Prof. Yitzhak Kerem forwards this:
Dear Prof. Kerem,
You asked me a few weeks ago, (November 6, 2011), to write more details on what happened at Ohel Sarah Imenu conversion program for women in Jerusalem. You wrote:
Netty doesn’t understand the story based on your reference. Write down the story with details of how, when, where, etc., and I’ll resend it to Netty.
I had a hard time gathering my thoughts for they are terrible memories for me. Your former student, Bina has more details for she also attended and was kicked out. She looked more into the legal problems of Ohel Sarah Imenu, (OSI) and probably has more to add in that area and she said she is willing. Also, I know other women with their own horror stories about the program.
The program is called Ohel Sarah Imenu. The director is Mrs. Sarah Kramer Vorst, but she may have since changed her last name, (perhaps widowed/ married again?). The story is quite lengthy and complicated, so I numbered the incidences to try to make it more understandable! I hope the following helps:
1. Ohel Sarah Imenu, (OSI), claims to bring women through the conversion process in 6 months. They are (were) under the umbrella of EJF of Monsey, NY, (Eternal Jewish Family), headed by Rabbi Leif Tropper, who was recently caught up in a terrible scandal when he offered conversion for sex, not only for himself, but for he with his wife and for the other rabbis. Those phone conversations were recorded and published by Shmarya Rosenberg who broke the story in New York! Rabbi Tropper also overturned his own conversion for a convert who exposed her hair and wore pants while out of her town. Last I heard Rabbi Leif Tropper was temporarily out of the conversion business!
All OSI conversions are handled by Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein, of Maalo Dafna, Jerusalem, associate of Rabbi Leif Tropper of EJF. Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein made the much published statement in Rav Elyashiv’s name that, “That anyone who thinks the Earth is older than 5768 years is not suitable to be a Dayan of Israel”, (is a Koffer B’Ikkar, An Apikores, a heretic.) As well, Rabbi Eisenstein, who was kicked off the Jerusalem Rabbinate, continues to fight any conversions which are not Haraedi.
Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein personally told me at my first Beit Din appearance before him that even if a person is born a Jew, he or she is NOT a Jew unless they are practicing Orthodox Judaism.
Ohel Sarah Imenu has the reputation of being “problematic” (for years), as was stated to me by a Jerusalem rabbi. Their Life Coaching program was run by Rabbi Zalman Cohen who is currently sitting in a jail cell awaiting trial for pedophilia. My experience with the program began before any of the exposures.
The director of Ohel Sarah Imenu conversion program for women is Mrs. Sarah Kramer Vorst, a former Christian from the Bible Belt of America, Mississippi. She hires a few women as teachers, one being Mrs. Lawson, a former Christian missionary of 14 years. Mrs. Lawson is a Life Coach and old friend of Mrs. Vorst. The head supervisor of OSI Life Coaching is Rabbi Zalman Cohen, currently awaiting trial in a Jerusalem on multiple pedophilia charges.
2. Students of Ohel Sarah Imenu (OSI) were required to pay in advance for classes and pay rent in advance to move into a bed in an apartment on King George. In 2006 fees started at $700. US dollars, but were commonly more. The apartment was not particularly clean and according to Bina, your former student, the kitchen was not kosher! I personally found the apartment dark and dreary and the $500 US dollars a month, far too expensive for sharing with so many roommates. I avoided moving there for I had already rented a private room and bath, cheaper with all around better accommodations at a Jerusalem guest house.
3. Women with little money or those who ran out were told to take out “a loan” from OSI and go into debt! Often they were used for work, to work off the loan by cleaning Mrs. Vorst’s house!
4. Within about three weeks at OSI most of the women are told they are unsuitable, or accused of being Christian missionaries and kicked out. The money is not returned. The teacher insinuated that I was a Christian shortly after I entered the program at three weeks. I was shunned and never called back to resume classes after a break. Months later I returned with proof (!!!) that I came from an occult religion and was then accepted! I brought an old newspaper article from the Miami Herald in which I was featured for teaching a course called, “Santeria for Americans”. Director Mrs. Vorst and Assistant Mrs. Lawson, having been believing Christians themselves were extremely paranoid. It baffled me for the very nature of converting people means that you are dealing with their transition from their former religion, culture and country.
