A Special Kallah

A Special Kallah

I met Tziporah Shira when she made aliya last year and moved to Nachlaot. She is truly one of the most sweet and sincere human beings I’ve ever met. I was SO thrilled to hear that she is getting married soon…Read her amazing story below. (Please note: the woman in the photo is not Tziporah Shira).

Nothing Can Compare to Being Jewish: Debbie Shapiro interviews Tziporah Shira

Several years ago, my dear friend, Yael Aldrich, who was then living in Boston, sent me an email letting me know to expect a call from one of her regular Shabbos guests who was coming to Israel to learn for the year. “Oh, and by the way,” she added at the end, “just so there won’t be any surprises, Yolanda is 5’9″ and black.”

Yolanda and I hit it off immediately. I fell in love with her the moment she appeared at my door and handed me a box of chocolate chip cookies l’kavod Shabbos kodesh (cookies always hit my soft spot!). I loved, and still love, her warmth and sincerity and she appreciated, and still appreciates, my honesty. But Yael had forgotten to tell me one crucial detail. As I showed Yolanda her bedroom, she broke into one of her heart-melting smiles and said, “Debbie, I’m still in the process of converting, so be careful with the wine and if you need a Shabbos goy, I’m available.”

Yolanda eventually became Tziporah Shira.

Tziporah Shira: I grew up in a warm, loving home. Although my parents attended all black schools, they were very hard workers and never let segregation hold them back. As a result they succeeded in attaining an excellent education and were able to enter the professional world. Through their example, they taught us the importance of responsibility and hard work. As kids, we knew that we could never use race as an excuse. Prejudices were other people’s problem – not ours.

My parents are Catholic, so I grew up going to church each Sunday. I can’t say that I honestly believed in it, I just did what I was supposed to do and didn’t think too deeply about it. As an adolescent, however, I refused to accept anything at face value and began asking lots of theological questions. But instead of receiving answers, I was told to accept everything on faith.

When I was a bit older I saw a television documentary showing how Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism. The show gave examples of how the Christians twisted Jewish concepts. One of the examples that stands out in my mind is that John the Baptist really should have been John the mikveh man! The documentary also included a short clip of little boy asking his Sunday school teacher why they don’t teach him Hebrew so that he can understand the Bible properly. Instead of answering the little boy’s question, the horrified teacher responded: That’s much too hard! We don’t have time for such things! That little boy’s question and subsequent non-answer mirrored my experiences. I was asking questions, but I was not receiving answers. The documentary validated my need to question; the questions were real, but the answers I was getting were not.

Out of respect for my parents, I still went to church with them every Sunday. But my heart wasn’t in it. I felt that it was a total lie and didn’t actively participate in the service. I had always believed in G-d, but now, I realized that that belief was crucial, and that it also came with a responsibility to find the proper way to serve Him and to become close to Him.

My mother was sensitive to my search for truth and urged me to clarify my own beliefs. I instinctively knew that the truth lay in Judaism. I had no doubt that that was the right path, but I had no idea how to get there. So I watched every television show and read every book that I could find that had anything to do with Jews and Judaism.

After high school, I attended a small liberal arts college near Boston. My roommate, I’ll call her Jill, was both Jewish and black– her mother was Jewish and her father was black, and they were the first interracial couple in the state of Texas! She even brought me to see a seder, but it was a cultural celebration and far from being religious. Jill, like so many other Jewish students, was extremely idealistic and intrinsically searching for emes. fter graduating college, she signed up for the Peace Corps and ended up in Uzbekistan. I often wonder what happened to her and can only pray that she found her way back.

After graduating college, I returned home and began attending Shabbos services at a nearby Conservative synagogue. I chose to go to the Conservative synagogue because I had been told that it was more traditional than the reform and I had never even heard of Orthodoxy! Some of the people at the Conservative synagogue recommended that I read some books on Judaism from the Orthodox perspective. I was shocked when I learned that in today’s modern world there are Jews who actually observe Shabbos and keep the laws of kashrus! I decided to learn more. I wanted the real McCoy.

Eventually I moved into the center of town, which is the area where the young people congregate. Every Shabbos I took the subway to the closest university to attend services at the Hillel House’s Orthodox minyan services. But although I was davening in a Orthodox synagogue, I didn’t know anything about Judaism. I wouldn’t go to work on Shabbos, but I would cook, clean and drive my car. However, since I wasn’t Jewish, it wasn’t an issue.

