I am a Jew by choice, and also a Jew by birth. My ancestry and family history is very interesting and the road is quite curvy. When I tell my story, I like to say two things – I was definitely one of those souls at Mount Sinai and like the Jews, I wandered in the desert for 40 years before coming home. Let me explain…
My mother was born a Jew. Her birth name was Lillian Hirshberger and it was also her mother’s name. Her mother was a 17 year old girl from Austria who lived in the Bronx and was unmarried, so she gave my mom up for adoption. Her adoptive parents came all the way from Chicago to add her to their family and found her in the Stephen Wise orphanage. They changed her name to Martha Weinshenk – yes, she got another Jewish name. My mom was raised in a reform synagogue in Chicago until about the age of 13. That is where the story takes a turn.
She drifted away from Judaism after being estranged from her dad and converted to the religion of her friends at the age of 20 – she became a Catholic. I was raised Catholic, but it was never a fit for me. Fast forward, and of course, I married a Jew. It was not him, but my daughter who brought us to the synagogue when she was 10 and decided she was Jewish. If you know Leah, you know that she knew exactly what she was doing. The moment I walked in, I knew I was home.
We all wander in the wilderness at times. This week’s torah portion, B’midbar, is exactly that story of the Jews wandering. I wandered for 40 years and found my way back to my Jewish roots. It is who I was all along and where I definitely belong.
My hope for you is that whatever wilderness in which you wander, religious or not, may you always find your way back home. I am so glad I did.