Saturday, 20 June 2009

Orato: How I Became Jewish

How I Became Jewish

By Matthias Erlandsen

I was born in March 1977 in a city of central Portugal.

I was raised in a normal Portuguese catholic family. My father, who died when I was thirteen years-old, even studied in a catholic seminary for some years, maybe to become a priest or maybe just to have a free education, I don't know. My mother was for some time a catechism teacher for children. Since my early years I used to go to the church on Sundays, attended the catechism classes for eight years after the Sunday religious service and afterwards I joined a catholic youth group. Most of the members of the youth group are still very close friends of mine. I can say with no shame, that I was very committed to the catholic faith. I really enjoyed singing with the group at the church, for instance. I was always interested in God and spirituality in general, despite that I was not very deeply connected to the ritual side of religion. Till the age of twenty I lived in a village close to the town of Batalha, famous for its big gothic monastery. Then I moved to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, to study journalism at the Universidade Ti©cnica (Technical University).

After I finished my studies I worked as a trainee for 4 months at a news' radio station in Lisbon. I also worked for about a month in a catholic newspaper which was the only job I got at the time!. Most of the time after I finished university, I was unemployed because all the available jobs demanded me to work on Shabbat (the holy day for Jewish people). Despite that I wasn't Jewish and still didn't know many Jewish laws, I knew that I couldn't work on Shabbat. It was a bit complicated to depend for so long on my mother for living... but even though she was not happy with the situation, she was always very helpful.

Despite being raised in a very catholic family, I know that in my house there was a kind of "Jewish-friendly" environment - if we can say it like this. Although we didn't have Jewish friends, I can remember there were never anti-Semitic remarks in our talks, taking in mind that in the Portuguese language there are many anti-Semitic expressions.

It's hard to know the exact moment that I first thought about converting myself to Judaism. To some people, the "spark" can be the fact their ancestors were Jewish. In my case, I'm sure there are no Jews in the last generations of my family. Despite of that, if I search further back in the history, I'll certainly find some Jews among my ancestors. That's impossible not to have, due to the fact that most of the Jews that lived in Portugal until the Jewish Expulsion of 1496 actually never left the country and mixed with the non-Jewish population. So, I might have Jewish ancestors as much as any regular Portuguese person. But that's not important to me.

My first approach to Judaism was through an interest for the Jewish history. For instance, I remember during my 9th grade at school, I was very impressed for the way my history teacher taught us about the Shoa (Hebrew word for the Holocaust). How she tried to make us see ourselves as if we were in those times and what might have happened to each one of us. It's ironic that she looked to all of us and said: "If you all would have lived in the Hitler's Occupied Europe back then, probably only Gabriel and Susana - a blond girl - would survive. They're the only ones who are Aryan-looking." Of course, at the age of sixteen I had already read some things about the Shoa and had seen documentaries, but the teacher's words made me look for more information and I started to look for every book on the subject that I could get. And I guess that was the start. Maybe that was the spark for me. My interest then spread to the Jewish History in general and then to the whole Jewish Culture. Then the spiritual side came out.

When I was about seventeen or eighteen years-old I think I started to have some doubts about my Catholic faith. I had always been a very interrogative person and I made many questions about God, the world, and the purpose of man's existence or God's role on reality. I never got satisfied with the answers I found in the Catholic Church and Christianity in general. It didn't make sense to me.

At the beginning, when I made myself the million-dollar-question: "Should I convert to Judaism?" I wasn't aware that conversion was even possible. I truly thought I was the only person in the world with this kind of ideas. It was a hard time, because I didn't dare to talk to anyone about this, including friends or family. I felt completely alone in this sense. I had no one to help me or simply to understand me.

Only for the summer of 1997, before I entered the university, when I started to work in an office that had internet access, I had the chance to search for information about conversion to Judaism. I finally realised it was actually possible! It was such a relief when I found testimonies of other people, from all over the world, that were in the same situation as I was. I didn't know them personally, but I immediately understood their feelings, their problems and their uncertainties with the conversion process and the burden of telling it to other people. I even started to talk by email with a few of them. It was a great help.

A few months later, in November 1997, when I went to the university in Lisbon, I decided to contact the Jewish community. I knew how the community was "denied" to outsiders, so I didn't go knocking on the synagogue's door. I phoned. There was no Rabbi at the time, so I was given a number of the person responsible for the religious education. I called him right away. He said "there are no conversions right now, call me in two months." It didn't seem to me a big problem. I was already thinking about it for about two years, so more two months wouldn't make much of a difference, would it? Two months passed and I called back the man. For more than a month I tried to talk to him.

Finally by the end of February 1998 I could to talk to him. He asked me to meet him the next Saturday at 12 AM, on the synagogue, after the morning prayers. I felt such a big hope after I talked to him - even if the phone call by itself hadn't decided anything of my situation.

I decided to write letters to finally tell my family and friends about my decision of conversion. I wrote letters to my mother, to my two best friends and to the youth group. Yes, there was still the problem of the youth group. Even with the idea of converting to Judaism, I kept meeting with the group. Slowly, I started to avoid doing some things and found excuses to tell my friends, so they wouldn't have suspicions.

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Orato: How I Became Jewish

No Matter Who Is President of Iran, They Would Stone Me |

No Matter Who Is President of Iran, They Would Stone Me

by Lila Ghobady

Why didn't I vote in the latest elections for the president of the country of my birth, Iran? Because no matter who is the president of Iran, they would stone me!

As a young Iranian woman, I require big changes in order to convince myself that a change in president would mean an improvement of my basic rights as human being inside Iran.

Here are some simple facts that demonstrate that irrespective of who is president, I would be stoned to death in Iran:

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No Matter Who Is President of Iran, They Would Stone Me

Obama's 3AM Phone Call - DRY BONES BLOG

Obama's 3AM Phone Call

Obama's 3AM Phone Call : Dry Bones cartoon.

During the Hillary Clinton / Barack Obama primary battle, Hillary famously asked whether we'd feel safe with a President Obama answering a crisis phone call at 3AM.

What she was questioning was his sense of judgment. Well, it seems to me that it's 3AM, the phone is ringing, and I'm afraid that for a lot of us it's a wake-up call.

Your thoughts?

taken from DRY BONES BLOG (

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