And what it was left of my heart was broken once more when I read the story of Sgt. Max Steinberg. Just like me, he arrived here in 2012. But we had more in common. We both decided to stay after visits to Har Herzl Cemitery. We both were connected to the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center.
For a couple months I was a humble volunteer at the Lone Soldier Center in Jerusalem. Every week I would bake them 40-60 small challot and deliver on Friday at their office. I loved what I did. I wanted the boys and girls in the army to have a small flavor of homemade food. I'm getting ready to resume the project soon, expanding it, making it more professional. Our soldiers deserve it!
But anyway... I never met Max. But when I heard that he would be buried in Jerusalem, I started a small campaign posting in Portuguese to raise awareness of his funeral. I myself couldn't stay longer. I had an appointment at the other side of the city at 12:00. But I decided that I would be there. Maybe for a couple minutes. I would get a taxi to my appointment. No matter what, I would be there. I would honor the guy who gave his life to protect me and my country when he could be surfing in LA. If he didn't find excuses not to protect me. I wouldn't find any excuse for not honoring him.
And that's when the picture was taken. I was standing by near the entrance of the Cemetery, because I had to leave soon and it'd be crowded. I split the book of Psalms with other girls, whom I didn't know before. And just after Max's coffin was taken to where he would be buried and while I was reading the psalm 107, I got this sensation that someone was staring at me. I raised my eyes and there he was. A press photographer. By looking straight to the camera, I knew I had spoiled his picture. And I felt so bad. After all, it's his profession. He needs pictures. But I couldn't stage one. I left just after that. Internally, I hoped he had caught it. And he did! And I was named "an Israeli". While it is not officially true... Ah... Who cares? The caption is right! It was an Israeli praying.
SHARE this story! There might be some lone immigrant out there who might be strengthened by reading this piece.

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