Reprinted with permission from the Atlanta Jewish Times. Copyright.
Restoring Smashed Faith by Barbara A. White
Nearly two years ago, I met a woman who told me that she was gathering information for an article for the Atlanta Jewish Times. Her article, or the focus of her article was to be about Jews that were in prison.
I was caught of guard by her visit. There was something unfamiliar about her because a stranger to me. Yet, there was also a feeling of familiarness and a oneness with her. For the first time in five years, I had two brown glowing beacons of Jewish love and nurturing beaming at me -- a total stranger, yet not a stranger. Together, I felt safe and at home.
As the interview progressed, the reporter asked many poignant questions about my life, my crime, and my religious persuasion. Several years earlier, I informed her, that I had made the shift from Judaism to Islam. Without her mouth forming the words, her beseeching, piercing eyes burned with question -- why? Why turn to Islam? Why leave the rich, proud heritage of being a Jew? So many "whys", so few justifiable answers.
I had always taken my faith in G-d very seriously. The first serious crack in my religious belief happened when I was committed to the Georgia Department of Corrections. I was religiously alone. I looked for other Jews. I found a few. They were afraid to be Jewish. One claimed that the "system" would punish us being Jewish. Another claimed that the institution did not recognize a Jew's right to be. Therefore, there was no Rabbi, there would be no Shabbat, there would be no more High Holy Days, there would be no more Chanukah, and there would be no more Pesach.My mind screamed, "No! I can't be robbed of all of this because I'm Jewish!" I asked the chaplain to see a Rabbi. I was told that every attempt would be made to find a Rabbi to see me. Yet, no one came. There was no one. I contacted my home synagogue for familiar comfort from those who knew me, those who had nurtured me as a child, those who had loved me after I was orphaned as a young adult -- now there was no one.I searched for the answer; unfortunately, I found it on the lips of my Rabbi: "Good Jews do not commit crimes and do not bring disgrace upon other Jews." I was devastated, not by the punishment meted out by the State if Georgia, but by the feeling that I was exiled from the only life that I had ever known. I am, I was, and I would always be a Jew.
My faith was smashed and doubts began to stir within me. Could I ever go back to my "roots"? Could I ever trust "my people" again? This abandonment, this shunning by my own, was such a horrible, inconceivable thought to me. I felt so violated. I easily fell into the role of victim.
Most of the Jews that I was incarcerated with, who were very few to start with, busied themselves hiding out in Christianity - ashamed to say, "I'm a Jew." I went to the farthest end of the religious spectrum and became a Sunni Muslim. I too, was ashamed to say, "I'm a Jew."
I consumed Islam and its teaching much in the way that a virus devours healthy cells and tissues. I became fluent in Arabic. I learned and obeyed the Islamic laws the same way that I learned and obeyed the Mosaic laws of my youth and adulthood.
I went through the motions of being a devout Muslim. I met with the Imam. I observed the month of Ramadan. I prayed five times a day. I never was halal (ritually correct), but I remained strictly kosher. I fooled myself into believing that I belonged with the Muslims - but I did not. I was a misfit in the world of Islam. I was a Jew.
That's what this wonderfully talented, comical, strong, assertive woman who interviewed me came to see. She took hold of my hand and helped me to overcome my abandoned feelings. She encouraged me to take small steps to work through the pain of a difficult childhood, of a failed marriage, of being a convicted felon and one who turned away from G-d and my people. This wonder of G-d's Creation - Jane Davis.
For nearly two years now, Jane has been a wonderful, loving friend and guide. She made it possible, through her outreach into the Jewish Community, for me to celebrate my first Chanukah, my first Purim, my first Peach, and first High Holy Days in over five years. She helped me realize that there are other Jews in the community who care about their fellow Jews warehoused in the federal and state prison systems.
Jane has helped me to once again be able to submit to G-d's plan in my life -- to take comfort in knowing that I am where G-d wants me to be at all times. Jane's visits, (she comes twice a month), are vital to me. I need to see her. I want to see her. Each time that she comes, it is a mutual learning experience for us. Jane's wisdom and guidance helps me to know that I can and will survive the pain.