5. My situation was different for my mother is Jewish, whose ancestors were Levy’s from Curacao and my father is Converso, also from the Caribbean. We are Ben Anousim. Rabbi Eisenstein told me by phone to go back to the island and bring back my family records, which I did at a great cost, flying clear across the world! Upon returning, it took months of waiting for Rabbi Eisenstein to get back to me through Mrs. Vorst on the matter. I submitted to them seven generations of birth certificates, the photos of our graves which show the family name Levy in Puerto Rico, Affidavits, all our family names on the list of Jews from Spain obtained from the synagogue in Puerto Rico, our genealogy, and even photos showing our remote little village in the mountains where we lived during the Inquisition years. Finally Mrs. Vorst told me that they were 99.9% sure I was Jewish, but for that .01% I should go through the conversion process because I do not have a katubah. I was also told that I could not date or marry until this process was completed because I was not considered a Jew without a katubah. This clause of Mrs. Vorst’s program was very hard emotionally for I had hoped to marry and have a child before my time clock was out and I knew I was nearing menopause.
6. Sarah Vorst never told me that Ohel Sarah Imenu is not recognized by the State of Israel, the conversions are illegal and the women get deported. I found out on my own and spoke to her about it. She assured me that it was not a problem because Rabbi Eisenstein was the conversion expert and well respected in the community. She did not help me obtain a visa or even explain the process of obtaining a visa that would me permit to stay in Jerusalem long enough to complete the process. She only said, “Go to blah, blah, blah” (Hebrew words), with no explanation what it was or what it meant. Afterwards, Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser from Aish Ha Torah told me I did not need a visa because I am Jewish. I believed him for I had never dealt with visas before but his advice got me in trouble! I began leaving Jerusalem and crossing into Sinai and other countries for new visas. I struggled the whole time in Israel over visas just to be able to learn and finish the conversion process.
7. Classes at OSI were disappointing. They were spent listening to the teacher’s badmouthing and jokes about Muslims and Christians. I seldom received more than 5 minutes of useful information pertaining to Judaism in a day. The staff did not seem to know the subject extensively and often did not have answers for my questions on Religion. I was annoyed at Mrs. Vorst for accusing me of wearing a push up bra and forcing me to wear an old large vest which she found second hand. I went to the Sephardic Education Center in the Old City that very day to have them check my appearance. I was told I was dressed perfectly Orthodox. I later had my breasts surgically reduced. Even Orthodox breasts seemed to be a problem in the Ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi community.
8. No one was allowed to study Judaism or Hebrew elsewhere. Mrs. Vorst and Mrs. Lawson did not speak Hebrew themselves, but Mrs. Vorst from Mississippi gave Hebrew classes! We were told NOT to enter Ulpan. (Bina was kicked out for going to Hebrew University to study Judaism.)
9. In the approximately 18 months in which I associated with OSI, I attended other classes in Jerusalem anyways! I went to Essentials at Aish Ha Torah for about six months. I took Discovery Workshops four times. I attended classes at OU and at Henini. I did the summer program at Pardes Institute. I took private classes around town and finally entered She’arim College of Jewish Studies, “Sephardic Heritage Program”. At She’arim I studied Sephardic Halacha, History and Text, mostly the writings of Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, a Sephardic Kabbalist, (The Ramchal). I also, sponsored private classes for other women with Daniel Katz from Aish Ha Torah and Rabbi Yosef Malka. I paid the teachers and paid even the taxi fare for the students to come and go. I sponsored 22 female students.
Whenever I returned to Mrs. Vorst and the OSI program I was way ahead. Mrs. Vorst said I would be bored with her classes, that I passed their curriculum; therefore, they would have to teach me privately at a higher cost. These private classes were also a disappointment for they took the whole class time asking questions about my past in the religion of Santeria. I still had to pay the fee of 100 shekels and I would walk out wondering why I was paying them to for me to answer their curiosity.
