I grew up in Gladstone, a beautiful, small port city on Australia’s northeastern coast. We were practicing Catholics, and I attended Catholic school, prayed Catholic prayers and fully identified as a Christian.

The closest Jewish community was six hours away in Brisbane; I didn’t believe I had ever met a single Jewish person.

My maternal grandmother lived on the other side of Australia in Tasmania.

I knew that my grandmother, Klara, who I had only met a handful of times, was Dutch and had survived the Holocaust as a child, but I didn’t know much more than that. I had seen a school picture where she is in the same class in Amsterdam as Anne Frank, but I never realized that her Jewish roots may in any way be connected to me.

In this 1935 picture, one can see Klara Musikant together with her classmates, including Anne Frank.
In this 1935 picture, one can see Klara Musikant together with her classmates, including Anne Frank.

In 2010, I was in Japan, studying the language and culture, when my mum called to tell me that my grandmother had died suddenly of a stroke.

I flew to Tasmania for the funeral and stayed in the home of my mother’s sister, Aunt Susan. My aunt asked me, “Do you realize that because your grandmother was Jewish, you are Jewish as well?”

To me, it was the most ridiculous statement ever. The way I understood it, a person’s religious identity was based entirely on their belief. Since I did not believe in Judaism, I couldn’t possibly be Jewish. And since I did believe in Catholicism, I was confident that I was a Catholic.

Close up of Klara Musikant in school in Amsterdam taken in 1935. In the larger picture, her classmate Anne Frank can be seen as well.
Close up of Klara Musikant in school in Amsterdam taken in 1935. In the larger picture, her classmate Anne Frank can be seen as well.

But upon returning to Japan, my aunt’s words haunted me, and I started Googling. I discovered Chabad.org, which explained everything I wanted to know about Judaism so clearly. It was as if a new world had been opened before me.

The first thing that shocked me was the sheer amount of mitzvot. In Catholicism, we believe that you need to keep the 10 commandments and that’s about it. Suddenly, I became aware of 613 things G‑d wants us to do.

I found it shocking, but I was curious and kept reading. And the more I read, the more it seemed to speak to me.

I learned that there was a synagogue in Tokyo, and I plucked up the courage to show up. When I arrived and saw the security guard at the entrance, I became nervous and went home without interacting with anyone.

But that didn’t stop me from taking baby steps on my own.

Having read about challah on Chabad.org, I decided to start baking challah for Shabbat (I actually pronounced it tcha-lah until an American non-Jewish friend told me it is khah-lah).

Around that time, I met a British man named Bobby Fisher. Like me, he was teaching English in Japan. He describes himself as “spiritual” and says he has no religion, but he found my interest in Judaism interesting.

Reading about kosher, I realized that most seafood, which I loved, was forbidden, and so I decided to give up shellfish and other non-kosher species. I remember sitting in a beautiful Japanese shop enjoying some delicious grilled eel on rice and telling myself, “this is the last time in my life I will ever eat eel.”

And it was.

I also read that there are special laws surrounding grape juice and wine, so I gave them up, too.

In 2013, I returned to Gladstone, and Bobby (who was my boyfriend by then) came with me. Shortly thereafter, his mother, who was actually a Hindu, passed away, and we took a six-month break to go to his hometown near Birmingham, England.

One day, we took a trip to London and visited a Jewish neighborhood. I could not believe I was walking among actual Jewish people. We went to a kosher restaurant, and I ordered chicken—the first chicken I had eaten in years (I became vegetarian as a teen)—and it was amazing!

We saw a Judaica shop and more, but I still didn’t have the courage to actually speak to anyone, afraid that people would think I was a fraud.

By the time I returned to Australia, I was wearing long skirts and soon added more mitzvahs, like some basic Shabbat laws.

When I finished my teaching degree, I applied for a job at my old Catholic school. At my father’s advice, I hid my budding Judaism from them since they would never hire me if they knew. I felt terrible about it but I really needed the job. Ironically, the school decided that in addition to Japanese, I would also teach Catholicism and lead prayers.

I felt like a fake.

I was acting like a Jew, but was I actually Jewish? I was acting like a Catholic, but was I a Catholic? Who was I?

In September of 2015, Bobby and I married in a civil ceremony.

I told Bobby I wanted to cover my hair as per Jewish tradition and went to a nearby town and purchased a wig.

People noticed the change and asked me about it, but I was too embarrassed to admit that I was wearing a wig. Eventually, I realized that I needed to be forthright and that I was not fooling anyone. I did not openly state that I was Jewish (was I?), instead saying that I had some Jewish ancestry, and I was wearing a wig and doing some other Jewish things to honor my family tradition.

In time, I shared my Judaism with my coworkers at school. Even though I was still teaching religion and leading prayers, I felt good about being honest with myself and with those around me.

In 2018, our daughter, Amelia, was born, and I quit work. One day, I took her to a play group and met a woman who asked me why I was covering my hair. I told her I was Jewish, she said, “so am I!” It was the first time in my life I knowingly spoke to someone else who identified as a Jew.

Hadassah poses with her daughter, Chaya, whom she named for her late grandmother.
Hadassah poses with her daughter, Chaya, whom she named for her late grandmother.

