What Yemima Would Have Wanted

The two victims of last month’s light-rail terrorist attack in Yerushalayim share an innocence, a purity that makes their deaths all the more tragic.

Three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun, Hy”d, will forever be remembered by the picture of her in her carriage, bright-eyed and surrounded by photos of Gedolei Yisrael. That’s what her parents, who waited so long and davened so hard for her to join them in this world, wanted her to see when she looked around, even at that young age.

Not surprisingly, they were bringing her back from a visit to the Kosel when the attack occurred.

The second victim, 22-year-old Karen Yemima Mosquera, Hy”d, was also pure and innocent. She converted to Judaism five months ago and was on her way to a Torah shiur when the car struck.

Yemima was born and raised in Ecuador, in a Christian family. At 17 she discovered that her mother had descended from conversos — Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity in the 15th century during the Inquisition.

Noted author, Mrs. Sara Yocheved Rigler records testimony from Yemima’s best friend at the Machon Roni Jewish studies program they both attended in the Old City of Yerushalayim. “Karen Yemima didn’t feel in her heart that the teachings of the Church were the real truth,” Yael Barros of Brazil, recounted. “She told me that when she started studying Torah and mitzvot, everything made sense to her. And she was very, very happy studying Torah, like she had never been in her life.”

She began her odyssey even before arriving in Israel. She studied psychology during the day, at the Goayaquil University where she had earned a full scholarship, and learned Judaism at night.

Sometimes, related Mrs. Rigler, Yemima’s mother would wake up in the middle of the night and find her daughter learning Torah. Once, she heard her begging Hashem, “Take me to Israel! That’s my country! That’s where I’m going to marry and have children, and that’s where I’m going to die and be buried.”

In Israel, she cleaned homes, even as she continued her Torah studies, to raise money to bring her mother and sister to Yerushalayim.

She didn’t get the chance to marry and have children, but she died al Kiddush Hashem and was buried on Har Hazeisim, even as many others have been frightened away from the holy site by Arab violence.

“My dream is to be buried on Har Hazeitim, because when the Moshiach comes, I will be the first to rise up and be in the Beit Hamikdash,” she told her friend Yael. “Can you imagine that?”

It’s a safe bet that someone like Karen Yemima would have felt cheated by the conversion law passed by the Israeli Cabinet this week. She had a genuine yearning to join, or in her case rejoin, the Jewish people and was not interested in any short cuts. She was prepared to learn, to come to Israel, to learn more and to commit herself totally to acceptance of mitzvos.

The conversion bill passed this week raises many serious concerns. It violates the status quo that left religious status in the exclusive purview of the Chief Rabbinate. It gives potential converts the right to pick and choose which beis din they will appear before in a way that inevitably raises suspicions and casts aspersions on their conversion. Why didn’t they appear before the beis din of their own home district, where they are known? What did they have to hide? Were they looking for a more lenient panel, one that didn’t take seriously the convert’s commitment to mitzvos?

This law is to be considered as part of the overall atmosphere that has been created by the current government. It includes laws requiring the draft of yeshivah students, imposition of the “core curriculum” in chareidi schools, and now this.

The fact that the law gives the Chief Rabbis final authority to approve or reject conversions is of little consolation. As Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef put it, “This is a neveilah  and this is a treifah.” The Chief Rabbis said the law is destructive and will cause a split in the nation. Among the numerous concerns is that now converts who are rejected by the Chief Rabbis will appeal to the Supreme Court, which will in turn try to force the Chief Rabbis to sign on to non-halachic conversions. Obviously, they will refuse, leading to a serious crisis.

The thinking in the government on conversion can best be summed up by Finance Minister Yair Lapid. “This is a good law that says that more than a quarter of a million Israelis, some of whom are soldiers who fought in IDF Operation Protective Edge, can be part of the Jewish people without feeling like strangers in their land.”

What is the connection between army service and being part of the Jewish people? And yet there can be no doubt that many on the Supreme Court share Lapid’s misguided attitude.

The law is bad for the unity of Am Yisrael and bad for converts who deserve to be accepted with open arms by the entire Jewish community. n