10. Without my knowing, Mrs. Vorst spoke to administration at my school, She’arim, where I was so happy and learning so much. The following day I was called into the office by Administrator, Esther, who called me a “marrano” and stated that I cannot continue learning. I felt as though I had received a blow to my chest with the word “marrano”, meaning “pig” coming out of an Ashkenazi woman’s mouth. I confronted Mrs. Vorst as to why she did that. I suspected it was out of jealousy. (Bina later told me that Mrs. Vorst often testified against students at another school.) Mrs. Vorst promised to fix the problem personally by going to Har Nof and meeting with the school administration. I paid for her taxi and she went alone to assure the school that I was with OSI in the conversion process and to save me from the problem she created. I learned that she took the opportunity to bring flyers for her program and established business contact with She’arim in case other students from the Ben Anousim entered the school and needed conversion. Administrator, Esther was so impressed by Mrs. Vorst that I did not have the courage to inform her that something was wrong with the program. This later worked against me when I tried to point out corruption, for Sarah Vorst makes a good Ultra-Orthodox impression.
11. Several months earlier at my first Beit Din appearance with Rabbi Eisenstein to discuss my family background he mentioned that I should at least take Life Coaching with Mrs. Lawson. Since no other classes were suitable for me at OSI I started Mrs. Lawson’s Life Coach Classes. Even these were a repeat of free classes given by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin at Aish Ha Torah. OSI charged $7 for Life Coaching but after a few lessons Mrs. Lawson raised the price to $50. US dollars for an hour. I told her it was too much money and that She’arim only charged me $6. For a class, regardless if the class was an hour or more. Mrs. Lawson “freaked out”, hitting the board really hard with her marker. She angrily told me that if I do not pay her price I will never make it through the Beit Din with Rabbi Eisenstein. I left class in shock and never went back.
I, being a woman in my 40s and having served in the Army, and many other life experiences, wondered why I needed Life Coaching anyways and why was it a requirement for conversion to Judaism?
12. These two incidences of Mrs. Vorst almost ruining my opportunity to learn, and Mrs. Lawson threatening that if I do not pay her price, that I would never be converted, marked the end of my confidence. Not only that, but I had rented an apartment from Mrs. Vorst and she asked me to give her six months of rent for time in which I did not even live in Israel. Six months of rent amounted to the sum of $3,000. US dollars! When I asked why, she stated that it would be a good mitzvah for me. I felt some shock for I often gave her money separately, 100 shekels here, 200 there, as tzaddakah since her husband had suffered a stroke. I always gave 10% of my monthly Veteran pension for tzaddakah but now I felt that she was bleeding me for all she could. I was being strung along to be used financially. After all, I was not accomplishing anything or learning anything new at OSI nor was I being converted yet after nearly two years, and my mother is Jewish.
13. I contacted Rabbi Eisenstein for help asking if I could be released from Mrs. Vorst and OSI and just continue learning at She’arim for I had surpassed the OSI program. I was led through a maze of red tape designed to break me. I was directed to his secretary, Rabbi Adelman who continuously gave me wrong numbers. He claimed he could not find the records which I had provided previously. He gave me a wrong FAX number to resend him the copies of all my family records. Then he claimed he never received the FAX copies and verified the wrong number he gave. He seemed cornered when I told him I would hand carry them to him. He asked me to leave them OUTSIDE at the mailbox of his building but I instead delivered them inside to his door. He then said someone stole the contents and left only the envelope. He asked if they were the originals. (They looked like the originals because I had them copied in color.) I told him they were copies and that I had more. I copied about 100 pages four separate times for he always said they were lost or stolen! He finally gave me a date to appear before Rabbi Eisenstein, a Beit Din to determine what more I needed to pursue conversion and if I could continue on without OSI. I requested that my courses at She’arim and progress reports from my teachers be accepted.
14. On the morning of this, my second Beit Din appearance before Rabbi Eisenstein, just as I was leaving to catch my taxi I received a very disturbing call from She’arim School Administrator, Esther. She said that now the Rebbetzin of She’arim has said I could not continue studying because I am a “marrano!” I was told not to come back to school. I felt shock but had no time to discuss or protest for I had to hurry to my appointment.
15. I appeared before Rabbi Eisenstein with the records, several letters from my teachers at She’arim, Aish Ha Torah, as well as letters of recommendation and character references from rabbis and private parties. Three Orthodox women, who knew me, had observed my religious practices at home, during the weekdays, during Shabbats, during Holidays, and at synagogue services accompanied me as my personal witnesses. All were 100% Orthodox.
