We met on Rosh Hashanah when I served as interim rabbi of their synagogue in Milan. They speak little English, and I speak almost no Italian, but I quickly understood what they hoped to accomplish, and wanted to help.
Edith and Demetrio both had Jewish roots that had become very precious to them. They met on a trip to Israel in 2008 and wanted to join their lives and their destinies to each other and to the Jewish people. They have been serious students and had learned a great deal. But every effort they made to formalize their process of conversion met with rejection and red tape.
Soon the co-presidents of Beth Shalom Milano, Carey Bernitz and Lori Kaplan were taking turns translating the discussions I had with this wonderful couple. it was clear to me that the Jewish people would be blessed to have them as full members of our faith. The more we studied the more convinced of this I became.
One day I offhandedly remarked that with all of the obstacles they had encountered it would almost be easier if they came to the states and converted with me. I would convene a Bet Din (rabbinical court) and then officiate at their marriage in the beautiful sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel, of which I am now Rabbi Emeritus.
As soon as the words left my mouth, Demetrio looked at Edith, Edith looked at Demetrio, they both looked at me, and Edith said softly, “Could we?”
And I said,”Yes!”
And so they arrived with Carey Bernitz in tow to translate to appear before our Bet Din, enter the mikveh, and be formally welcomed into the Jewish people at a moving Shabbat Eve service at Beth Israel. Then when Shabbat had ended we celebrated Havdalah, and the happy couple were married “according to the religion of Moses and Israel” in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
My wife Vickie and I are thrilled to have Edith, Demetrio and Carey as our house guests and even more thrilled that we could make what was a dream — for them and for us — come true.
Our entire experience in Milan — from the day we arrived in August to the day we left in December — was so very meaningful for us. I conducted services and classes, met several times with a young man who recently celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, worked with other wonderful candidates for conversion, visited and performed rabbinical functions for the Reform communities of Florence and Turin. We had a wonderful time.
Still it is so clear to me. If we had only come to Italy to be there to ease the path to Judaism and eventually perform the Jewish marriage ceremony for Edith and Demetrio, the entire experience would have been worthwhile.