Connecting Roots

IJC memberAlexandra Varese was recently accepted by the Beth Din as a Jew 

“It has been a long journey.  Although my mother and my grand-mother are Catholic, Jewish values have always been very present both culturally and spiritually in my family. Those values were attached to the memory of my grandfather and my great-grandmother. She was a Mexican Jew whose family originally came from Toledo, Spain. Her son -my grandfather- was killed by the Nazis for fighting fascism in Italy in 1944. His life story awakened in me a profound feeling of admiration and of attachment.”

I am originally from Brazil. I was adopted  by an Italian family when I was six months and brought up in Brussels. I was raised up by “2 moms” (my mum and my nonna) in a very open-minded and loving home. Like many adopted children, I felt a deep need to build roots, to have a past to be able to build a future;- and growing up, I recognized as closest to me the ones who bound me to the memory of my grandfather.

In  2013, I had the amazing opportunity to take part in a MASA  dance program in collaboration with The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Kibbutz Ga’aton, Naharyia.  I had always wanted to visit Israel and learn Hebrew, so it was a dream come true. One of the trips was the visit to the Kotel. At the time, I couldn't really describe what it was, but something deep in me changed that day. 

When I came back to Brussels, I wanted to keep learning Hebrew so I attended the Ulpan at the CCLJ. There I met Alexandra Hannah Licht who became my Hebrew teacher and one of my best friends.  

When it became clear in my mind that I wanted to be a Jew, I spoke about it to my mother. She understood and gave me her unconditional support. It’s Alex who recommended the IJC, and on Simchat Torah I entered the door of our community for the first time.

Has the IJC as community influenced your decision?

AV: More than influencing my decision, IJC comforted me in my choice. For a long time, I couldn’t find a place where I didn’t feel judged (sometimes even bullied),  where I could be myself without wearing a mask.  Rabbi Ira Golberg and the IJC community welcomed me and my Mum warmly, made me feel at home, at peace and safe.  Everyone may have a different view or opinion, but like in a family, we respect each other’s differences and try to be there for each other.  IJC  is where I could grow as a person and as a Jew.

What was the most uplifting part of the process - and the most challenging?

AV: As there was no conversion course at the IJC, I followed the classes of Rabbi Marc Neiger. His dedication, his passion for the transmission of Judaism and his patience inspired and stimulated me to immerse myself in learning.

Everything matured at a very natural pace. I knew I was ready for the Beit Din when I actually stopped thinking it was an exam board and I couldn’t define myself as anything but a Jew. The real challenge was my impatience for Rabbi Neiger to tell me he thought I was ready and to be recognized as a Jew.

I consider myself a product of Belgian Liberal Judaism, and I am very proud of it!

Do you feel “different” in any way now?

AV: A few weeks ago, our little newly Jews group went to the Mikveh. As I was walking down the steps, I thought about the meaning of this ritual. My Mum was there with Catherine Neiger. I realized how emotional it was also for my mother: She was not there the day I came into the world, but she was assisting at my re-birth as a Jew.  I feel finally connected to my roots, finally part of family history and a conscious builder of my future.

My name is now Alexandra Hannah Varese, I am a Jew and I am proud of it!

My background:

I am Italo-Brazilian.  I studied Performing Arts in dance and choreography at the Northern Ballet School in Manchester. I have worked in Miami as a dancer/singer, in London as a dancer/dance captain and assistant-choreographer, in Brussels as a ballet teacher and in Israel as a performer.

I have a brother, also adopted( not blood-related) and his name is Manoel.

I speak French, Italian, Spanish and I am learning Modern Hebrew. And as you might know, I bake hallots!

I manage the Facebook page and I hope to learn how to ley the Torah.

Nonno – my grandfather

Three generations