A Transformative Journey at the Masorti Kehilla in Lisbon – Edgard

 Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Edgard Pimentel and I was born in São Paulo, Brazil. My father is a retired banker who is currently engaged in a variety of businesses and my mother is a school teacher. Since the beginning of 2008, I have been in a serious relationship with Juliana Fernandes da Silva, who I call bat-zugi. I call her that because on the one hand she is not my wife – yet – and on the other hand she is much more than the word girlfriend can possibly convey.

Being an atheist, my father never chose a religion for me. But he always told me about God and used to read stories from the Bible to me when I was a kid. My mother claims to be a nonobservant catholic. The nonobservant encodes the fact that she is not a religious woman. Anyhow I ensure you: they are a lovely – and quite funny – couple married for over thirty years.
I was not born a Jew – which is obvious – but I have always been a religious person. I have always believed in God and have always made efforts to connect with Him and bring Him into my life. Since a very early age I have felt some sort of urgency to remind myself of Him on a daily basis.
Although I have some Jewish friends and I used to talk about faith and God with some of them, the first time I was impressed by Judaism was reading Hannah Arendt. She discusses why the State of Israel has to be established where it is today rather than anywhere else in the world. Arendt argues that for better or worse, Israel is geographically placed where God decided to place it. It had an intellectual impact on me. At that time, I thought for the first time maybe a Jew was someone who knew how to bring God into his or her life. And I seized that feeling.
The time came when I decided to look for a Jewish Congregation to discuss my interest. At that time I had a surprise: Jewish Congregations are not all the same. There are the Orthodox ones, the Progressive ones and even the Messianic ones! I learned then a few things that made me feel more comfortable with Conservative Judaism than with the other environments. Those things were the egalitarian treatment of men and women and the progressive mind set concerning the issues of the modern world we live in.
Fortunately there is a Conservative Kehilah in Lisbon. On July 27th, 2011, I went there with bat-zugi, Juliana, and talked with Mrs. Adriana Souza about my quest. She welcomed me there and told me that I could attend the religious services, namely Kabbalat Shabbat. My first actual religious service was the reading of Eichah on Tisha b’Av 5771, which took place after my first visit to the Synagogue.
My first Kabbalat Shabbat was a very intense experience. There were melodies, choreographies and a language that I could not understand. Although I fell short in understanding the details, I managed to have an idea of the overall. And I decided to learn more. I bought the classical book To be a Jew and I read it. Then I bought the Jewish Study Bible edited by the JPS and I started to read and study it. Then I looked for a syllabus of courses on Judaism taught at undergraduate and graduate levels in American Universities. Doing so, I learned about an individual called Jacob Neusner and I decided to invest my time on a book of his called The Four Stages of Rabbinical Judaism. History, Bible and a little bit of Hebrew language were the topics I was dealing with at that time.
I was studying diligently when I suddenly learned that the Rabbi of our Kehilah would pay us a visit – since he lives in New York City. It was mid-November 2011. Then, on a rainy Friday night I met R’ Jules Harlow and his wife Navah Harlow. In front of six people she asked me “why are you interested in Judaism? Maybe we should talk about it later”. R’ Jules smiled and said “she is the interviewer”. My first impression was that these individuals were very serious about what they were there to do. And I felt comfortable and secure with that.
After Havdalah the next day we had our first meeting in the lobby of their hotel in Lisbon. The outcome of this meeting was huge. R’ Jules suggested that I should study his book Pray Tell, so I could learn about the liturgy. Also, he recommended some books on the basics of Jewish life. Living Judaism, was my favorite book.  Also, Rebbitzen Navah suggested that I should go to Israel to learn some Hebrew. I studied the material that R’ Jules suggested and I also started to formally study Hebrew by February of 2012 at the Orthodox Congregation in Lisbon. Of course I became more involved with our Kehilah and participated in the Holidays, the celebrations, and shared with my chaveirim my experiences while also learning from theirs.
