The Officiate of the Lubavitch Rabbi
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11225
I have a Hannukkah story to tell you. Exactly ten years ago, during the Festival of Lights, though I didn’t know about the importance of it then, I met my soul mate. It was also on her birthday which we later found out to be on the second day of this Festival. Without going into great detail about our lives and backgrounds, I will simply tell you that I was raised a Protestant, later I joined Catholicism, and my partner in life was raised agnostic but was born Jewish. This was definitely determined, as her mother and grandmother and great grandmother were all Jewish. By the time we met, each of us had undergone great trials in our personal lives and had sought G‑d each in our own way.
Pam insisted that she loved me enough, she was finally willing to embrace Christianity and make it her ownFor two years we lived together in relative happiness, but after a while we realized that we had to find a religious community that would accept us and where we could find spiritual fulfillment. Our search took us to many places of worship in many different communities and different cities. I could not renounce my Christ, Pamela could not embrace him. Finally in a small Reform Jewish Temple, there was some acceptance, where Pam could worship the God of Israel and where I could at least acknowledge that I was a Christian. But it wasn’t right, it wasn’t good and neither of us was happy with our religious life. The journey was arduous and painful, we quarreled, and we cried and we tried to put it aside. Pam insisted that she loved me enough, she was finally willing to embrace Christianity and make it her own. Of course I was delighted!
We decided to speak first with the Rabbi of the Temple that we had been attending for some three months; however, while we were honest about my religion, we were not yet ready to reveal to our member-congregants that we were living together as a married couple. But in our meeting with the rabbi, we finally revealed the truth about our relationship, and were shocked and very hurt when we realized that although he was not opposed terribly to Pam’s conversion—he did his best to try to persuade me to convert to Judaism—he was completely opposed to our love. He claimed biblical sources, even though we knew he did not consider the bible an authoritative dictum. Very simply, he couldn’t accept us, and we had to leave. We realized then that there was no place in a Jewish community for us, and this made Pamela all the more certain that she could leave it behind her forever.
That first Christmas there was no celebration of Hannukkah. No gifts, and no lights, and no cards even to her family.
The second Christmas was no different.
The third Christmas was. On Thanksgiving Day we were walking on 65th Street all the way to the end on the West Side. We found ourselves in front of Lincoln Square Synagogue and suddenly Pamela wanted to go inside. For no reason at all, she just said “let’s go inside” and I complied with her wishes.
It was a fateful step for her. For us.
She told Pamela that if she was seriously contemplating such a drastic change in her life, it must be done in honesty, as a JewWe walked into a small hall where there was a lecture in progress about raising Jewish children. I remember vividly a Rabbi B. Greenberg spoke about traditional values; and then another woman, Mrs. Bronya Shaffer, spoke about the quest for a holy life in a wondrous material world. She was a Hasid and a member of the Lubavitch Rabbi’s congregation, and she changed the course of our life.
Pamela and I spoke with Mrs. Shaffer for a long time, mostly asking questions about the spiritual avenues open for Jewish women. I had never met as compassionate and caring a person as Mrs. Shaffer, and in a very short time we were openly and honestly telling her about our love and our plans for the future, including someday marriage in a church. Mrs. Shaffer acknowledged with respect my religion, and even acknowledged with respect Pamela’s desire to become a Christian, but she insisted on one thing. She told Pamela that if she was seriously contemplating such a drastic change in her life, it must be done in honesty, as a Jew. Light a candle for the Sabbath, she told Pamela. Do it just once. It’s what Jewish women do. And then do it again. And then do it again. And again. And keep doing it until it’s comfortable and you know that it’s a part of you. Then, you can think about changing that you. Because right now you’re not even comfortable with the you that you know. It’s from a darkness that you are making a change. But life changes should always take place in the light of day, not darkness . . . light is knowledge. So create your light, and then think about your change in that light.
The conversation continued. She emphasized that no matter what we did before or after, no matter our partnership, no matter our attendance at my prayer group, Pamela, not I, she stressed, should continue to light a candle for the Sabbath every Friday evening.
And Pamela did that.
And then on the first day of Hanukkah Mrs. Shaffer called us and told Pamela that she had a Hannukkah gift for us. She brought us a “mezzazah” for our door. She said that every Jewish person must have one, and she said that it didn’t matter that Pamela was living with a Christian person. And during that conversation, we discovered that Pamela’s birthday was on the second day of Hannukkah.
Slowly we realized that Pamela would never renounce her religionPamela lit the Menorah for the first time that Hannukah, a little Menorah that Mrs. Shaffer brought us. And then she continued lighting her candle for the Sabbath every Friday.
Without fail, ever.
Slowly we realized that Pamela would never renounce her religion, and we never talked about it very much. With her lighting her candle, I could not bring myself to hurt her and we finally were able to put aside our religious differences.
That’s not the end of the story.
My Pamela died on her birthday, the second day of the Festival of Lights, three years ago. Her family disowned her long ago, and it was left to me, her only family, to see to her final resting place. A Christian burial was the obvious, but at the last minute, I noticed the silver case on our doorpost, and in my mind could see her candle burning, and I realized that I had to turn to a Rabbi of the Jewish faith to see to her burial. The Chaplain at the hospital in which she left this life saw to the details. I did not attend. I mourned her privately at home and in my church, and I mourn her still.
The little crystal candlestick stands by my bed, forever unlit.
The little rolled-up scroll that always hung on our living room door was buried with her. And the silver mezuzah case I am sending to you.
She was born a Jew, and she finally lived as a Jew, and she was buried as a JewMay her soul rest in peace. My Pamela, spurned by her family and friends and religion, found some comfort in your teachings. She was born a Jew, and she finally lived as a Jew, and she was buried as a Jew.
May G‑d bless her. May G‑d bless you, Honorable Rabbi, and may God bless your congregation.
And may God bless Bronya Shaffer.
Sister Patricia Morgan
Ed. Notes: This letter was written by a Catholic nun, whose name has been changed here to protect her privacy. Enclosed with this letter was a very beautiful sterling silver mezuzah case.
Bronya Shaffer is a member of this site’s Ask the Rabbi team. Click here to see some of her posted questions and answers.