16. The Beit Din was merely a shouting session for Rabbi Eisenstein. When he said he would not allow me to go to the mikveh, one of the witnesses, a very pious woman named Hana, asked why. He began asking her questions in an attempt to degrade her but she was a squeaky clean teacher of small children who worked hard and never showed a hair of her head. He contradicted himself and when she pointed it out he jumped up and yelled at her. He rambled and rambled but his words made no sense.
17. Rabbi Eisenstein told us my letters from the director of the Sephardic Heritage Program at She’arim, Rabbi Alexander Cohen, were not admissible because they were addressed, “To Whom it May Concern” and he scribbled over it. We asked if it would be accepted if it said “To the Beit Din” and I suppose he had no choice but to say yes. It was obvious to all that he was nit-picking and making excuses to deny me conversion for I had approximately 20 good letters.
18. Rabbi Adelman smiled widely and said that he had called my school, She’arim, had spoken to Rebbetzin Holly Pavlov and stated that am a “marrano” and not to allow me to study. Rabbi Eisenstein closed the case and refused to give back my records. It was a kangaroo court.
19. This time a third rabbi was present in this sham Beit Din whom I did not know. He was the only one who was actually reading all my records and information during the fiasco. He stayed with us, four shocked women after Rabbi Eisenstein and Rabbi Adelman dismissed my case and themselves. He said to me that I already know that I am a Jew, so why am I going through all this? I replied that OSI told me that I would not be accepted, not be able to marry Jewish or have Jewish children until I received approval by the Beit Din. His advice was that I drop it and go live my life as a Jew. All the witnesses agreed that this advice made more sense than pursuing the matter any further. The women called the whole ordeal corrupt and Rabbi Eisenstein and Adelman, “The Mafia”.
20. I must insert that over several months before this Haraedi Beit Din, the little apartment which had I rented from Mrs. Vorst in Nachleoat was constantly being attacked by hooligans. I mention the following incidents of violence against my property and person because later someone speaking for Rabbi Eisenstein said that if I do not stop publishing remarks about Rabbi Eisenstein I would be hurt again, even worst by the hooligans, for the rabbi’s followers do not put up with anyone speaking out against him. These threats were made by Yaffa (h) da Costa, a woman who worked for some of the OSI people, including Rabbi Zalman Cohen, the one currently charged for pedophilia. Yaffa was a friend of theirs, a Life Coach, trained by R. Zalman.
No one knew why I was being attacked. The theories ranged from being a high profile blond living alone, to a possible Christian, to a possible hooker in Orthodox clothing, to being a victim of some personal vendetta. The message was clear: “We don’t want you here.”
21. My windows were smashed one week; the next week glue was put in locks of the doors. Another week, my mezuzah was stolen and other religious items, in fact anything not bolted was taken, even cat bowls. One night after classes at She’arim as I approached my apartment I saw a young Haraedi man acting very suspiciously, hiding his face and lurking several meters off in front of my door. I had no other place to go at that hour so I entered quickly and locked the door behind me. No one else was on the street. In seconds a rock was hurled at my window. The attacks were regular, about weekly. Police were not able to find who was responsible.
22. Another time a Haraedi man entered to rape me. It was Mosa’ee Shabbat! He a huge man wearing black and white shouting in Hebrew, “sex”! The Haraedi woman, watching me struggle alone with him at the door as I was screaming help, simply stood by motionless then disappeared before the police arrived. The man also ran off.
23. Another man in black and white hit me with a board with nails in it! I went to the doctor and had to get a tetanus shot. I had a huge bruise with holes in it from the nails on my hip! This was the only person they caught for he was not really a hooligan as the others were. But, we were supposed to go to court and I never got my day! Police kept saying they would call me but never did. I waited for months and returned to the Russian Compound twice by bus after I moved to Gan Yavneh to inquire and was yelled at and sent away!
24. I had 10 police reports which did not represent all the times I was attacked. I was getting terrible headaches and She’arim sent me to a doctor. The headaches were occurring because I developed high blood pressure. The doctor told me I was about to stroke out from stress. He sent me to the hospital and I was given Valium and BP medication.