As I slowly started keeping more and more mitzvos, I realized that I needed to live in a more religious environment and moved into the Jewish neighborhood, which is where I met Yael Aldrich who eventually became my adopted mother/sister and closest friend and confidante. The first time I spoke with her, she told me, without mincing any words, exactly what I would need to do to be accepted as a convert – that I had to be part of a frum community, that I must choose a bais din to work with, and that I must begin studying seriously. She also invited me to come to her house for Shabbos whenever I felt like it, but I just assumed that she was trying to be nice and really didn’t mean it. A month later when I called about something else, Yael caught me off guard when she asked, “Where were you? We’ve been expecting you to spend Shabbos with us!” For the next eight months I spent almost every Shabbos with them.

DEBBIE: I always thought that we’re supposed to discourage the potential convert. But it sounds as if Yael welcomed you with open arms.

TZIPORAH SHIRA: First of all, by this point I had come to the conclusion that the Torah is true and I had no doubt that I wanted to become a Jew. But yes, Yael really did try to discourage me. She made a point of reminding me of all the things I would not be able to do once I converted. So, for example, if we’d pass a non-kosher restaurant she might say something like, “I’ve heard the food there is really good. Maybe you’d like to eat there…”

DEBBIE: Could you tell our readers some of the funny things that occurred to you during those years?

TZIPORAH SHIRA: When I was pretty much at the beginning of my path, I attended a class on the Book of Samuel delivered by a prominent rosh yeshiva who spoke Yeshiva-English. After the class, I said to one of the other ladies, “The class was amazing, but the Rosh Yeshiva continually spoke about one person that I never saw mentioned in the Bible – the Eibershter [Yiddish for “God.”] Who’s he?”

Although I wasn’t halachically obligated to keep mitzvos, I did, which sometimes led to funny situation. Airline stewardesses would have a hard time figuring out why someone who looked like me and had a name like Yolanda Smith would order a kosher meal.

DEBBIE: How long did you remain in Boston?

TZIPORAH SHIRA: For two and a half years. Yael encouraged me to spend some time studying in Israel, and I felt that I couldn’t convert without first going there to get some real learning under my belt. After all, even as a kid, long before I ever dreamt of becoming a Jew, I dreamed of traveling to Israel.

Leaving my job was very difficult. I had worked my way up the ladder and had a wonderful position. So in addition to giving up my financial security, I was leaving a fulfilling profession that I really enjoyed for the unknown. It was very frightening.

I could barely contain my excitement as we flew over the Mediterranean. I stared in disbelief at the approaching shoreline. I had to pinch myself; I was about to step foot on the holy land! It was an awesome moment.

From the airport I took an airport shuttle to Har Nof, where I had arranged to board with a family. After throwing my belongings on the bed, I phoned a friend (actually, since it was very late at night, I woke her up, but she had told me beforehand that that would be okay) and we went together to the kosel. Standing in front of that ancient wall, I felt that I had finally come home!

Seminary was amazing. There were so many different types of girls from so many different backgrounds. Each one was at her own stage of growth, and we were all growing together. It was an incredibly broadening experience.

I spent nine months in sem, and I loved every moment of it. I grew close to many wonderful families, and felt that Israel was where I’d want to make my home. But I was unable to extend my foreign student visa and had to return to America to convert.

DEBBIE: Although the rabbonim in Israel felt that Tziporah Shira was ready to convert, she encountered a long series of bureaucratic obstacles, such as missing visas and changing laws, whic prevented her from taking the plunge (pun intended). While she was going through this extremely disappointing experience, I said to her, “Yolanda, it must be so difficult to have to wait so long to become Jewish. You’ve been frum for years.” Her response left me shaking: “Anything I would have to go through is nothing — absolutely nothing — compared to the zechus of being a member of the Chosen People!”

TZIPORAH SHIRA: The actual conversion was extremely emotional. I was physically shaking as I entered the mikveh. Before the actual immersion, the presiding rabbi said to me, “The first time you immerse in the mikveh’s waters, you will go down as a gentile and come up as a Jew,” so you can’t imagine my exhilaration as I came up that first time. I wanted to dance and cry out, “I’M JEWISH.” Instead, the mikveh lady instructed me to immerse again, and again, and again until she was positive that I had done it right. She, too, was visibly excited; after all, she had just witnessed a birth, a new soul entering into Am Yisrael! It was, and most probably will always be, the most significant moment of my life.