Thinking about my experiences, by July 2012, I figured out that many things had changed in my life. My Friday evenings had become a moment of interaction with hachaveirim sheli to welcome Shabbat. My Saturdays had become free of computers and mobile phones. I was keeping Shabbat! And u’baiom hashvi shavat v’ynafash suddenly became a living reality. Not only that. Suddenly, I was keeping kosher and observing kashrut dietary laws. And I was not doing so because someone told me to, or because a physician told me to stop eating this or that. I was doing so because I was connecting with a God that sets guidelines, that sets a path, so I can live a better and fulfilled life. Finally, I had found a way to invite Him into my life in every aspect of it.
In the summer of 2012, following a recommendation from R’ Jules and Rebbitzen Navah I went to the summer program of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I spent a total of 22 days in Israel, studying Hebrew at the Ulpan of the Yeshiva and also learning many things at seminars, workshops and lectures. Much of the history that I had learned through the books I could see – and sometimes touch. If you are reading carefully, dear reader, you shall remember that my first religious service in a Synagogue was on Tisha b’Av 5771. On Tisha b’Av 5772 I also read Eichah. This time, though it was at the Masorti Kotel though. For me, it was the most unique experience: to mourn the destruction of the Temple at its site. And at the same time, I felt connected to everyone who had already mourned the destruction of Jerusalem.
Allow me to expand the narratives about Jerusalem a little bit. I have lived in Brazil, in the USA, in Chile, Portugal and other places. I have never been welcomed in a country like I was in Israel. The first thing that I heard at Ben Gurion Airport from an immigration officer was “have a good-day with a capital G”. Then I took a Sherut to Jerusalem. All of a sudden, the other passengers in the Sherut started to talk with me and ask me things. When I got off, I heard a beautiful “enjoy your stay” from the driver and from other passengers. It was probably the best reception I ever got anywhere on earth! But I also had to eat! Dearest reader, do you remember your first meal in Israel? My choice was a (Kosher) Pizza-Hut on R’chov Hillel (close to r’chov Shammai… what a spot!). And I will never forget the taste of that first bite. Then I saw a sink with a Net’lat Yadaim cup on it. And for some reason I felt at home. It was on a Thursday. On Friday, I had the most overwhelming experience: Shabbat in Jerusalem. I will not dare to describe how I felt – I am honestly short of words – but I can certainly say that Shabbat in Jerusalem is more than an individual experience. It is shared with everyone else. It is shared with the city. It seems that the whole of Jerusalem honors and treasures the Shabbat.
Many other things happened in Israel, but I will finish with a cab-driver story. Due to my schedule on the day I flew back to Lisbon, I traveled from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv by cab. The driver was very communicative and seemed very passionate about Israel. He asked why I was in Jerusalem and I answered that I had spent some time at a Yeshiva. After he dropped me at the airport, and after he bade me farewell, the driver called me back to his car and opened his car. He got a small flag of Israel and said to me “put this in your living room in Lisbon, so you will always remember to come back to this land”.
Once back in Lisbon, I could resume my studies about Judaism and continue pursuing my goal of entering the Covenant. Currently, I am studying a couple of things. I am reading the Torah for the second time and studying the Nevi’im for the very first time. Also, I am revisitinng all the basics that I have already studied.
Of course I plan to get married under a chupah with Juliana and to build a family with her. And we are committed to nurture our family with Jewish values. Part of these values is related to my engagement in a Jewish community. Concerning this matter I am comfortable to say that I am still motivated to stand up to contribute to the steady development of our Kehilat Beit Israel. Jewish values also concern my relationship with my non-Jewish family. I was raised with a lot of love from my parents, and part of this love reverberates until now. Because of this atmosphere my parents are very accepting of my decision. And it is a wonderful scenario.
I once read a quotation of Abraham Joshua Heschel that says something like this: to be a Jew is to continue Abraham’s life. Although quite terrifying, this idea is fascinating. And I think it is time for me to start my journey from my very own city of Ur towards G-d.