Ahuvah Gray

A Convert's Spiritual Odyssey
Helen Zegerman Schwimmer - May 17 2010

How do you feel about the threat of Iranian missiles pointed at your Jerusalem backyard? Ahuvah Gray responds to this query with her typical candor and self-assurance. "We don't think about the possibility of nukes aimed at us because Hashem made a promise to Avraham Avinu that his descendents would inherit the land. After studying the prophets for fourteen years I am convinced that Hashem will redeem us."

Redemption comes in many guises. On January 17, 1994, the day the ground beneath Ahuvah Gray's San Fernando Valley home shifted, so did her priorities.

A middle-aged African-American woman, she had achieved the American dream, proudly possessing the three c's - career, condo and car (Mercedes, of course). Today, from the vantage point of her Bayit Vegan home, she acknowledges that, "It took the catalyst of an earthquake to shake me out of my comfort zone. I had an international travel business, a newly constructed condo and all manner of material comforts and then they were taken away in seconds."

By the end of that earth-shattering day she recognized the time had finally come to fulfill her dream and chart a course for Israel, a decision whose genesis began in childhood. Growing up in Chicago, her first job as a teenager was working for Jaynette's Dress Shop owned by the Greenbergs. It was her first contact with a Jewish family and she became as devoted to them as to her own loving parents.

Years later, as an executive with Continental Airlines, her friendship with travel agency owners Lenny and Mimi Rich kindled in her an affinity for all things Jewish. "They invited me to their home for Shabbos and I spent my first Pesach with them. When Lenny read from the Haggadah, we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, I wept and felt as though I was connecting to some deep spiritual odyssey of the past."

Encouraged by Lenny Rich to start her own travel agency specializing in tours to the Holy Land, she directed her efforts to the African-American market which was virtually untapped at that time. Ahuvah vividly recalls her emotional first trip to Israel in June 1989. As the van rounded the final curve before Jerusalem, she suddenly sensed that she was home and instinctively knew that "one day I would live in Jerusalem."

Ahuvah Gray's odyssey from the halls of corporate America to the sanctified stones of the Kotel is recounted in her memorable new book, Journey to the Land of My Soul. It reads like a travelogue as we meet the people and places that were instrumental in nurturing her along the route to a life of Torah. She introduces us to her family and we begin to understand her strong religious roots as she honors her father and mother and the grandparents who she credits with instilling in her a love of God and prayer.

She credits Divine Providence for introducing her to Ruth Broyde-Sharon, a Jewish documentary filmmaker who had lived in Israel for ten years and was married to an Israeli. Ruth came to Ahuvah's church in 1992 to film the Passover Seder being held for six hundred African-Americans. Their pastor, Dr. Charles C. Queen, was deeply committed to teaching his congregation about Judaism because he felt one could not be a good Christian without a profound understanding of the spiritual roots.

That fateful meeting ultimately culminated in a lasting friendship and their collaboration on the Festival of Freedom, a tour Ahuvah and Ruth led through the Sinai desert retracing the path of the original Exodus.

It would take several more Festival of Freedom tours, heart wrenching discussions with her family and that critical earthquake before Ahuvah made the final commitment to make aliyah. Reflecting on her arduous journey, she explains, "Just as the Jewish people are in exile so is a Jewish neshamah that resides inside a ger and just as the Jewish people long for their homeland, so does the Jewish neshamah."

"Although I spent my entire life thinking that I was in control of my destiny, I have come to realize that it was only an illusion. In reality Hashem was behind the scenes, calling all the shots I am exactly where he desires me to be."

Ahuvah feels privileged to count among her eminent teachers Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller who acknowledges that, "Knowing Ahuvah Gray is a spiritual adventure. The drama and sincerity of her search for a way of life in which her mind, spirit and body are all dancing to the tune of the same fiddler is unforgettable."

It's easy to see why it takes more than missiles to faze Ahuvah Gray who appears like an emissary during this period of global turmoil to caution us not to put our faith in princes or the current resident of the White House but to trust in Hashem. "We all feel that we are living in Jerusalem at a time when prophecies will take place." The Geula, she reassures us, is imminent.

To contact Ahuvah and learn more about her journey please go to Ahuvahgray.com.

Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the author of the acclaimed anthology, "Like The Stars of The Heavens." Please visit her website: Helenshwimmer.com  


Ahuvah Gray