Jewish Israel would like to wish a heartfelt Mazal Tov to JI member Shannon Orand upon her conversion to Judaism which she received in Israel earlier this week. Welcome to the Jewish people, Rachel (Shannon’s Hebrew name)!
Members of the Beit Din were Chief Rabbi Dov Lior of Hevron, Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed, and a respected rabbi who requested that his name be withheld. In addition, another recognized Chief Rabbi facilitated in the conversion process.
Shannon withstood an extremely challenging test over these past few weeks, as news of Leib Tropper’s compromising behavior hit the press and blogosphere. Shannon is a valued member of Jewish Israel. She actively participates in our interactive forums and talkbacks, and provides us with invaluable information. We were in touch with her and very much aware of the disturbing circumstances involving Leib Tropper. We offered Shannon our hopes and prayers for a quick, proper, and decent resolution to this episode. We opted not to publish any information until this incident came to a positive and fruitful conclusion, and indeed it has.
Jewish Israel had the opportunity to speak with Shannon this week, and she graciously afforded us this interview:
[Note: one of the rabbis handling Shannon’s conversion asked that she no longer refer to Leib Tropper as “Rabbi”]
JI: How are you feeling? You’re a Jew now.
Shannon: Relieved after such a long process. I feel like I came out of Egypt. Many potential converts undergo severe testing, and I’ve certainly had my share.
JI: Were the rabbis involved with your conversion fully aware of the episode that transpired over the past few weeks?
Shannon: They were fully aware of the situation, are in possession of tapes, heard evidence, thoroughly questioned me, and required me to submit a written statement.
JI: Is there something you would like the online public to know that was not exposed in the press reports? Is there a statement that you would like to make?
Shannon: I think it needs to be understood that the information which went public was intended for trusted rabbinic authorities only. It should never have been leaked. The worst thing for me is the chilul Hashem that was created by all of this and the pain it has caused the Jewish community. I’m sick over the media’s treatment of this episode and the aspects they chose to focus on.
The outstanding questions are, how did I allow this situation to happen? Why didn't I put a stop to it and just go elsewhere?
But the press reports virtually ignored the fact that I have been immersed in an ongoing legal battle involving my children and my ex-husband who sexually molested my daughter, pleaded guilty, and is a registered sex offender. Leib Tropper was taking care of the tremendous legal expenses I was incurring – which put me in a terribly difficult situation. I don’t think the press or blog reports conveyed the desperate and powerless situation I found myself in.
JI: In addition to the humiliation and pain caused by the Tropper scandal what are the other emotional costs you have incurred?
Shannon: I lost the trial and although my ex-husband is forbidden from seeing my daughter, he has been granted visitation rights to see my son. I had planned on making aliyah, but after this verdict that is no longer possible at this time.
A major concern I have is, how will the people in my community react? They are confused, and because I have been silent thus far, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. I want the opportunity to clear my name, and to be accepted by the community as a Jew.
There are other costs. My mother, who is a devout evangelical/messianic and was never supportive of my conversion efforts, has told me that I’m going to hell and taking her grandchildren with me. My father, who used to be a preacher, has left the church and now considers himself Bnai Noach. He is supportive. (Shannon’s parents are divorced.)
JI: And you still insist on being a Jew after all of this?
Shannon: Yes. I came from an idolatrous Christian background and worshipped a man instead of G-d. And now I have a relationship with G-d that no man can take away from me. I began studying counter-missionary literature when I was part of the church. I realized that the Christian bible had been severely altered, and that’s how I became interested in Judaism.
JI: You’ve had a chance to explore the rigors of the conversion process in both America and in Israel – in the Hareidi and the religious Zionist worlds. Is the approach different?
Shannon: I found that the Israeli process is just as stringent, but was far more focused on what it means to be a Jew, whereas the American Hareidi system placed a great – almost exclusive - emphasis on halacha. For example, the Israeli rabbis asked me questions about halacha, but also asked me questions pertaining to the 13 principles of faith, the idea of messiah, belief in one G-d, the importance of the land of Israel, the mitzvot, and what being a Jew means to me. The American rabbis grilled me on the various laws pertaining to Shabbat observance. I have to say that I found the Israeli approach to be refreshing and inspiring.
I feel very fortunate to have had what I consider to be the best of the best conversions, under such an amazing Beit Din. To be able to sit in front of and speak to such pure individuals that I respect and admire was beautiful. These people understand what it means to be a Jew, that it’s much more than a black hat, and they live it every day.
JI: Shannon, thank you for your honesty. May G-d grant you the strength, focus and wisdom needed to continue on the correct path and to meet the challenges ahead.
We hope the Orthodox community in Houston will welcome Shannon as a valuable member of the Jewish community, assist her, and enable her life and the lives of her children to return to normalcy.