Gabriela is from Argentina and soon became a dear friend. She told me about JNet, a wonderful organization that arranges over-the-phone Torah learning sessions. Soon I was in contact with Sarah Moshel of Melbourne, who patiently answered my questions every week. She also introduced me to a Jewish family from Israel, and we all started getting together for Shabbat and Jewish festivals. We support each other and encourage each other as we all incorporate Judaism into our lives, each at our own pace.

In December of 2019, we got a visit from two young rabbis driving an RV, which they call a “Mitzvah Tank.” They came on behalf of Chabad of RARA (Rural and Regional Australia), which services and provides the Jewish needs of people living far from Jewish infrastructure.

I asked them so many questions and kept telling them over and over again how cool they were!

In time, Sarah asked me about my ancestry and how I knew I was Jewish. I told her the little I knew. My grandmother, Klara Musikant, was born in Amsterdam to a wealthy family. Her mother, Suzanna, and father, Bernard, were Jewish. They were very wealthy, and during the Holocaust, my great-grandfather, Bernard Isaac Musikant, paid people large sums of money to take in his daughter for short periods of time, claiming she was a visiting relative or friend.

Wedding picture of Bernard Musikant and Suzanna Eijil in 1929.
Wedding picture of Bernard Musikant and Suzanna Eijil in 1929.

My great-grandmother, Suzanna, was not so fortunate. Her brother, Joseph Eijl, was an active leader of the resistance against the Nazis, and after he was arrested and shot, she picked up where her brother left off, distributing pamphlets and doing what she could to fight against what was happening to her people and her country. She, too, was caught and taken to Auschwitz.

After the war, Bernard took young Klara to Indonesia, which had been a Dutch colony. I assume they just wanted to get as far away from Europe as possible. In Indonesia, Klara met my grandfather, who was a local-born man of Dutch ancestry, and they eventually moved to Tasmania, where my mother was born and raised.

Sarah gently suggested that it would be in my best interest and in the best interest of my children if I would document our Jewish connection. I was very upset to hear that. I had gone on this long journey, giving up my religion and identity for Judaism. How could Judaism question me and my authenticity?

I was afraid to investigate—mostly terrified of finding nothing at all to support my story and having to convert, something that is very difficult when you live far from an established community.

Then came Passover, and I celebrated my first Seder with Sarah providing pre-festival guidance over the phone. I felt like a pretender, but she reassured me that it would become natural with time.

The tiny Jewish community of Gladstone, Queensland, gathers with their families before Passover.
The tiny Jewish community of Gladstone, Queensland, gathers with their families before Passover.

By the end of 2020, I felt ready to contact the Sydney Beth Din (Jewish Court of Law) and verify my Jewish status. Rabbi Yehoram Ulman was wonderful and advised me to contact Chabad in the Netherlands to see if they could find documentation for my Jewish ancestors. Since I was unable to locate any Jewish marriage records for Suzanna, I would need to look for documents pertaining to her parents, my great-great-grandparents.

Thank G‑d, documentation was found!

But then things took a step back. I had a miscarriage and did not feel up to finalizing my Jewish documentation with the Sydney beth din. When I became pregnant again and learned I would have a boy, I realized I needed to act fast so that my soon-to-be-born son could have a brit milah.

The pregnancy was complicated. I flew to Brisbane to be observed in the hospital, and my Jewish documentation once again was placed on a backburner. On Dec. 13, 2021, our son, Elijah, was born premature, and I began planning for the bris.

Yosef Eliyahu (Elijah)
Yosef Eliyahu (Elijah)

My mother, who does not at all identify with Judaism, wanted it to be done by a pediatrician. Weeks passed, and the pediatrician refused to do it, instead referring us to use a mohel, who has more experience and would be better trained to perform the procedure on an older baby.

Eventually, I finalized my documentation with Rabbi Ulman and set a date for me to fly with my son to Sydney for the bris. Rabbi Ulman recommended a mohel, Rabbi Yehuda Niasoff, and things started to shape up.

Since the bris was planned for Passover, when none of the kosher caterers would be open, I was nervous about what I would serve. But Rabbi Ulman assured me that he and his wife would take care of everything, and they did!

Yosef Eliyahu on his way to Sydney for his bris, the first in several generations.
Yosef Eliyahu on his way to Sydney for his bris, the first in several generations.

When the big day came, I left my husband at home with Amelia and took my son on two flights to Sydney. It was a small and beautiful affair—the first bris in our family in more than 100 years. And it was the first time in my life that I tasted kugel.

We were finally a Jewish family with Jewish names.

I chose the name Hadassah, after Klara’s sister who had been murdered along with her entire family by the Nazis. Hadassah is the original name of Queen Esther, with whom I identify very strongly. Esther/Hadassah maintained her Jewish connection in a very non-Jewish environment, and she inspires me to grow in my Judaism even when I feel like I am alone on my journey.

Amelia’s Jewish name is Chaya, in honor of my grandmother Klara.

And Elijah’s Jewish name is Yosef Eliyahu. Yosef is in honor of Suzanna’s brother, Joseph, who bravely resisted the Nazis. I want my son to have that kind of courage and conviction. Eliyahu is because we both like the name Elijah.

The last few years have been filled with growth, change and wonder for me, and I look forward to raising my Jewish children, following the path G‑d lays out for us.

Chaya (Amelia) having fun baking hamantaschen before Purim.
Chaya (Amelia) having fun baking hamantaschen before Purim.