Discovering My Jewish Heritage

(On August 24 1998 I was in Lima Peru to witness the return of Felipe Natal to Judaism Here is Felipe’s story
Arthur LBenveniste (translated from Spanish)

My interest in converting to Judaism and joining with the people of Israel began seven years ago I remember that between the years 1990 and 1991 certain happenings occurred which I could not explain from a rational point of view: I began to seek Gd in order to know from where I came and by chance I began reading the Bible from the back to the front as it is said books are read in Hebrew

What the New Testament gave me made no impression on me but when I arrived at the Torah it really said something to me The impact on me was enormous Instantly I felt a deep and enduring emotion knowing that my surname “NATAL” was of Sephardic Jewish origin I IMMEDIATELY FELT JEWISH Reading more of the Torah I found in Salomon and in some psalms certain passages which I had had in my mind for a long time The first said to me “From here I came from here I return”

I went to the Israeli Embassy for my first thought was that I needed to live in Eretz Israel But I had no documents and the chain connecting me to my Jewish past through my father’s line was broken They advised me to convert and I began on the long painful yet wonderful road called Judaism Because of the circumstances of my life here in Lima I had no opportunity to know Jewish officials But I had a friend who introduced me to a conservative Jewish Rabbi in Lima and he gave me permission to assist in the synagogue Which I did for two years Later I went to live in Trujillo there I met by chance some people not of Jewish origin but who practiced Judaism An Orthodox Rabbi was living among them I helped with some of his classes and as I am a Lawyer by profession I proposed that they organize into a formal Jewish community This they did and they are known today as “B’nei Avraham” Later I secured a good job in Lima with a legal firm in which one of the partners was Jewish And I came to live in the Capital I met the woman who is now my wife and by chance on the day of our civil wedding I was informed by her older brother that they were descended from persecuted Basque Sephardic Jews For me this was the best wedding gift

But the good that I felt on one side of my head was dulled by the fact that I could no longer assist in the synagogue because I had married a nonJew The pain was great and lasted many years I felt out of place like a fish in the desert But my faith in the One Gd did not wane on the contrary my Judaism was enhanced I bought and read all I could in order to know Judaism Some good Jewish friends from here helped me in this process But I could not participate in the rituals and festivals and this increased my internal pain At that time my Jewish memories were forming and various things about my Jewish passage were coming to me I remembered that my father and grandfather never helped out in the church at any time I don’t think that they never even knew why Over all my grandfather and great grandfather felt a hostility and revulsion to everything Christian Yet I believed in Jesus if not the Church Though I dislike gossip I had to express my ideas to the society in which I lived even though I did not disclose my (Jewish) identity Also I began to see my physical characteristics Characteristics which since I was small used to cause me shame because they annoyed me in school my nose turned down and my ears stood out My mother said that when I was a baby she would stick my ears back with Scotch Tape And in the case of my grandfather and father these characteristics were more pronounced and now I began to feel pride in these non aesthetic characteristics I found that my great grandfather had been deported from Spain or Puerto Rico which in the last century was a Spanish colony and that he had been prohibited to write because he was a free thinking reporter I also found that a NATAL had been killed by he Inquisition and that some of my grandfather’s best friends were Jews and that my father married my mother in the home of an uncle named Asher Friedman a German Jew I found many more things like this All of this lead me to find in Isaiah : “Gd said that the Israelites would be disbursed throughout the world and they would be forced to pray to other gods of stone and wood until my people would be returned to captivity” My story fit in perfectly with this prophecy

Then in less than one year there came to visit me a friend from B’nei Avraham of Trujillo He brought with him a magazine called KULANU In it was an article reporting on some Incas who were practicing Judaism It appeared to be exactly the community that I had been forming legally It made me jump for joy

Then in less than one year happily I met a friend who assisted on a magazine he told me that we should write of my case and see if we could get help in conversion He wrote to Robert Lande who very kindly sent me to Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn Now my wife and I are finishing the process of conversion It remains for me to thank Kulanu Robert Linde and above all Jacques Cukierkorn for their patience good will and their attention to me and my wife and to close this little story with a few words taken from the book of Ruth: Why Have I found grace in your eyes that you shouldest take knowledge of me seeing that I am a stranger (Ruth 2:10)

Baruch Ata Adonai

Felipe Natal

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