Thursday, July 11, 2013

Strangers no more

On Tues evening at AACI Netanya we heard an amazing story told by Shlomo ben Avraham Brunell, about his conversion from Christianity to Judaism. He was born into a Lutheran family in a small village in Finland and grew up to be a Lutheran Minister and had his own congregation for 12 years.

But, as a student of the Bible, he gradually became aware that there were inconsistencies between what Christians know as the Old Testament and what was practiced by Lutherans. For instance, nowhere in the Old Testament does it mention anything about a "trinity" there is only One God, the trinity was a Christian invention based on Greek mythology. Also, Shabbat is the Holy Day of the Bible, not Sunday, which was originally devoted to pagan worship of the Sun. He also became aware of the extreme anti-Semitism of Luther himself, and he could not accept such hatred as part of his religion. He approached others about his concerns, but was rebuffed. Eventually he had a crisis of conscience and met with his Bishop. The Bishop counselled him to keep his concerns private and if he did he could retain his job. He was shocked by this attitude and eventually called a meeting with the Bishop and the Council of his congregation and presented them with a 20 min speech about his concerns. He was even more shocked by the reaction this time, silence, no one spoke but the Bishop got up and told him he was a "heretic" and told him he was fired and to get out. He had already written his letter of resignation. Only one couple supported his right to question the dogma of the Church.

Up to this time (1990) he had no contact with Jews or anything Jewish, but he had read a lot in isolation about Jewish beliefs and practices and Biblical analysis. He decided that as he was now a stranger in his own land, ostracized by his friends and family for his views, he should seek another community. But, he was rebuffed by the Rabbis of Stockholm and of Helsinki, although at the time he did not know that this is what they are supposed to do. He was persistant, and eventually the Rabbi of Helsinki met with him and a short meeting continued for hours, until the Rabbi accepted his sincerity and agreed to convert him and his wife and four daughters, all of whom had followed his course. He remembered feeling a deep spiritual sense when the Rabbi announced to the congregation that he was one of them, no different as a Jew because he had converted.

They decided to make aliyah to Israel and came in 1996. At first they lived in Ra'anana where they were helped by the Orthodox congregation Kinor David. The Rabbinate in Jerusalem would not accept their conversion in Helsinki, even though it was an Orthodox conversion, and advised them to undergo another conversion here. It went smoothly for him and his wife, but their daughters had a more difficult time. But they too persisted with their own motivation, and after two years were all converted. Many people were helpful and supportive of them and now he has a job in Jerusalem and three of his daughters are married to Israelis and he has grandchildren in Israel.

What an incredible story, told with such great sincerity and faith, it was truly spell-binding and uplifting. Shlomo Brunell has written a book about his experiences entitled "Strangers no more," (Gefen 2005) reflecting his sense of belonging to the Jewish people in its land.


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