25. I went to the American Consultant for help for police could not protect me. Consular Davis filed a report. She told me to sue the community. The rabbis denied that it was their people and blamed it on Arabs. I moved from Jerusalem to Gan Yavneh to get away from the violence and because I could no longer attend school or progress. Rabbi Eisenstein blocked my learning and my conversion!
26. About this time a family moved from USA to Jerusalem to become Jews through OSI. I was fascinated that a gentile family with no knowledge of Judaism, country people from Middle America could be converted but I could not! I was aghast that Mrs. Vorst allowed these Americans to sell their home, a small farm and all they had to come to her program to become Jews! She had them move into an ugly, tiny apartment in the private enclosed Haraedi section of Nachleoat. I was told she had them dressed like people from a Polish ghetto. Mrs. Vorst had previously told me about them for she used to counsel them by phone conference. She mentioned that they churned their own butter on their farm in America. They were dedicated religious country people who reasoned that G-d was with the Jews and so decided to join themselves with the Jews. A couple of us in the neighborhood arranged to have someone knock on their door and inform them that OSI was a scam, but they did not pay attention for they were high on holiness and the dream of living in Jerusalem.
27. On the advice of Rabbi Shaul Farber of ITIM, I opened a case by myself at the Jerusalem Rabbinate. Some friends then took me to meet Rabbi Ephraim Bas from Argentina who was with a program that helps Sephardic peoples of the Ben Anousim. He spoke to my mother in Spanish over the phone but I did not realize that he had asked her for $1,000 US dollars to attend my Beit Din, which I had already arranged before meeting him. He was not representing me as my attorney or rabbi. The $1,000 fee was merely to listen to what the judge would say to me so that the rabbi could advise me afterwards! When I found out and questioned Rabbi Bas, he began yelling. Later I learned that he was part of Yaffa da Costa’s program, the same Yaffa who later delivered the threat of more beatings by hooligans over Rabbi Eisenstein. Later, I learned that Rabbi Ephraim Bas reported that he could not take my case because I was “difficult”. No mention of his private fee, which the program knew nothing about.
28. I fled Jerusalem for I feared that I would be really hurt after I was beat with the board with nails in it. Most of all what hurt was my having to leave a school I really loved with no hope of being allowed to return. I heard it was called “Jerusalem Politics” and that I was probably black listed and not able to attend any religious program. I felt really shaken by the lies and even thief I was experiencing in Jerusalem. To add to it, as I was moving, the clutch went out on the van that I rented from Best Car Rental on Jaffa. Although it was obviously not my doing and another van was provided, the manager at Best Car Rental was verbally abusive and secretly charged my card two weeks later. My bank in the USA noticed that my signature had been forged for an additional $500 US dollars. The whole Jerusalem experience was awful!
29. I picked Gan Yavneh because it was not only far and safe but there was an organization for Ben Anousim that was NOT associated with Rabbi Eisenstein or Yaffa da Costa called, “Casa Shalom”, run by Mrs. Gloria Mound. While visiting I learned that her employee was renting a basement apartment in Gan Yavneh in the middle of nowhere. Finally, after I settled there I found a publication on line out of New York called “Jewcy.com” with many interesting articles pertaining to Jews. The following article caught my eye about Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein and his associates:
Haredi’s Most Wanted: The 5 Worst Offenders – Jewcy.comwww.jewcy.com/religion…/haredis_most_wanted_5_worst_offenders Jun 19, 2008 by By Shmarya Rosenberg
30. I wrote in the comment section of the above article that Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein, who was kicked off the Jerusalem Rabbinate, still presided over the conversion program whose conversions were not legal. He continued by conducting private Beit Din in the basement of his apartment building. That was the first of many comments for I did my best to answer honestly every question posed to me by the readers.
31. My comments stirred a tidal wave of other comments by readers; last I saw there were over 100 comments to the article, I think 130! In all the comments I was the only one who used my real name. The women were so afraid of being black listed, or of having their conversion overthrown or being accused of lashon hara that not one would give their true name. I gave mine because I wanted to show that I was truthful and that I would accept the consequences of the telling the truth. Many comments were from women who were abused in the OSI program, by the staff or by Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein, or Rabbi Adelman. The stories that emerged were shocking and heart-breaking.
