Travelling abroad allows one woman to find new faith and true love
Having travelled to 25 countries, Amanda Biers was itching to tackle another. This time, she wanted to conquer a bustling country of eight million people — Israel.
Biers arrived excited and overwhelmed in August of 2013 at the Ben Gurion International Airport. Heading straight to the hotel, which sat just two blocks away from the beach, Biers soon found herself dipping her toes into the opaque blues of the Mediterranean Sea.
It would be these same waters that would introduce her to the love of her life, her passion for the country and inspire her to re-examine her faith.
Growing up in Ontario, surrounded by a family of faithful Baptists, Biers never expected that this small action would change the course of her life.
Travelling from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat, she began her trip with 40 people and ended it with just one on her mind.
His name was Erez Avraham.
It had been a week of viewing ancient biblical sites before she came back to Tel Aviv alone. Staying in a hostel a few strides away from the beach, Biers enjoyed different tastes at the small restaurant that decorated the side of the hostel each morning. They were different from the more processed food back at home, everything was fresh. Afterwards, Biers would head out to explore the streets of the city that never slept.
Biers says she experienced the colourful markets and the loud people in the city that her friend back at home had called the “Las Vegas” of the Middle East. However, all too suddenly, her stay was nearing its end.
Biers met Avraham the third day before she left to go to Eilat. Having spent the hot afternoon hours shopping, she had made it back to her room yearning for air conditioning and a good book. But something made her turn around, and she found herself walking across the street and splashing into the welcoming cool water.
“My first thought was that he had a beautiful smile,” reflects Biers, “He came up to me and offered to show me the real Tel Aviv.”
And he did. After their encounter at the beach and quick exchange of numbers, Biers didn’t hesitate in calling him that evening from the front desk of the hostel.
“I sat on a towel drinking beer while I looked at her moving between the people, trying to find her way out. I told myself that I have to get my things and go after her because she looked so pretty and tall, my kind of girl, hoping that I will catch her before she leaves,” explains Avraham over email about that day on the beach.
The two found themselves spending the last days of her stay in Tel Aviv together. Walking the streets until the early hours of the morning on the final day, Avraham turned towards her and asked if he could come with her to Eilat, though they had just met.
Booking tickets at 2:15 a.m., they met each other the next day in Eilat. Exploring the streets and then scuba diving.
“It was amazing. We also lied a bit, because I have asthma and you’re not supposed to scuba dive if you have asthma. We were supposed to do the test for ten minutes and then come back up, but I was like ‘no, lets do this!” laughs Biers.
They spent an hour surrounded by the ocean’s inhabitants, followed by a walk and dinner, before she took him back to the airport. She still had two more days left on her trip.
It was on her way to Petra, cramped in a van with her friend Jess, who she had only recently met back in Tel Aviv, she blurted mid-conversation that she wanted to convert to Judaism. Surprised, Jess asked her why.
“I still struggle to explain it, I really can’t put it into words,” explains Biers. She feels it’s something she was meant to do and says that she will continue learning the Jewish faith for the rest of her life.
Looking back, Biers never had a eureka moment, or a sudden realization that she wanted to convert to the religion she had been observing throughout her trip. But she knows it was only partially because she met Avraham.
Travelling to ancient sites like Masada, an ancient fortress built by the Roman king, Herod, she remembers being taken aback by the story that was told by its crumbling walls.
“After the temple fell, a bunch of Jewish people fled there, like nine hundred people or something,” Biers explains, “they were pursued by the Romans, and it’s just an amazing story. I was really just blown away that so many people died for their beliefs, for being who they were. So people walking around and living their life for their beliefs, and doing things because of their beliefs, that really moved me.”
This profound moment was what sparked her initial thoughts at conversion, however it was Avraham that kicked it into action.
“We didn’t have the luxury of going for coffee every couple of days and talking,” she explains, “so we were like, if we’re going to do long distance we’ve got to figure out where this is going pretty quickly.”
It was on their second date that they decided that they wanted their children to have the same beliefs, same holidays and same customs. But the rabbi that had married Avraham’s parents and his siblings, would not do a mixed marriage.
“I could stay the way I am, the way I was, but we both knew that if I hadn’t made that choice, we wouldn’t be together. As much as we care about each other, it’s really important for him to be with someone who is Jewish, and it’s really important for me to be a partner that supports that.”
So as she landed back home in Toronto, she was overwhelmed by the shock this change had brought about, not only for her family and friends, but for herself as well.
“Then to come back and be like, ‘I’m converting to Judaism!’ It was completely shocking,” says Biers about feeling a sort of culture shock on arriving back in Canada.
She was greeted however by friends and family that though surprised, accepted her decision.
“They love it, they’re so supportive,” she explains when asked about her parents feelings towards this change, “I think it’s because my parents love me and want the best for me, and realize I can make my own decisions. At the end of the day, they’re just happy that I’m following something that will bring me closer to God.”
Now back in Calgary, having visited Israel once again for Avraham’s brother’s wedding and planning to go back with her parents this summer, Biers is working through her conversion. She is studying ancient texts, learning Hebrew, the prayers, holidays and how to eat kosher, which has been a challenge, but it’s been worth every step.
“I’ve adopted a lot of new traditions that I really care about and took time to do them properly — things like eating kosher,” explains Biers, “I really had to learn to stop and think about what I was eating. I still have cravings for some of the old foods I used to love, but I would never turn back to them.”
Avraham, who has recently returned to Israel for work, aids Biers in her conversion and is working towards a work permit in Canada.
“I think she is very brave for doing it, going against all what you were raised to believe in, against all her society, against her family’s faith just to become Jewish,” says Avraham. “A person has to have lots of strength in order to do such a change in life. No more eating what ever you want, there are things we are not allowed to eat, no more work on Saturday or go out (that’s our holy day), and there are so many aspects in life that change when she goes through her conversion.”
“I hear people say, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that, how could you do that?’ and they don’t mean it in a negative way. It’s just not for them. But when you’re the one who’s so profoundly affected, you don’t stop and think about what those changes really mean,” explains Biers.
Three weeks, that’s all it took to change her life.
“I’ve never looked back,” shrugs Biers happily, “You’re willing to do whatever you’ve got to do.”