“Don’t misplace humility, the universe depends on you. The universe depends on each one of us.”Baal Shem Tov

Sofya begins:

When I shared my experience in The Impossible Dream of a Chinese Girl in Singapore, I could never have imagined that there would be a continuation of this incredible story. I tried to infuse myself and my readers with a sense of hope about her life today, but I had no idea what it would be.

I was overwhelmed by emails of people throughout the world who also met thisWe spoke for a long time young lady and were still impacted by their encounter. Then, thanks to modern technology and G‑d’s mysterious plan, I received an email from “Elisheva Martinetti.” Despite the Italian surname, I instantly knew that “my” girl had found me.

We spoke for a long time on the telephone, and I imagine that readers want to know what happened after our first memorable encounter. I asked Elisheva to share her story. I’ll just add: Make sure you have tissues nearby.

Elisheva writes:

At the end of Shabbat, a friend sent me a link to an article on Chabad.org. She asked me if the Chinese girl written in the article is possibly me. Curious and excited, I clicked on the link and started reading.

The author, Sofya, recounted a beautiful encounter she had with a Chinese girl in the Chabad community of Singapore. The scenes, which were so eloquently written, replayed in my mind. Without a shadow of doubt, I knew this was me, the timid yet determined me, 11 years ago.

Sensing my emotions, my husband encouraged me to contact the author to fill her in with part two of this story: “The fulfilment of that impossible dream.”

The Alter Rebbe wrote in Tanya that it is the obligation of every single Jew to re-experience the Exodus from Egypt every day. For me, this takes on an additional meaning. It meant physically leaving my homeland, a modern-day Egypt ruled by a modern day “Pharaoh.” It also meant leaving my personal, spiritual Egypt, my mindset, as well as my naturally introverted nature.

With G‑d’s help, and my mother’s incredible sacrifice and staunch support, the impossible dream came true in the most beautiful way.

My mother came across stories from the Talmud and Midrashim (ancient commentaries and interpretation on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to biblical text), and felt an instant pull, to the extent that she was certain that she must have possessed a Jewish soul. From then on, she would inspire me in whatever way possible to be more excited about Judaism. Chachmat nashim banta beita—“the wisdom of the woman builds her home.”1 True to these words, my mother kindled the fire within my soul.

I became increasingly thirsty for more Jewish knowledge; I wanted to live like a full-fledged Jewess. This indeed was an impossible dream if I stayed in China.

My mother and I needed to choose my first destination. It needed to be a country that would open its doors to a 15-year-old Chinese-born girl. Through Divine Providence, we discovered that Singapore was a perfect starting point. Not too far from China, it is a country heavily influenced by Chinese culture, yet it has a Western outlook and system. The best part is that it had an established Jewish community.

As soon as my mother decided that this was the right direction, she sold our house and made every effort humanly possible to acquire an exit visa for me to go to Singapore, with the intention of me getting closer to a “real” Jewish community, to learn more about G‑d and His commandments.

The only possible way to get me to Singapore was for me to become an exchange student. With my student visa, I was allowed to stay in Singapore for one yearWe needed to take the plunge until I passed my GCSE exam. (This is similar to a British high school entrance exam; the education system in Singapore is on par with that of Great Britain since it was once a colony of the British empire.)

We weren’t sure what would happen after this one year, but my mother told me that we needed to take the plunge and then, like the Jewish people leaving Egypt, G‑d would surely split the Red Sea for us and guide us where to go next.

This is how I landed in Changi Airport, Singapore, on March 9, 2009.

My mother came along to help me settle in, but visa limitations meant she could only stay for five days. On the last day we parted ways at the train station inside the airport.

I remember sitting on the train, looking out the window, watching my mother wave with a big smile on her face, her eyes full of love and encouragement. I held back my tears thinking that I would show her how strong and determined I was. My throat was getting drier by the minute, and I silently prayed for the train to leave quickly so I could let my guard down. As soon as it pulled away, my mother’s image became gradually blurry, my eyes flooded with tears. I knew I might never see her again.

My mother understood this as her Akeidat Yitzchak; she was willing to sacrifice her own needs for her child. I thought this was my Lech Lecha, just like our first patriarch, Abraham, I was called by G‑d, Himself, to “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”2

As mentioned in Sofya’s article, joining the community was not an easy feat, both because of the cautious approach of the Chabad emissary and my introverted nature. I was prepared to give up everything I had, but my biggest worry was that the community might justifiably look at me as someone who came to take advantage of them since I was a lone, young girl, with no family or relatives.

