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The Eternal Jew

The Eternal Jew

A Letter Sent to the Lubavitcher Rebbe

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The Officiate of the Lubavitch Rabbi
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11225

Honorable Rabbi:

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.

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Sara September 30, 2017

there is no date on this letter. When was it written and to whom? the title implies the Rebbe. Was he still alive? Reply

Chabad.org Staff November 6, 2017
in response to Sara:

From Bronya Shaffer: I don't recall when it was written, but it was during the Rebbe's lifetime. I became aware of the letter through Rabbi Binyomin Klein, one of the Rebbe's secretaries, when he gave me a copy of it. He told me, as well, that there was, indeed, a silver mezuza case enclosed with the letter. Reply

Yaakov USA February 22, 2017

Valuable story It seems that a lot of people here have overlooked the value of this story bringing out two powerful messages. The first: no matter how far a Jewish soul has sunken, it remains a holy soul waiting to reattach itself. No one is too far gone.
Second: the Rebbe through his messengers reaches out to every lost soul. He asked us all to do the same. Reply

Yosef-mendel Ny December 26, 2016

Simply beautiful Wow to Ms.Shaffer... A hasid follows her/his master's ways.. No doubt the love patience, tolerance and guidance to all parties, was from digesting her Rebbe's teachings for years... Not every Lubavitcher is sincerely keen to really tune in to the Rebbe's real delicate sensitivity to every human.... Powerful letter 👍 Reply

Anonymous new york July 16, 2013

Only love & acceptance of a fellow human being can lead to a positive change in this human being. This letter brought me to tears because it's full of unconditional love. In no way does Chabad's publishing this letter condone a homosexual lifestyle. Learn from Bronya Shaffer. Treat your fellow human being with respect & love. Doing so is being true to Torah Judaism. Hating and judging are not. Reply

Hannah Boston, MA May 24, 2012

You know, a few months ago, I was thinking of joining Chabad, since my father's entire side of the family is Jewish (though I myself am an atheist), and a friend of my grandmothers told me that this organization is very accepting towards non-Jews. After reading the comments here, I now am glad that I never actually acted on that urge, since I now know how utterly un-accepting and intolerant Chabad is, especially towards non-Jews and LGBT individuals (I'm bisexual). So congratulations, everyone, on pushing me away from your organization. You can keep your hatred and intolerance to yourself. I want no part of it. Reply

Gavriel Eliezer ben Ze'ev Gershon Largo, FL December 5, 2010

Gay Jews & Chabad Chabad certainly accepts gay jews just as it accepts all jews. As my rabbi has related more than once, even if you are transgressing with one hand, you can still wrap tefillin with the other. It's not the gayness at issue, just the silliness of the surprise ending and the fact that it is only that which seems to be the reason for its publication. Only the nun involved should be surprised at the inclusiveness of Chabad. No one else aware of the Rebbe's mission should be surprised, and that is why I don't feel the letter was worthy of publication.
My other comments earlier were responses to other commentaries. Reply

David San Diego December 5, 2010

It was Stalin who called for political correctness Gavriel,

Thanks for your comments. I agree that others do not need to (or should) worship as we do. There are the Noachide Laws for the nations of the world.

There is a popular PC politically-correct mantra that goes around about how all cultures, religions, and societies are all equal. Wrong, they are not equal. There is also a fine line intermixing cultures and religions. Too much diversity itself is very bad and unhealthy for any society. By the logic system of some people, if humans can think it and do it, it should be acceptable with the exceptions for such actions that the tolerant ones choose not to tolerate based on their human animal-soul inspired logic system and rationalizations. I choose Torah’s logic system and teachings.

Many of these liberalized value calls are simply part of the ongoing calls to reform society based on old Marxist ideology. Reply

Anonymous San Diego December 4, 2010

'Working for peace' is fine and noble Sometimes diplomacy solves problems and sometimes killing is required. Didn't G-d direct Israel to attack and kill the Canaanites who were pagans, idol worshipers, and into many forms of sexual perversity which included homosexuality and bestiality?

