This proverbial saying originated as an old African proverb. It has been used in various situations, but as we write this we want to share the birth of a child who is now 28 years old. In fact, this past Shabbat he celebrated his bar mitzvah in a slightly different manner than the usual 13-year-old adolescent. We are speaking of none other than Steven Nunez, a young man born in the Philippines and raised by his parents for many years in Taiwan before arriving in the United States when he was 11 years old. Steven attended public schools his entire life where his family resided in Springfield, New Jersey.
His story is long and interesting but we are going to fast forward to how he developed an interest in Judaism, primarily due to the fact that in his office at Party Rental Ltd he came in contact with several shomer Shabbat coworkers. His interest in Judaism grew and grew, and after researching and giving much thought to such a life-altering decision he began on the path of seeking a rav and a rebbe to help him pursue his newfound commitment and interest in Judaism.
Ironically, how does the younger generation get their information these days? Of course, with the help of Google. Steven contacted the RCBC and asked them how he could go about converting. He was told that he would have to have a sponsoring rabbi from a local shul. His next step was to Google which rabbis in Teaneck were involved in conversion, and lo and behold he came upon the name Rabbi Haim Jachter. He read that Rabbi Jachter had written an essay on conversion. He was in touch with Rabbi Jachter and told him his story, at which time Rabbi Jachter agreed to be his sponsor. After several weeks of Steven’s learning individually on his own he received a call from Rabbi Jachter explaining that he would not have the time to be his sponsoring rav. Steven requested of Rabbi Jachter during that telephone conversation his permission to attend Shaarei Orah despite the fact that he was not going to be his sponsor and before he knew exactly which rabbi would agree to sponsor him. Rabbi Jachter agreed to his request. Steven entered Shaarei Orah for the first time and had not a clue what to do, where to stand, when to sit, but he did know in which direction he should open his siddur or Chumash, as he was already teaching himself Hebrew online.
It was the very first time that Steven visited Shaarei Orah that Rabbi Michael Chernick noticed this young man who appeared in shul and definitely looked out of place. He invited him to sit with him, and that unexpected occurrence was the beginning of Steven’s journey. He had chosen the person he wanted to become his rav and now he had found a rebbe. Rabbi Michael Chernick, a very old friend of the Glicks for more years than we want to admit, became the most outstanding, loving teacher of Steven, learning with him several times a week and finding great pleasure in his new student who was absorbing everything he was learning at a fast pace. Several weeks later, during the kiddush following the tefillot at Shaarei Orah, Steven received the most welcoming message from Rabbi Jachter informing him that he would be his sponsoring rav after all. Steven thinks that it was at that time that Rabbi Jachter realized the extent of his commitment.
It took months of studying, meetings with the beit din, new challenges that were not always that easy. Certainly one has the right to wonder about his parents and his brother. As his father told the writer, “I want my son to be happy, but it is not so easy.”
Steven went through a brit milah and tevilah in the mikvah in the past month. He is now as Jewish as any of us who were born from Jewish mothers. However, the story doesn’t end there. Steven’s journey is one of love and caring and acceptance from the wonderful Shaarei Orah community. As Steven explained, at the very beginning of his attending Shabbat service at the congregation he was invited to people’s homes. Once, he remembers walking home from shul—at the time, home was an apartment in Hackensack—and he happened to exit the shul at the same time as one of the loving Shaarei Orah members. When this person began to walk with Steven he asked him where he was going for lunch (it was Pesach) and Steven said he was on his way back to his apartment in Hackensack, and immediately the person invited him to come with him for lunch and not even to his home but to the home of a friend. What’s another guest to feed in a Jewish home?
This past Shabbat we had the pleasure of attending Steven’s pseudo bar mitzvah. As the invitation that Shaarei Orah sent to its membership said, “This week’s seudah shelishit is a bar mitzvah celebration. A young man recently changed his status from someone practicing mitzvot without being commanded to someone who accepted the obligations of Jewish practice and belief as fully commanded due to his successful giyur. Join us in celebrating Shalom Yonatan (aka Steve) Nunez’s “bar mitzvah” amd entry into klal Yisrael this Shabbat afternoon.”
Not only did the members of the congregation come to celebrate this occasion, but they arranged a catered seudah shelishit fit for a king!
Being at Shaarei Orah brought back wonderful memories of all of our Sefardi friends in Montreal and the many times that we attended their semachot in their batei kenessiyot. Shaarei Orah even ensured once again at the seudah that many of the salads we were accustomed to eating in Montreal were on the table with their extra-tangy tastes.
Rabbi Michael Chernick, in his remarks, eloquently stated, “For those who mentor a ger there are special rewards. As our candidates become Jews for the first time, we become Jews all over again with them. As we watch their meticulous observance, we become more careful about our own practices. As we see them becoming more intentional in their tefillot, we learn to pray again as we always knew we should. As they develop a true connection to and love for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, we become greater lovers of both, amazed at how a one-time outsider has become an insider.” Rabbi Chernick continues, “This kehillah as a whole should be proud of itself. We became a village that raised a Jewish soul. We took in a stranger and made him a ben bayit. And he in turn has become a faithful son of this shul.”
We have to say that we can well understand why Steven quickly became a part of the Shaarei Orah family. Within minutes after walking through the doors of the beit knesset we were both warmly welcomed and wondered why more people do not speak of this jewel of a beit knesset. It would be lovely for more Ashkenazi Jews in the community to take a walk over to Shaarei Orah and learn more about their tefillot and minhagim. Indeed, we can well understand why the Chernicks and now Shalom Yonatan feel as though this is their makom of kedusha.
We honor Rabbi Haim Jachter for his diligence and compassion in allowing Steven to join the Shaarei Orah family. He obviously saw something very special in this young man’s devotion and commitment to Judaism. May he continue to grow from day to day, and may all of the members of the Shaarei Orah community feel great pride in themselves for accepting and welcoming him so beautifully.
By Rabbi Mordechai and Nina Glick
Rabbi Mordechai and Nina Glick are living in Bergenfield after many years of service to the Montreal Jewish community. Rabbi Glick was the rav of Congregation Ahavat Yisroel as well as a practicing clinical psychologist in private practice. He also taught at Champlain Regional College. The Glicks were frequent speakers at the OU marriage retreats. Nina coordinated all Yachad activities in Montreal and was a co/founder of Maison Shalom, a group home for young adults with special needs. They can be reached at [email protected]