20 Years A Jew: Installment 7 – “And then there was Israel…”

By Athena DeRasmo

Haifa Shrine of the Bab

Haifa. I sat in a tiny office in a government building – bleak, institutional, and oppressive. Like most Israeli government buildings, it could have been a set for a cold war film. Across from me sat a clerk – a stern, Russian-Israeli female about 15 minutes past her prime and more than a little bitter; the perfect government employee. In Israel, many government office workers are Russian females – smart, multi-lingual, indifferent, and frankly a little scary!

It was 2002, and I was making Aliyah. The Aliyah office was very quiet. The violence of the Intifada had brought a dramatic cessation of tourism and immigration to Israel. The year 2002 alone brought 47 separate bombings, with no end in sight. The country felt shut down. Ironically, it was also a great time for converts to immigrate. Minister of Interior Eli Yishai, while very right-wing, was also a pragmatic man. His policies opened the door wide to diaspora converts wishing to immigrate. I guess he figured anyone who was crazy enough to make Aliyah during this bloody time, who was he to stop them!

I had not told a soul of my plans to make Aliyah. I did not contact any of the many immigrant aid organizations. In hindsight, perhaps I should have, but Aliyah is a very personal decision. I figured once I had my Israeli citizenship firmly in place, then I would share the news. I knew I was taking steps that would change the rest of my life; first a new faith and culture, now a new county. There was no way to know how it would all play out – but it felt right, even amidst all the balagan.*

The clerk was processing my paperwork. It was going well; my conversion had been in good order. When my Bet Din was being assembled, I was interested in having a female Rabbi. I had approached one, but was told that if I wanted to make Aliyah, a conversion document with a female Rabbi listed could be problematic. So, my Bet Din was all male, with Rabbi Goldfarb at the helm. Subsequently, my paperwork was HaKol Beseder.* There was a routine interview portion. The clerk then looked at me hard, almost cross, and asked, “So why do you want to live here, now, during all this mess? You are from Hawaiʻi. Are you crazy?” I told her, “Well, I fell in love, it just kind of happened.” She rolled her eyes a bit, and nodded knowingly. I stopped her. I said softly, “No, I mean I fell in love with Israel.” And I watched those stern, bitter, Israeli eyes well with tears.

A few weeks later I became an Israeli citizen.

Field and Tree Golan Heights


*Balagan – mess

*HaKol Beseder – ok, all in order


More Installments:

Installment 1 – “The Decision To Convert – Simple, Right?”

Installment 2 – “Why Judaism? What Made It Special (To Me)?”

Installment 3 – “What’s An Orphan To Do?”

Installment 4 – Balancing Secular and Sacred 

Installment 5 – “Modest Fashion and the Modern Woman”

Installment 6 – “Conversion and Jewish “Pedigree””

Installment 7 – “And Then There Was Israel…”