Ahuvah Gray is a Hazon participant who has had a very special journey. She is the granddaughter of African American sharecroppers who became a Christian minister, and her journey then led her to the path of Israel. She accepted the Covenant of the Torah with its path of mitzvos, and she is now a beloved and respected member of my own Torah community in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem. She tells the story of her journey in her first book, “My Sister, the Jew” (Targum Press). The title of the book is taken from a comment made by her sister after Ahuvah’s conversion.
As a child, Ahuvah heard stories about biblical figures, and she dreamed of walking in the footsteps of Abraham, our father. In her book, she reveals that it was God's call to Abraham to begin a new journey that inspired her own journey to Judaism. She writes:
“When people ask me what made me want to undergo the difficult and radical transformation of becoming a Jew, I tell them, ‘I was inspired by God's divine call to our father, Abraham.’ That call represented an awesome spiritual summons to Abraham and to all those who followed in his footsteps. 'Lech Lecha,' the passage begins in Hebrew... ‘Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.’ Only God - the great artist of the universe - could bring about the first imaginary steps in the secret thought-life of a little Black child and lead her all the way along a path which grows clearer day by day. I really don't know where I would be if not for the awesome spiritual power contained in God's call to Abraham and to all those who follow in his footsteps...And so I left my native land, my family, my relatives, and my father's house to go up to the Land of Israel, the land of my ancestors, the land of my soul.”
In this autobiographical work, Ahuvah Gray shares with us the story of her “homecoming.” It is a story that can offer each of us renewed faith and courage, for we are all on a journey to the “land of our souls.”
In this spirit, the Sefas Emes, a noted Chassidic sage, offers a deeper and universal understanding of the Divine call to Abraham. Citing a teaching of the Zohar - the ancient classic of Jewish mystical teachings - he states: The Divine call to Abraham to begin this journey is a call which is constantly being proclaimed to all people. Abraham's great achievement, he explains, was that he heard that call and acted, which is why the Torah records the message as if it was only given to him. (Sefas Emes, Lech Lecha, 5632)
The Loving One is calling on each of us to journey to the next stage of our spiritual development. The next stage can be a deeper understanding of Torah, fulfilling more mitzvos, and/or finding a community where people help each other on the journey.
In “My Sister, the Jew,” Ahuvah Gray describes her journey to a loving, caring, and purifying Torah community in Jerusalem – a community which has extended branches in many parts of the world where Jewish men and women are “living” Torah. Her story is particularly relevant for our modern era, when the bonds of community have been greatly weakened. There are aspects of contemporary western culture which encourage the worship of the self; thus, there are many people in our modern age who are detached from any commitment to a set of relationships, including the ability to relate to a community. In places where this attitude has become the norm, the society has become a collection of isolated and lonely individuals; thus, even those individuals within the society who would like to be part of a genuine community, often have difficulty finding one!
This development is foreign to the spirit of the Torah, for the goal of the Torah path is to develop a loving, caring, and purifying community. It is therefore difficult to live a true Jewish life without being part of a community; thus, a convert who accepts the Covenant of Torah needs to live in a Jewish community that is committed to this Covenant. This is also the reason why Jewish men and women who rediscover their spiritual roots while living among non-Jews need to move to a place which has a community of Jews who are striving to study and fulfill the Torah. I know people who had the courage to make this journey, and they found warm, embracing communities which are committed to spiritual growth through Torah, but which allow each member to grow at his or her own pace.
There are, however, certain individuals who are searching for the “perfect” community. These individuals would like to find a community which accepts them with all their imperfections, but they have difficulty accepting the imperfections of others. They will therefore tell you, “I just haven’t found the right community.” From the perspective of the Torah, the right community is not a “perfect” community; the right community is a “journeying” community – one which is moving towards the sacred and unifying goal which we have discussed in this series.
In choosing a community, one needs to be aware of the following danger: Just as an individual can get lost on a journey, so too, a community can get lost on the journey. One therefore needs to choose a community which is following the “map” of the Torah, in order to reach the sacred and unifying goal of the journey.
There are some individuals who are unable to move to a new community due to circumstances beyond their control. The invention of the internet and e-mail has been a blessing to them, as it gives them the opportunity to connect with those who are studying Torah. From these contacts, new and beautiful friendships have emerged. Another form of contact is through the telephone, and there are organizations which help Jewish men and women find a partner that they can study Torah with on the phone. These phone contacts have also led to new and beautiful friendships. (See the “Related Comments” which appear below.)
May the Loving One help each member of our people to find their place within Klal Yisrael – the Community of Israel. There are also Gentile friends of our people who are striving to follow the universal moral code of the Torah. May the Loving One help them to find or form communities that are in the spirit of the Divine teachings.
And may the Loving One enable all humankind to experience the age when the entire world will be one extended community with Jerusalem serving as its spiritual center.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
“Partners in Torah” can help you find the study partner that is right for you. They can find someone to study with you on the phone; moreover, they will let you know if there is an individual or group in your area that you can study with. For further information, call : 1-800-STUDY-4-2 or visit: http://www.partnersintorah.org/index.htm . For the answers to frequently asked questions, visit: http://www.partnersintorah.org/main_side_pages/faqhelp.html
2. Ahuvah Gray is the author of My Sister, the Jew and Gifts of a Stranger. My Sister, the Jew focuses on her life before her conversion, and Gifts of a Stranger focuses on her life after her conversion. The second book includes a fascinating description of her trips to Jewish communities around the world, where she inspires Jews of diverse backgrounds to rediscover their heritage and to tap into the power and meaning of Jewish prayer. Both books have amazing and inspiring stories which warm the heart and uplift the soul. They are published by Targum Press: www.targum.com , and they are also available in Jewish book stories. Ahuvah Gray’s website is: www.mysisterthejew.com .
Ahuvah has given lectures to communities in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. She is currently on a lecture tour in the United States for the next few weeks. If you would like to invite her to address your community, you can contact her through her website. During her current tour in the States, she is able to add a few more bookings.
In Los Angeles, she will be speaking this Saturday night, November 4th , at the Westwood Kehillah, 10523 Santa Monica Blvd. For information, call: 310 441-5289 or Rabbi Stern at: 310 562-2075 (cell).
If you live in or near the Upper West Side of Manhattan, you can hear her speak on Shabbos (November 24th and 25th ) at: Old Broadway Synagogue, 15 Old Broadway (near Harlem). For information, call: 212 662-9767 or 646 732-5499 (cell).