Carmen's Essay (from The Jewish Identity Project, 2005)

The second anniversary of my conversion coincided with the days and events leading up to the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. A friend by the name of Reuven and I decided to attend the General Assembly session in which Elie Wiesel spoke. Not having seen Reuven in months, it was easy to spot him in the crowd. He was dressed, except for his shirt, totally in black. Ditto for me. We had not coordinated colors at all. But I was aware that what he was thinking in his choice of color was also what I had been thinking when choosing a wardrobe that day. During the entire ceremony, I cried. Reuven sat with his head buried in his hands, the pain all too evident.

To be able to feel beyond my daily concerns, and to feel, if I may express it, retroactively to events of sixty years past just amazed me. Because my sorrow at the General Assembly, sitting next to a friend who was also shaken to the core of his being remembering those who never made it and those who suffered unspeakable sorrow and horror, made me aware that I had begun to feel not only the joy of Torah but also the millenary anguish of our transpired history.

A man recently told me that I was probably at Sinai. Meaning that I too was a Jewish soul back then. Rabbi Viñas, right after my conversion and in front of Rabbi Bamzer, told me that he only converted Jews to Judaism. People say this to me in different ways, meaning that I have always been Jewish.

During the Farbrengen that followed my conversion at Chabad in Riverdale, a lady congratulated me and told me that a rabbi had told her that after the Holocaust, Hashem had allowed Jewish souls to be born to non-Jewish parents. That the Jewish community had been so decimated that it would take a few generations before families could increase their numbers to receive all the souls wanting to return and to be observant by embracing Torah fully. So Jewish children were being born in all parts of the world, ready to be “converted” and come home again.

Also during the recent Auschwitz commemoration, I asked Candy Lora-Dudley, the administrator at Lincoln Park Jewish Center--Rabbi Viñas’s shul and my spiritual home--if she knew of a camp survivor. She did. Her name: Mrs. Irene Staub. I called Irene for an interview and she, through tears, was able to give me one. She spoke of having lost all of her family, she spoke of not being able to say anything positive of what she and others endured, and she concluded with, “Why did we ever have to go through so much horror?”

I cried again, not being able to contain myself. I cried along with Irene, for her family, recalling my own recurrent dreams of my family in Sefarad packing their belongings on that fatidic Tisha B’Av of 1492, looking around the house during one last glimpse of ancestral homes while people--the mob--was screaming outside for the Jews to finally leave! I dream and relive the sorrow of walking, literally walking out of Spain, grandparents and infirm people dropping dead along the way, too fragile to continue the trek for their spiritual survival, refusing to stay and survive as a convert. What my ancestors did was to survive spiritually, walking out of Spain not to sever their eternal link to the Magnificence entrusted to Jews back at Sinai. My Spanish ancestors refused to give up this Treasure for which their own ancestors had also walked out of Misrayim en route to Israel.

I would have embraced Irene if I could have at that moment of her recollection. I thought of Wiesel’s words to the General Assembly, that during the Holocaust not all victims were Jews, but that all Jews were victims.

And I did something that, if in a little way, consoles my heart that this millenary voyage has not been lonely. We are all travelers together. I dedicated a window to Irene and her husband in the mechitza at Rabbi Viñas’s shul. It reads: “To Irene and Martin Staub, survivors of the Holocaust, from a daughter of Jews who fled the Inquisition, all for our Beloved Torah.”

Esther Rodríguez de Varona