Coming Home: The Journey of My Jewish Soul

Photo by Rina Deutsch

A few years ago, I traveled to Israel for the first time, without any idea that this journey would lead me, just weeks later, to the decision to move to Israel and hand in my application to convert to Judaism.

I was born in Germany and grew up in a family that was not religious. It didn’t take me very long to notice that I didn’t feel a connection to the German rationale and the cold and “non-religious” mentality. In 2012, I moved to Mallorca, Spain to study tourism. In my new life, far away from home, I found a spiritual connection for the first time. I started to realize that my existence has a much greater purpose than I had been taught my entire life. I started to find a connection to G-d, however, in a very limited way. But I knew one detail was missing…

In the summer of 2017, I came to Israel on vacation, without any specific intention or expectation. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Israel as a country, or about Judaism and the Jewish people. I just knew that they were the “Chosen Ones”.

I remember my thoughts on the plane while approaching land. When I looked out the window and saw Israel for the first time, I thought, ‘What an HONOR it will be to touch the Holy Land in a few moments.’

In Israel, I met unbelievably inspiring young religious people who introduced me to the precious values of Judaism. I immediately felt a very strong connection deep in my heart. At the time, I didn’t know why my heart was constantly pounding while in Jerusalem, or what the moments at a Shabbat table, which literally took my breath away, meant. Today, I know that my soul is Jewish and the feeling I had was that of coming home.

After returning from Israel, I knew that I couldn’t live without a Jewish influence anymore. I immediately contacted the Jewish community in my town and asked them if I could join the Shabbat service on the upcoming Friday. They invited and welcomed me as if I was already one of them. The weekly prayer service soon became the most exciting part of my week. I was blessed to have the chance to celebrate the Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, with my new community. Every day, I learned more about Jewish history, culture, and tradition. I used every minute to dive even further into it.

In time, I started to keep Shabbat, and step by step, to integrate Jewish values and traditions into the way I lived. I began to fully realize how meaningful the rituals were and how much they enriched my life. Every little Jewish practice touched me so intensely and deeply inside, and I felt so much excitement.

But it didn’t take long until I felt like I wanted even more than this! I had a strong wish to live a real Jewish life in Israel. In October 2017, only three months after my first visit, I moved to Israel. Impulsively, and totally led by my heart.

Finally in Israel…At the time, I barely knew anything about Judaism. I didn’t even know who Abraham was. When I joined a midrasha, a Torah school, and started to study the Torah, I was literally blown away!

I was astonished about the depth and holy teachings that Judaism contains. Not only that you can find a spiritual meaning behind every single letter in the Torah, but also the perfection of laws and ethical advice. It made me realize that Torah can only be of a Divine Source. I found deep spiritual meaning in the High Holidays, and I could feel an inner transformation from allowing the integration of Torah into my life. My values have changed completely, and I now feel that I live for a much higher purpose.

Today, I live in a town near Tel Aviv, and I am part of a lovely Modern Orthodox community. I could never thank them enough for accepting me for who I am and supporting me on my journey. I have found incredible adoptive families who call me part of their family, and make it possible for me to experience Judaism in practice when I spend Shabbat and the High Holidays with them.

I am converting in an amazing Modern Orthodox program in Tel Aviv. An Orthodox conversion in Israel takes at least one year of preparation, in which we study by ourselves and are also supposed to experience the full Jewish year in a community. After additionally passing a demanding interview with a rabbi of the Beit Din, we are permitted to start a 10- month-long official study program, which is supervised by the Rabbinate of Israel. At the end of those 10 months, we will appear in front of the Beit Din and have to discuss our knowledge about all the aspects of Judaism, Jewish history and Halacha, our Emunah and Jewish observance.

Bezrat Hashem, in a few months, I will meet the Beit Din and come out of the mikveh as a Jew.

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Ilana Schiffner is 26 years old and originally from Germany. She came to Israel 1.5 years ago to start her Orthodox conversion to Judaism. She shares her journey into Judaism under the name “Jewish by Choice” on Facebook and Instagram, as well as on her blog. She has a passion for traveling to synagogues around the world.