I tried to stay low profile. All I wanted was to learn more about Judaism and be recognized as a “real” Jew. The more I learned about keeping the holy Shabbat, the more desperate I felt to be able to keep it the way Jews were commanded. Lighting Shabbat candles 18 minutes before sunset was the most precious experience I could have dreamed of, but not wanting to bother other congregants and feeling extremely shy, I always watched other women from an invisible corner, waiting to light my own after they had finished.

Initially, I was unable to join community meals on Shabbat. I spent Friday nights and Shabbat days reading and learning in the synagogue’s study hall, which also served as a small library in the community center. I would tell G‑d that though the commandment of Shabbat was to eat extra delicacies, for me it would be to fast, rather than eat any of the nonkosher food in the dormitory. I was too shy to ask for food.

Eventually, after Rabbi Abergel, a Chabad rabbi in Singapore connected me with Rabbi Gutnick from the Sydney Rabbinical Court who specialized in conversions, I was allowed to participate in the community meals. I thought, this must be how the Jews felt in the desert after receiving the manna everyday from heaven. I was beyond emotional. I felt G‑d’s guiding hand leading me to His chosen nation.

I was given a syllabus to learn in order to complete my conversion study, but I was determined to learn far more than what the syllabus covered. I wanted to be the best Jew I could be!

I taught myself to read Hebrew and pray from a siddur, a prayer book. While standing in the women’s section, I would try to pray with a minyan, a public prayer quorum of 10 Jewish men, whenever possible. At the time, I thought that was the most praiseworthy way to “speak” to G‑d, and I didn’t know women were not obligated to pray with a minyan. I took off school to celebrate Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. My education process was not easy because in addition to learning Hebrew language and grammar, I also had to master some English, the language in which many books on Judaism are written.

Every day, I picked up more practices as I learned more Jewish laws. I remember the excitement I felt when I ate my first matzah, and when I said the whole Shmoneh Esrei prayer for the first time entirely in Hebrew. It took me nearly an hour to finish, but I felt that I was doing something for G‑d.

After a while, I wanted to learn in a Jewish girls’ high school. I emailed many schools across the globe explaining my circumstance. I got replies from Beth Rivkah girls’ school in Melbourne and Kesser Torah College in Sydney. Thanks to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s broad vision and his emissaries, both schools were happy to help me. Following Rabbi Abergel’s advice, I arrived in Sydney, completed the process of conversion, and joined Kesser Torah College with Rabbi Gutnick’s help and guidance all along the way.

After I graduated from Kesser Torah College, I was accepted into Beis Chana My mother and I were reunited after 10 years Seminary in Tzfat in the Holy Land of Israel, where I studied for an additional two years before coming to London to teach in the Lubavitcher Girls’ school.

Today, thank G‑d, I am happily married to a most incredible person, and we have a beautiful daughter. At my wedding, my mother and I were reunited after 10 years of separation. She came to visit again when my daughter was born six months ago.

Elisheva's daughter, Chana.
Elisheva's daughter, Chana.

My journey is a journey of miracles, Divine Providence and sacrifices. I owe many thanks to the Rebbe’s shluchim around the world, and the many incredible families and communities who are so warm, welcoming and full of boundless kindness. There is no one like you, Am Yisrael!

Sofya adds:

I am not certain what I could possibly add to this powerful story.

I find it exceptionally meaningful that Elisheva and I reconnected at the time of the anniversary of the Rebbe's leadership. Seventy years ago, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe accepted his position, he said: “Chabad always put the emphasis on individual initiative, not on relying on the Rebbe. ... I will help, indeed, help as much as I can ... but of what avail will it be to provide texts to study, sing Chassidic melodies, and to toast L’chaim if there will be no effort and initiative on your part.”

The Rebbe taught us to take accountability for our lives and to direct our efforts to the ultimate good. We are incredibly capable and powerful individuals, leaders in our own right. As Elisheva’s story clearly shows, no obstacle can stand between us and our Creator.

May Hashem bless this deeply connected soul, and may we be inspired by Elisheva’s example to live a life of clarity, commitment and meaning.

Am Israel Chai!