32. One women mentioned how Ohel Sarah Imenu took all her money, kicked her out on the streets and she had to literally sleep in fields. Her clothes were soon tattered and reduced to rags. Each time she tried to approach any authority to help they looked upon her as a filthy, crazy person. No one would believe her because she was “A Nobody” and those she accused were “Haraedi”, pillars of the community.
33. My comments were spotted by a man whom I call “Tobias” who went to Princeton for Law, works for the Jerusalem courts and is himself Haraedi. He has been collecting information about OSI, Rabbi Eisenstein and Rabbi Adelman for a number of years since his own sister-in-law entered OSI. She had complained that Mrs. Vorst’s husband, a rabbi and friend of Rabbi Eisenstein had made advances at the women when Mrs. Vorst was out of town. The women were allowed to enter Sarah Vorst’s office to use her computer but when they did Mr. Vorst made his moves on five of them and they were no longer comfortable in the program. Tobias went back to Emanuel, the town where Mr. Vorst had moved from and found that he had been run out of the town because of molestation of teenagers. Tobias went with this information and the account of the women in OSI to Rabbi Eisenstein and Rabbi Adelman. Rabbi Eisenstein called the women, “Liars”. Since then Tobias has been documenting the many stories. Mr. Vorst was hospitalized with a stroke by the time I entered OSI, so I never knew him personally.
34. One of the continuous complaints written in by women in the comments was about the Life Coaching at OSI, headed by Rabbi Zalman Cohen whom all the women claimed to be a pervert. They stated that Mrs. Vorst and Mrs. Lawson were enamored by the pervert, Rabbi Zalman Cohen.
35. One woman named Ruth Cohen Harif responded in the comments of this same article, stating that although not in the conversion program, she was raped by Rabbi Zalman Cohen. I knew Ruth from Nachleoat, Jerusalem. She had been a neighbor.
36. Ruth was contacted by Yaffa da Costa, who unbeknownst to Ruth was the personal friend, previous secretary and student of Rabbi Zalman Cohen. As stated earlier, Yaffa da Costa was another Life Coach and also a friend of OSI director, Mrs. Vorst and R. Eisenstein. Yaffa da Costa pretended to be merely a concerned woman who came to advise Ruth. Instead Yaffa da Costa was trying to talk Ruth into taking the matter to a particular Beit Din in Har Nof, no doubt, friendly to Rabbi Zalman Cohen, to dismiss Ruth’s accusations. Yaffa da Costa instructed Ruth to contact me in Gan Yavneh and tell me that if I continued writing about Rabbi Eisenstein I would be hurt worst by the hooligans. (I never told Yaffa about the hooligans. Really, I had never even met her. I only knew Rabbi Ephraim Bas from her Anousim program, the one who asked my mother for $1000!)
37. I wrote to you recently about Claudia L., who wrote comments about her experiences on the Jewcy.com article. She contacted me privately and we talked by phone many times when I lived in Spain. Claudia L. had been a roommate of Yaffa da Costa and had observed that Yaffa had many passports in different names. She even saw a Diplomat’s Passport. She claims that Yaffa was jobless and homeless in New York before coming to Israel but that she seems to be involved in illegal business possibly regarding false IDs. L. is now trying to pursue justice for she also had her records stolen by Rabbi Eisenstein, as I did, only hers were originals and next to impossible to replace for they came from far away counties. She was brokenhearted in particular for having lost her grandmothers documents to Rabbi Eisenstein. We speculated that perhaps these stolen records are being used somewhere or perhaps for purposes of tracking and blacklisting students. Obviously the records are stolen out of sheer maliciousness on Rabbi Eisenstein part! It is a mean-spirited thing to do to hurt conversion candidates.
38. Claudia L. tells that she had become so nervous and upset during her conversion process with OSI and Rabbi Eisenstein that she miscarried. Her marriage was affected by the ordeal and affiliation with the Haraedim. She is now divorcing and directly traces the dissolution of her marriage to OSI and Rabbi Eisenstein.
