When Ami received the story of the “Accidental Sheva Brachos” in our inbox, we were intrigued. We wanted to know how a group of chasidim had come to complete the minyan for sheva brachos for a couple they didn’t know, in a restaurant in Queens, and then took their experience and continued to enrich their lives with a few more surprises. Here is the story:
Diana, now known as Shoshana, tells me that she grew up in a middle-class family in Moldova, a small country in Eastern Europe that used to be part of the Soviet Union. Her parents are very well-educated and intelligent, and they invested a lot of time, money and effort in her education and that of her only brother. The family was not religious and rarely went to church. In fact, religion just wasn’t a topic of conversation. Although she was baptized, she explains that it was no different from having one’s baby vaccinated, and was just something that everyone did. In retrospect, however, now that she is familiar with the Seven Noahide Laws, she says that those were the values with which she was raised: belief in G-d, the prohibition against stealing, etc. But while she had always believed in G-d, if not for her move to America she would have probably never met a Jew in person.
In fact, Shoshana had never really considered moving to the United States. It was an unusual chain of events that led her to win a green card in a lottery. In Moldova, there is a third-party company that helps people obtain green cards. They go around to schools and other places to advertise and get people to sign up for the US green card lottery. Those who win the lottery receive a code that allows them to complete the necessary forms. Since that company is the contact point, the code goes to them and they charge a fee to release the code. Diana was in school at the time and decided to sign up, as do the majority of people who receive the offer. Moldova is a relatively poor country, and most children live with one parent while the other works in a different country in order to earn a decent salary and send the money home to the family. It was during her final year of studies that she received a call informing her that she had won a green card. She was 22 years old, had just graduated The Academy of Fine Arts and was excited about the opportunity. She decided to accept the green card offer and move to America.
On her first trip to America, she went to Orlando, Florida, where the main office of the company that had signed her up for the lottery was located. They promised to find her a job and did so, but she was disappointed by the offers. She reached out to the only person she knew in the entire United States, a friend of her brother’s who was living in New York.
Finding it difficult to adjust and feeling homesick, she went back to Moldova for a few months.
It was around two or three weeks after she returned to New York that she met a Jewish person for the first time, although she had no idea that he was Jewish or that he would end up changing the course of her life. He was kind and helpful, but when Diana wanted to pursue a relationship, he explained that because she was a gentile and he was a Jew, they would have no future together.
She had no idea what he was talking about. All she knew about Jews was the Holocaust. When she pressed him, he couldn’t offer any more information other than that intermarriage was forbidden. She discussed the concept with some people she knew who tried to explain it to her, but she still didn’t understand. Why would his religion keep them apart? It was then that she started to read about Judaism. The more she read and the more she acquainted herself with Jewish customs, the more she knew that this was what she wanted.
A short time later, she started the process of conversion through the Rabbinical Council of America. She also met with Rabbi Zvi Romm of the Bialystocker Synagogue on the Lower East Side, who eventually presided over the conversion. At the same time, she began to study Torah with Mrs. Esther Rosenbaum, who she describes as an amazing woman. Her monthly sessions soon turned into weekly ones. When she first started her giyur, she imagined that it would take about a year. But after a year had passed, the rabbi told her that she was not yet ready. She was very disappointed and burst into tears. But as hard as the rejection was, it only made her commitment to becoming Jewish stronger. She knew that she wanted to be a Jew and was willing to do whatever it took. After another two long years she finally converted. It was after her conversion that Daniel, the man who had first introduced her to Judaism, reconnected with Diana, now known as Shoshana, and later proposed.
Their original plan was to go to Daniel’s parents’ rabbi and get married in a small ceremony, but in the end, their wedding took place in the beautiful Congregation Bet-El Sephardic Center in Queens. Her parents couldn’t come because of COVID, and the guest list numbered only around 25 people. Rabbi Yossie and Mrs. Esther Rosenbaum kindly agreed to her request to walk her to the chuppah. Most of the people went home after the wedding because of COVID, but Daniel had reserved a single table at a local restaurant for the wedding meal.