One G-d created the Earth and humans with the ability to choose to be many things. Yet G-d also gave us laws to honor and follow. People are born with all sorts of temperaments and drives (and later acquire and learn others) yet that does mean people (especially Jews) can do whatever they just 'feel good' about doing.

America’s Jewish community is facing a population and identity implosion because of liberalization, assimilation, and diversity. Jews embracing their animal-soul and self-worshiping may seem like a pleasant choice and fun to some individuals yet on a community nationwide basis the results are killing us. Reply

Anonymous San Diego December 4, 2010

we are on track just fine “Perhaps discussing gay Jews in connection with Chabad is too uncomfortable for some of the commenters?”

What’s next? Perhaps the suggestion that if a Jew does not support full Jewish gay ‘rights’ then that person is homophobic and is expressing deep seated sexual insecurities? That old gay intimidation tactic is really getting outdated.

The subject of this discussion has followed the usual path of the Internet with posters drawing upon and responding to previous commentators and not just the original article. Regardless of how you choose to define what the story is about and spin your agenda, the reality is that Chabad.org is not some liberal Jewish blog. Reply

Rosemary Brisbane, Qld/Australia December 4, 2010

Human Judgment There seems to be a paradox in that we are advised by Torah not to reason things through ourselves, but to follow G-d's mandates, & yet we must use discernment, as the Talmud exemplifies. Somehow our task seems to be to negotiate this paradox appropriately.

Unfortunately things are made very hard because, as previous replies pointed out, people with different religious bases (& I would add "none") reason matters through in ways that can differ markedly. And people think, feel & act as a consequence of this. Dreadful consequences can ensue, as we well know.

What is the solution? Perhaps each of us must make up his or her own mind in the light of his or her beliefs. Perhaps each must earnestly, thoroughly & seriously stop & consciously connect with what each believes most centally, & live true to that. Reply

Anonymous Washington, DC December 4, 2010

Aren't We A Bit Off Track Here? The discussion seems to have veered off into idolatry, terrorism, etc. -- but actual subject of the article is not related to these topics. Perhaps discussing gay Jews in connection with Chabad is too uncomfortable for some of the commenters?

The subject of the article is a Jewish woman who was partnered with a Catholic nun and was considering conversion to Christianity because the Jewish community of several decades ago had no place for them.

Chabad and Mrs. Shaffer reached out to this woman. After her death, her partner wrote a very respectful letter to the Rebbe's office thanking Chabad for its kindness.

The Rebbe's office could have destroyed the letter. Its preservation is greatly to their credit.

Every neshamah (soul) is valuable. If Chabad reached out only to 'perfect' Jews -- how do we determine 'perfect' Jews? -- there would be a lot fewer Chabad Houses. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 3, 2010

wrong and right forms of worship The "rites" of worship, if they exclude others or attempt to forcibly include others, causing harm to others, are clearly wrong. But idolatry itself, if in praise of G_d or gods, is not necessarily an offense. After all, who created us all with such a diversity of ways of worship?

How could anyone argue that oppression, tyranny, murder, in the name of any religion is right?

But in order to evolve to the concept of One, as in our deeply beautiful shema, there is a story that brought us, the Jews, and others, to whatever place they do now occupy. And I say that story was deeply determined by this same G_d we worship, by whatever name or names.

In the NOW, meaning our immediate lives, we must work for peace, and oppose all tyranny that comes from any source, and certainly terrorism.

The central paradox, that must be somehow embraced is that all emanates from the Source.

There is a profound learning curve here, but I also say we must celebrate diversity, a diversity of One itself. Reply

Gavriel Eliezer ben Ze'ev Gershon Largo, FL December 3, 2010

Wow! I did not intend to consider the negative aspects of idolatry regarding our history, but anonymous is right on...however, I did merely mean that icon veneration borders strongly on idolatry and that we Jews cannot condone idolatry. I do not feel that others need to worship as we do (G-d has a place in heaven for anyone who wants to follow the 7 Noachide laws and idolators are not welcome.) While the art of the west depends strongly on religious themes it is the Christian world that actually venerates icons of Jesus and Mary. There is still a large part of the eastern world that remains idolatrous. Interestingly, they also represent the least danger to Jews today. It is our anti-icon cousins descended from Ishmael who represent a clear and ongoing danger. Reply