39. Since 2008 when women who were in OSI began complaining about Rabbi Zalman Cohen in the comments of the Jewcy.com article, they have been ignored by authorities or called “crazy” or “liars”. But, the rabbi has been caught in the biggest pedophile case in Israel and is currently sitting in a jail cell awaiting his trial: http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=240304
40. Another publication on the Internet called Ketvcher.net, a site run by David Kelsey, featured my story of a Jewish past and my not being accepted by the Jewish community. It was called, “Nancy’s Story: A Secret Jewish Past”. Many other people responded, both positively and negatively. One woman in her 70s even wrote in from my parents’ hometown and claimed that she was also Jewish. Last I saw three other people from the same area where my family lived had written in claiming to be of Jewish descent.
41. In Gan Yavneh, I became friendly with Mrs. Gloria Mound, the director of Casa Shalom, the Institute of Marrano-Anousim Studies. Although Gloria Mound is a very serious and good scholar, she seemed to have relied on a very bad lawyer, named Issac Mazouz from Tunis whose office was in Rohovit. She suggested I try to obtain a Right of Return rather than conversion based on all my paperwork and to hire Issac Mazouz. I had a very bad feeling about the lawyer but Gloria Mound told me Mazouz had won a case for the Right of Return in the Supreme Court and that he used her as expert testimony. When I stalled, Gloria Mound told me I was sitting on the fence and to hurry and do something. She an abrupt woman, high strung, sometimes insulting. But, I respected her work and her knowledge. Later I learned that the case Mazouz won was for his own girlfriend, Nita Hernandez who is also on the board of Casa Shalom.
42. Issac Mazouz was the “House Attorney” for Gloria Mound of Casa Shalom, the Institute of Marrano-Anusim Studies in Gan Yavneh and she urged me many times to take Mr. Mazouz as my attorney. I was shocked when he asked me for $5,000 US dollars to take my case which was “already done”. I had all the documents! I opened my own case and it just needed to be presented to the Beit Din by a man.
42. Then I found out that the other lady he was representing, a Mulatto Puerto Rican named Ruth Reyes was only asked half of the amount he asked of me and she had no paperwork to prove her claim and none was ever found despite the efforts of the Institute. She only had a Spanish last name and nothing else to go on. She did not want to convert, but to prove she was already a Jew. She was told to say that her family spoke Ladino, and instructed on other statements. I know the area in Puerto Rico where Ruth came from and there is no history of Jews there for it was very close to the Office of the Inquisition. In fact, I venture to say, I know my own people. There is a saying in the Mulatto population: “Improve the Race.” I could not say anything for she is a wonderful person. I felt sorry. My family are completely different for we are from the mountains in a remote village at the top of a rain forest and do not mix with others. I was told by an employee of Casa Shalom that they realized she may not be Jewish but she was well-liked. Mr. Mazouz finally brought down his price by stating he had given Ruth Ruiz a good price because she volunteered to work in Gloria Mound’s office. Really, I should have run when I saw that but I could not see other alternatives after OSI and Rabbi Eisenstein getting me kicked out of school.
43. I paid Attorney Issac Mazouz the down payment he requested of $1,500. US dollars to represent me before the Beit Din, which I arranged myself. I went back to Jerusalem at the Rabbinate and added Issac Mazouz as my attorney. Also, he agreed to help me obtain a new visa to stay in Israel for the case. Attorney Mazouz handled the government appointment for the visa. I also enrolled in Ulpan at Beit Canada in Ashdod.
44. Attorney Issac Mazouz called me just before candle lighting for Shabbat on a Friday to tell me to be in Jerusalem very early in the morning on Sunday. The buses were not running to Jerusalem from my stop on the country road in Gan Yavneh on Sunday according to the Internet and I could not speak Hebrew or Russian to arrange a taxi to pick me up in morning! After Shabbat, Saturday night I called again to make an appointment for the taxi to pick me up in the morning, but the despatcher told me to call on Sunday morning. On Sunday morning no one at the taxi service could speak English! They continually hung up on me. It was so early no one in neighborhood was awake to help me. I ran out in the street trying to find someone. I flagged people down until I found someone who could speak English to call the taxi for me! I was a half an hour late for the Visa appointment and missed it. Attorney Mazouz acted disgusted and would not help me any further on the visa. He told Gloria Mound that he had given me plenty of time to arrange transportation.
