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The Girl Who Had To Be Jewish

The Girl Who Had To Be Jewish

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Rabbi Zalman Serebryanski, a senior chassid from Russia and dean of the Lubavitch Rabbinical College in Melbourne, Australia, once brought a girl to Rabbi Chaim Gutnick. "Please, help this girl convert," he asked.

Rabbi Gutnick listened to the girl's story. She lived in Balaclava, and from her youth had felt a strong attraction to Judaism. Whenever she heard stories of the Holocaust, she was deeply touched. She had been reading and studying about Judaism for a long time, and now wanted to convert.

Rabbi Gutnick was moved by her sincerity. Nevertheless, he did not want to perform the conversion. The girl was still living at home with her non-Jewish parents. Would she be able to practice Judaism in her parents' home? Would her interest continue as she matured into adulthood? Since he could not answer these questions, he decided to let time take its course. If the girl was still interested when she was older, she could convert then.

Rabbi Gutnick's refusal plunged the girl into deep depression, to the extent that she had to be confined to a hospital. The elder Reb Zalman, stirred by the depth of her feelings, continued to visit her from time to time.

After several weeks, he called Rabbi Gutnick, telling him of the girl's condition and asking him whether perhaps he would change his mind because of the strength of her feelings.

Rabbi Gutnick answered that the reasons which had dissuaded him from performing the conversion were still valid. Nevertheless, he promised to write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe describing the situation. If the Rebbe advised him to facilitate her conversion, he would happily comply.

Reb Zalman told the girl that the Rebbe was being consulted, and her condition improved immediately.

Rabbi Gutnick did not receive an immediate reply to his letter. But at a later date, at the end of a reply to another issue, the Rebbe added: "What's happening with the Jewish girl from Balaclava?"

Rabbi Gutnick was surprised. The girl and Reb Zalman had both made it clear that her family was Anglican!

He and Reb Zalman went to confront the girl's mother. At first, she continued to insist that she was Anglican, but as the sincerity of the two rabbis impressed her, she broke down and told her story. She had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in England. As a young girl, she had rebelled against her parents and abandoned Jewish life entirely, marrying a gentile and moving to Australia. She had not given Judaism a thought since. She loved her daughter, however, and would not oppose her if she wished to live a Jewish life.

Once the girl's Jewishness was established, Rabbis Serebryanski and Gutnick helped her feel at home in Melbourne's Lubavitch community. She continued to make progress in her Jewish commitment, and today is a teacher in a Lubavitch school.

But Rabbi Gutnick still had a question: How did the Rebbe know she was Jewish? At his next yechidut (audience with the Rebbe) he mustered the chutzpah to ask.

The Rebbe replied that, at Reb Zalman's urging, the girl had also written him a letter. "Such a letter," the Rebbe declared, "could only have been written by a Jewish girl."

From To Know and to Care by Rabbi Eliyahu and Malka Touger; published by Sichos In English
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annie July 13, 2015

My thoughts to you, Nancy... Probably... there are so many that feel the same way you do, too, Nancy... Maybe because these are the Soul Examples of Life and Family and Serving HaShem... and they give us a desire to serve Him and to learn how to make our lives better and to come up from where we are... Reply

Rochel Chein for chabad.org July 13, 2015

Jewish mother Judaism is matrilineal, and the children of a Jewish mother are themselves completely Jewish. Your local Chabad rabbi can help you find out more about your Jewish heritage. Find the nearest Chabad at www.chabad.org/centers. Reply

Nancy Balest MEDINA July 6, 2015

Beautiful! I too have always felt Jewish. Raised Catholic but never had peace. I studied Jewish studies and Torah on my own trough the past many years.When my Aunt told me that she and my Mother were Jewish, I felt redeemed. She told me their story. I still long to convert. Reply

Rochel Toronto December 12, 2014

Convert I converted twice (once conservative and another Orthodox) and then found out my grandmother on my maternal side was actually Jewish. Beautiful story. Reply