Anonymous San Diego December 2, 2010

some forms of worship are wrong Dear Ruth,

The beliefs and practices of others can bring destruction to people (Jews) who do not worship as they do. Historically, pagan and idol worship has brought great harm to the Jewish people. Consider just two cases: the Babylonians and Romans. The Romans placed a statue of their Roman God-Caesar in our Temple. Both groups conquered, slaughtered, occupied, and oppressed our people and both destroyed our Holy Temple. Then, both groups sent our people into exile.

The Inquisitors (and others) believed they were doing G-d’s work. The pseudo-religious ideology of Nazi Fascism justified slaughtering six million of us.

‘Worship’ can mean more than the popular religious context. Modern political systems can sometimes be practiced as forms of pseudo-religions with political beliefs replacing religion. The ideology of State Socialism, over the past one hundred years has been responsible for the mass murders of their own citizens far exceeding that of international wars. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 1, 2010

Icons I want to clarify. If I misinterpreted anything on line I truly apologize. I don't think the person in question said anything negative about gay relationships so if this was inferred from what I wrote, I was wrong.

From a Jewish point of view, the worship of statues is idol worship, and it's truly within the definition. I could not argue with this.

I was trying to say, that no form of worship is wrong in that we should all of us, not judge others, who do not pray as we do.

We would not have so much art in the world, however, amazing art, if there were not differences in ways people celebrate and connect to the Divine. Reply

Anonymous San Diego December 1, 2010

tradition is good It is only a matter of time until commentators with progressive-reform agendas start labeling traditional-minded commentators here as homophobes, haters, bigots, elitists, chauvinists, etc. Some reform-minded people already have indirectly. The world needs deep Torah spiritual transformation and not shallow human-devised political change after change that chases after the latest social (read animal soul inspired) value trend. Reply

gavriel eliezer ben ze'ev gershon Largo, FL December 1, 2010

Ruth Housman's comment You failed to understand That I was not disparaging the nun for being an idol worshiper, only that it seems so to me as a Jew. Worship of icons do seem idolatrous to me.That's not being super-pious. Further, it was the ridiculously hidden aspect of gayness that I thought was stupid. In the absence of the gay issue this story would never have seen the light of publication, and was done, I feel, only for its shock value. Not worthy of Chabad. Reply

Sharon Las Vegs, NV December 1, 2010

The point. So, Pamela died a Jew. Good. I think this was very nearly a shaggy dog story. Personally, I wish it had not been printed. Reply

Anonymous Washington, DC November 30, 2010

Great Story! This is a wonderful story. I was astonished to see it on Chabad.org. It also speaks volumes about Ms. Shaffer and the Chabad staff, who could have easily suppressed this story about a Jewish-Catholic lesbian couple, where Chabad helped the Jewish woman hang onto her Jewish identity.

I'm guessing the story took place several decades ago, as nowadays there are Jewish gay groups to reach out to such couples. A Reform rabbi today would likely have treated the couple kindly. I am also aware of at least one Chabad outreach shul where the gayness of some members is not made into a public issue.

But date of the story in no way detracts from the remarkable kindness of Bronya Shaffer. Thanks for preserving this story! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma November 30, 2010

an interesting story I am not exactly sure why this story was put on Chabad, as others have mentioned. If the point was that decisions should be made in the light, that is an interesting source of discussion.

I was surprised that this was a lesbian relationship and honestly don't know why this was hidden at the outset of the telling. Why make this a kind of surprise ending? Why not be clear?

Personally I don't believe such love relationships to be in any way wrong, but part of life, and part also of how we are made. I know loving relationships of all kind.

I think decisions as to worship are personal and none are right, nor wrong, nor do I brand people who are Christians as idol worshippers etc.

The world is not going to change if ideas like this, as are written in commentary, in the guise of religious piety, continue. Of course there are other comments that are truly, in my view, accepting and wise. Reply

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