45. The morning of the Beit Din I arrived with Rabbi Yosef Malka as my witness but Attorney Issac Mazouz would not allow him to come into the court. Issac Mazouz angered the rabbinical judges but I did not understand a word that was said for it was all in Hebrew. When we left the court room Issac Mazouz told me and my witness, Rabbi Malka that they were terrible but we had another hearing and he would call me when it was time to appear again
46. Over the next five months Attorney Issac Mazouz told me that my case was pending, that he is handling all, not to worry and that he even submitted my case to the Chief Rabbi Sephardic of Jerusalem.
47. In time I could not find Attorney Issac Mazouz anymore. I only knew that he had vacationed with his girlfriend in Spain and came back but he was no longer available. It became apparent that he closed up his practice. I heard he was working with his girlfriend, Nita Hernandez in her clinic.
48. Finally, Rabbi Yosef Malka, my witness at the Beit Din suggested we pull the records in Jerusalem. Rabbi Malka translated the record and we were shocked to learn what had taken place and that the case had been closed that very day. The lawyer lied to both of us.
49. Rabbi Malka then personally tried to defend me at the government office for my visa stating that my lawyer had disappeared and not handled my cases well. Still, in the end I was told to leave the country and apply for my visa from outside Israel. It was then that Attorney Madouz reappeared, after I received my notice quite late that I had only a few days to leave Israel.
50. I confronted Attorney Issac Mazouz about his lying to us, his stringing me along saying I had a case pending and that he submitted my paperwork to the Chief Sephardic Rabbi. I told him he should return some of that money he charged. At that point, I realized he had the upper hand because I was ordered to leave Israel in only a few days. I had planned to leave anyways and had previously purchased a ticket to Spain but the flight was not for another few weeks. Attorney Mazouz could call the police and have me thrown out of Israel before I could finish shipping my personal belongings and find homes for my cats.
Another shock came when my landlord was not willing to give back my deposit as promised and asked for additional monies. He was also an acquaintance of Attorney Mazouz and worked for Gloria Mound at Casa Shalom. I got so terrified of all the connections between the people that I just left my apartment and hid at a friend’s apartment in Netanya. I hired people to help me and only returned briefly one night to check on the apartment and the cats.
51. Another blow was that the Ulpan, Beit Canada, had changed their policy and required full payment for six months of Ulpan upfront and it was a huge amount. I never got to attend for very long due to the many legal problems and finally Ulpan closed due to rocket attacks. They would not refund any of the monies I paid. I only got a run around.
52. In January 2009 I tried to board the plane for my flight from Tel Aviv to Madrid. The airport security held me for four hours while they tore up my suitcases which had already been X-rayed and contained only clothes. They wanted a reason why I was in Israel. I told them the story. Then they wanted to know why I was leaving. I told them I wanted to get IVF in Spain for I never married and had no children. They asked me the same question 100s of times! They told me to open my laptop and show them my communications with an IVF clinic in Spain. They said I could get IVF in Israel and asked why I didn’t want a Jewish baby. I told them I am Spanish and I just want my own people now. They strip searched me and finally after four hours released me to board the plane that was held up on my behalf. The last thing I was told by the chubby uniformed woman at passport control was, “Don’t come back”.
53. I have lived in Valencia and Mallorca for two and a half years. It took about a year to come back to “calm and normal” after all that I experienced in Israel. The rocket attacks in Gan Yavneh were especially haunting me because of the pyrotechnics and constant firework festivals in Valencia, Las Fallas, which started shortly after I arrived. My plans for IVF were temporarily postponed because of some needed medical treatment which will be provided free of charge by the Veteran’s Medical Center in Long Beach, California. I am also, a US Army Veteran, with a full pension and 100% PTSD, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Service Connection. I believe I can add a new kind of PTSD to the list now, Conversion Trauma!
It has been a painful process to tell you all this. I do so in hopes that this information will be presented to someone who will work towards reform so that other women do not have to go through it. These terrible stories are a disgrace for all Jews. Those who love the Jewish people should be able to come and unite themselves with them without conn jobs and tricks. But, especially for the Ben Anousim who should be taught instead of being humiliated and cast out of schools. The Ben Anousim really should be welcomed back into the fold these days as the time Moshiah is right at our doorstep.
Nancy Cuevas Guzman