Last night I went to a funeral.
And as I looked at the people around me, in a hot cramped room with a useless ceiling fan and too much sorrow, I saw beauty.
I saw the beauty of my people at the funeral of righteous convert (Karen) Yemima Mosquera. The motley graced the fashionable, there was black and army green. Ear locks, dreadlocks, the wealthy and the poor. Some were stoic, more were weeping at the funeral of someone who attained perfection in half the time it takes most people to pay off a mortgage.
She made us beautiful.
Upstaged by an infant, she had almost escaped notice. We’d forgotten that a convert is as new a creation, new to this world, to our people, as an infant in like measure. We let her slip away as we filled our minds with tender pink thoughts of babies brutalized. Raw we were, too raw to think of anything else.
But now, too late, we knew.
We knew. And finally we saw her. We saw Yemima and what she meant to our people.
I will tell you a story:
Far, far away in Ecuador, lived Yemima, her mother, and her sister. They had inherited certain family rituals. It is the story of thousands. The story of Jews, forced to convert to Christianity or die, during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. In this case, spiritual curiosity led the three women of the Mosquera family to discover that they, too, like so many others, were descended from Conversos.
The three of them wanted their heritage BACK—wanted the Judaism that had been stolen from them generations before they were born. They wanted to be Jews.
But in order to complete the journey, they would have to go to Israel. They would have to study and complete a conversion course. It was the only way back to their people.
It was not to be. There was no money for that.
Yemima’s mother gathered her small resources. It was enough for one of them. For Yemima.
Yemima would go. She would light the way. She would work hard and never deviate from the path before her. She would learn. She would convert.
She would marry a Ben Torah, a learned rabbi. She would live and have children in the Holy City. She would bring her mother and her sister over to Israel and help them follow in her footsteps.
Why Yemima? Why was she chosen, of the three?
Back in Ecuador, Yemima had prayed for a sign from God. A sign that would make things clear. A sign that would tell her what to do.
The sign came soon enough. It happened four years ago when she wasn’t looking. It happened while she was intent on saying the Silent Prayer, the 18 benedictions.
She Was 18
It happened when she was 18.
It was a 7.1 Richter earthquake that Yemima did not feel. She did not feel the earth’s tremors.
Because she was praying.
She took three steps back, bowed left, right, forward. Walked forward three steps and rose thrice on her toes. As Jews do when praying the Amida.
And then she discovered the mess.
The pots on the floor. The cracks in the wall. The flooding due to broken water mains. The damage everywhere.
She had not heard, had not felt a thing. Because she was praying.
It was her sign from God.
Yemima made ready to leave all that was dear, all that was home. She left her loved ones.
She Knew What To Do
She gave it all up with single-minded purpose. She knew what to do. The path was clear.
She came to Israel. She learned and learned and learned some more. And when it was time to rest, Yemima learned. And she worked hard to support herself, so she could learn some more and perhaps bring her family over to be together again, but now as Jews.
Yemima learned. And she entered the waters of the mikveh and became a new creation. Pure, clean, and strong of purpose.
She Learned Torah
And still she learned. Learned Torah.
And on the day she was murdered, mowed down by someone filled to the brim, consumed with hate, she was waiting for the train that would take her to her next lesson.
A lesson in Torah.
Because that was Yemima.
She was a Jew. The Torah was her most precious possession. And she embraced it, brought it close to her heart, into her heart. And she was one of us. She stood next to us at Sinai. And made us beautiful then, now.
She was one of us.
Look at her and not at the photos of the weeping mother and sister. Look at her.
Look at the light in her eyes. She was a perfect spark, sent up to the heavens in a flash, even as she lingered for days.
And now we see her. The small crowd of the faithful who attended her funeral saw her. Saw with perfect vision what she meant to us, Yemima. What she meant to our people. Saw the privilege of being in a close hot room in the wee hours of the morning, to escort a perfect soul at the start of her journey to the World to Come, where she might, please God, intercede for her people, us.
A ragged sweating crowd of hundreds, yearning to be close to greatness, to take sparks of light from a mitzvah and hold it in their hearts.
My people, my people, you are beautiful! It was a constant refrain in my head as I sweated alongside the grieving crowd, as the rabbis chanted, as the cameramen snapped their photos, and the mayor spoke.
Her story had been all but obscured: we allowed our minds to be filled with visions of a beautiful pink infant as a modest, perfectly righteous convert sacrificed her life for her people, in the Holy City.
Her name was Yemima.