Anonymous brooklyn November 13, 2014

WOW. this is such a touching story. I can not believe it happened! Reply

Frans Netherlands September 3, 2013

Kesser Torah Dear Judy,
Todah Rabah for your comment! You touched tin my opinion the deeper message of the Torah. Everybody who sincerely wants to learn from the Torah and accept and worship the G'd of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov as the one and only true G'd, should be more than welcome in any Jewish community.
Take notice for instance of Isaiah 56 and also the fact that Avraham himself was chosen by G'd because of his faith. The story of Ruth, the Moabite woman tells us the same. It's not just your ancestry, but also and perhaps even more important to G'd what's your heart condition, your deeds and faith. The Torah is given to the people of Israel, not only to keep the Torah for themselves, but by keeping the commandments and worship G'd to be a light for mankind and to bring them back to G'd. It's not by coincedence that the Torah was given in the middle of the dessert, now man's land, and not in the land of Israel. Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam !!
I wish you all Shana Tova Umetukah! Reply

Leanne London, UK May 17, 2013

I resonate so much with this story, as this is how I have been feeling and still am feeling to this day; I been longing to convert to Judaism since I was 13 but now I am nearly 18. However, I have realised that I will probably have to wait until after University, when I will have finished my degree and will have moved out of my parents house by then, in order to keep Kosher and live in a Jewish community...Plus, conversions in the UK cost money, so I have to make sure I have a job first. Reply

Leanne UK May 19, 2017
in response to Leanne:

Wow, I forgot I even commented here...Four years down the line, and I am 21. Still wanting to convert. In a different place in terms of my degree; hit a few speed bumps. Still haven't converted Orthodox (I hope to in the future), but have decided to give a non-Orthodox conversion a chance. Like the girl, I had my struggles when I found out that the beit din here wouldn't convert me because I am a student; got depressed, felt lonely and couldn't really see the value in living my life as a non-Jew.

However going through the conversion process via the Masorti movement has allowed me to experience Judaism, and encounter other Jews. People have been nothing but nice to me; been so welcoming. I feel like I am joining a family. Reply

Anonymous St. Augustine, FL via chabadsaugustine.com May 11, 2012

Soul connection How could anyone doubt the Rebbe's gift of seeing into the soul of another human being? He certainly connected to a Jewish soul as revealed in the young woman's letter, but even if there had not been a Jewish soul, there was, nevertheless, a soul with whom he could commune. No other explanation is necessary. As far as her yearning for a deeper connectedness to her own Jewishness, perhaps someone specializing in regression therapy might open some paths to further insight. There's always a reason, whether or not we accept or understand it. Best wishes on reclaiming your life! Reply

Anonymous December 21, 2011

Thank you for the story... Probably most converts, or those who long to convert, feel the same urgency this young lady felt. I love these stories, they tell so much. Reply

Roberlie Coventry, CT July 6, 2011

To WHY I HAD to be Jewish to Shashi Ishai I can not thank you enough!! I am still wiping away the tears of your beautiful post! You see my sister-in-law said yesterday that I don't look Jewish.. (I beg to differ.. but still feel the need to argue it out) I found her statement very hurtful. I have been Jewish 6 years and though my new family accepts me fully I am still not satisfied. I still want that blood, looks & name. Why its so important to me I can't know for sure.. I was a post Holocaust baby and I can accept your answer as fulfillment to my desperate need to be Jewish in EVERY way.. I feel the pain of the Holocaust, angered when SOME claim it did not happen.. overwhelming fear & helplessness watching movies about it.. I can see how a Jew could wish not to be Jewish and how that could result! In order to save my sanity I think I will accept your answer as why I am the way I am. I feel fulfilled now! THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH.. I am sure I will fall back and need reminders and will come back often to reread your post Reply

Shashi Ishai Netanya, Israel via chabadhouse.com June 20, 2010

Why I HAD to be Jewish? This answer is for Converted in Coventry, Ct. I can offer an answer to what I have learned via my former Chabad Rabbi, Ephraim Simon, of Teaneck, N.J. Although most mainstream Jews are unaware of this, reincarnation is integral aspect in the Kabbalah. When a Gentile feels an unexplainable pull towards Judaism, really strong, then it is believed that the soul, before birth, was Jewish,but, by a fluke or for unknown Divine reason, he is born in a non-Jewish body. Thus, we have a Jewish soul in a non-Jewish body/environment. This is where the individual follows his instinct and desire, and returns to his people through conversion. Sometimes,the snafu is brought about by the pre-born Jewish soul himself. For instance, during the Holocaust, there were Jews who, before being gassed, cried out that they didn't want to be born a Jew..it was only a punishment and an injustice in their mind. This last thought impacted on their next reincarnation as a nonJew. Reply