DEBBIE: In Israel, we were anxiously waiting to hear the good news. When would the conversion actually take place? So you could imagine my excitement upon receiving the following email:

Debbie –

I hope this email finds you well! I just wanted to let you know that there is a new member of Klal Yisrael, and its ME!!!! My new name is Tziporah Shira. Mazal tov!!!

Kol tuv,

Tziporah

DEBBIE: After all that waiting, how did it feel to finally be a Jew?

TZIPORAH SHIRA It was a real adjustment. I felt a tremendous weight of responsibility since as a Jew, I am obligated to keep the Torah. Before, although I was totally observant and keeping every mitzvah, I knew in the back of my mind that if I inadvertently made a mistake, it was no big deal. I could eat a cheeseburger if I really wanted to! But after I converted, it was a totally different ballgame. There is no practice run! Although people had warned me about this, I was taken completely off guard. After all, other than performing a small melachah each Shabbos I had been totally observant for several years.

DEBBIE: Can you tell me about your life today?

TZIPORAH SHIRA: Today, I am very much a part of Boston’s frum community. I attend many shiurim and am involved in various chessed projects. I’m also making plans to come to Israel, where I hope to attend seminary, find a job and, most important of all, build a true bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael.

One and a half years ago, Tziporah Shira fulfilled her dream of moving to Eretz Yisrael. Today, b”H, she is about to fulfill her second dream, to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael.

Vaad Harabbonim has created a special fund to help Tziporah begin her new life together with her chashuva chasan. To make a donation, please call…
(USA) 732-367-0234
(England) 020-880-95700
(Israel) 1-800-223-636
and specify that the contribution is for fund# 3261 “Hagiyores hame’usheres”

Or donate online at this link
Donate

THE GROOM’S STORY

I was born and raised in Jerusalem. My parents were Hungarian Holocaust survivors. My father was married before the War and lost his whole family in Auschwitz. Our family was totally secular – I attended non-religious schools, and, at age 18, joined the Israeli Defense Force.

After a year or so, I was placed in a unit consisting mainly of Orthodox soldiers. I was impressed with their sincerity and integrity. I once overheard some of them talking in whispers, and one of them mentioned the words “gezel sheina,” stealing sleep. I realized that they were speaking quietly so as not to wake up the other soldiers. What a contrast to the behavior of my previous completely non-religious unit. There, the night guards would bounce the balls off the walls of our tents to pass the time, while keeping everyone else wide awake! These religious guys had what I wanted, so I started looking into Torah.

Not long after I overheard the soldiers talking, I was granted a two week leave for health reasons, and decided to spend part of the time at a Jewish outreach seminar. By the time I was in my last year of service, I was completely observant. As soon as I completed my service, I returned to Yerushalayim and enrolled at the Torah V’Emunah Yeshiva. I learned there for five years.

Rabbi Amram Oppman of the Eda Charedis wrote in his letter of support for this special young couple:

“There is no need to elaborate on the greatness of this mitzvah [of donating to this wedding fund], as the bride and groom have no family to assist them. The God of Israel will reward all who come to the assistance of this woman who has come under the wings of the Divine Presence. And all who know her will testify that she is full of wisdom and a true Yiras Shamayim. It is not every day that such a great mitzvah comes our way. All who come to her assistance will be blessed from Heaven with and will be blessed with Yiddishe Nachas from their offspring, yeshuos, refuos, and parnassah.”
Donate

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10 comments

  1. A young couple needs help building their new life together, and in this case their parents probably aren’t helping. Chana Jenny–can you find out how we can donate to them in Israel? The number didn’t work and I don’t have an international credit card. tizki lemitzvot!

    • JewishMom

      I hope these numbers work…
      (USA) 1-877-822-3427
      (England) 020-880-95700
      (Israel) 1-800-223-636
      and specify that the contribution is for fund# 3261 “Hagiyores hame’usheres”

  2. Mazal tov!!! I attended sem with her! I am so happy to hear that she is a kala!!

  3. What an amazing couple and what an amazing story!! And so happy to hear that you’re friends with Yael Aldrich – the Aldrichs are amazing – we’re huge fans!!!

  4. the donate link does not work!

  5. That story made my heart beat faster…how inspiring!

  6. I wish I understood this. As someone who has bean religous all my life, I often wonder what makes others so excited about this life and i wish i could feeal some off that exsitment.

  7. Mazel tov!!

  8. Has this couple already married? I just found this story and thought probably so, but did not want to assume anything! B”H b’ sorot tovot! Mazal tov!

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