Anonymous Coventry, CT via chabader.com December 28, 2009

Judy Resnick, Far Rockaway, NY I totally agree with Judy. I was the Anonymous, Coventry, CT, entitled "Conversion" post above. I did exactly as you have said and found myself in touch with a local Rabbi which led to my conversion. But I still haven't found that connection that I continue to long to find even though I am fully accepted as Jewish now and feel loved and complete in my new community. Still, I can't help but want to find such a connection, if for no other reason than to explain why I felt that I HAD to convert to Judaism and to honestly feel that the history that belongs to the Jews IS really my history as well. In these cases I still can't help but feel left out. Reply

Judy Resnick Far Rockaway, NY December 27, 2009

To Anon in Yacolt, WA Kesser Torah, the crown of Torah, is there for everybody who wants to come and take it. If you so sincerely crave the treasures of Torah, call up your nearest Chabad Center and go to classes. Learn the alef-bais, read English language Judaica. No need to crawl. No need to be a King. If you are hungry for G-d's Word, there is a buffet out there. Grab and eat! Reply

Anonymous Yacolt, WA via chabadclarkcounty.com December 18, 2009

This was moving... I often reflect on my family's Jewish heritage and wonder. Has the chain ever been compromised, if so, how, when?

I think this is human to wonder such things.
Interestingly enough, my overwhelming hunger and thirst for G-d and H-s statutes are so great that I realize, I am comfortable with any adversity and any challenge, but I would rather die a million deaths than offend the Al-mighty.

If I were born as the most noble King of my time, I would walk, I would crawl to Yerushalime and beg at the Kotel that G-d would let me in... in, ...to the treasures of Torah. Reply

arnonym Vienna, Austria May 14, 2009

Converted jews and jewish soul What was not kept in mind or missunderstood by someone ore maybe also others:

Gerim (the pre-conversion converts) do not have a jewish soul >withing their bodies< ! There is a soul, supposed to be in their body (and that sould was at the giving of the Torah at mount sinai), but it's not already in their bodies. One receives it in the mikweh - naked like a baby, surrounded by water/fluid like a baby, one receives his nefesh elokit like a baby, starting a new life like a baby.. Reply

Anonymous SterlingPeace, Kansas January 9, 2009

I cried I read this and I cried, I am a woman, who was not born to a Jewish mother, and have been wanting to know what the steps are for "converting" to the Jewish family. I believe now that the "conversion" is just a matter of heart. I hope that my understanding is correct. I look forward to learning the rest in the comming years. Reply

Aviva via chabadofseattle.org December 18, 2008

A reply to an above statement. "This story seems very unfair to converts. If converts are born with a Jewish neshama then they also could write such a letter. It does not make sense that the Rebbe could distinguish between a born Jewess and girl with a Jewish neshama based on a letter. "

I agree, so then the girl must have written something in her letter to distinguish her inherent Jewish identity to the Rebbe. Reply

Zalman Brooklyn, NY February 11, 2008

Unfair vs. Lucky Although i feel for anyone who is slighted by the Rebbe's answer, it must be explainable at face value.

Surely the Rebbe did not claim to know her 'Jewishness' from her writing style or even from the words or phrases she used.

Also, though it is easy to explain it as Ruach Hakodesh (Divine Spirit), it must still fit into the context of coming from within her letter, as surely the Rebbe’s statement to Rabbi Gutnik was truthful to fullest degree.

The following explanation might help to understand how the Rebbe can KNOW the souls origin from the letter:

According to Kabbala (based on the acronym for the first word of the Ten Commandmants) ones innermost self, ones essence is [can be] imbued within ones writings.

While most of us are blind to the soul within another’s letter, a Rebbe can read the soul within the letter, and when dealing with the actual soul, it's Jewishness is quite apparent. [as well as the difference between a soul in an already Jewish body or otherwise.] Reply

Menashe New Jersey June 21, 2007

The Rebbe's answer I don't think the Rebbe's answer to how he knew should be taken literally. The Rebbe has ruach hakodesh - he didn't need any letter to tell him the girl was Jewish...certainly Rabbi Gutnick knew that as well. Reply

Anonymous philadelphia , pa, us December 13, 2006

jewish-ness When asked if I am a jew I stop to think "can I say that I am if I have not officially converted?The answer I feel to be true is "yes" I am jewish not because I am studying or because I have jewish blood but because I have the thirst for it and the feeling of peace and belonging! Only G-d can give me this. No paper, ceramony or word of another can give me this essence. It has always been a part of me. Reply