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|Andrew Lim - the path towards Jewish spirituality and acceptance|
The Diaspora transformed us into the ultimate explorers, pioneers- settling in virtually every country in the world. Intermarriage, conversion and adoption are further increasing the rich diversity of our people.
We, as Jews, are global, multi-cultural, models of racial and cultural diversity, unified by our belief in G-d and Torah. Despite all of this, at first appearances, some express shock to discover that Andrew Lim is a Jew. Andrew Lim, or Eliyahu Avraham, is a Jew by choice.
His name was chosen for the Prophet Eliyahu who always fascinated him and “has come to epitomise (for him) the physical and the transcendental in one person.” He finds true beauty in the stories of his spirituality and resolve.
Andrew, a Singaporean native, is now clearly an integral part of Jewish life in Singapore. He even runs the administration for the Torah Talmud School and his wife is a teacher in community. He, along with his wife and three children, are not faced with the identity crisis that many people in the modern world face. They are secure in their identity and their way of life as Jews.
Elsewhere in the world, they might be faced with comments such as, “You don’t look Jewish.” In Singapore’s cosmopolitan atmosphere and limitless racial and cultural diversity, for the most part, they don’t encounter these type of obstacles. As Andrew explains, “Jews who live here come in a variety of colours. I always tell my children to look to the Torah for their Jewish identity and I hope that when they grow up, they remember this. It is my link to a Jewish identity and I want them to own that as well.”
Andrew Lim was born in Singapore and raised in a Christian home. He lived adjacent to people of many different religions and cultures in the diverse atmosphere around him and ironically was first introduced to Judaism in Sunday School. He admits that Judaism was not presented in a positive light as it was portrayed as a religion with such severe limitations and restrictions that individual freedom is lost.
Initially, Andrew (Eliyahu) was drawn to the customs, music, art, language and food of the Jewish people. As he explained, these facets of culture “reflect the soul of a people, their travels, their aspirations, their sense of taste and the way they look at the world around them.” Judaism, to him, was a culture of feeling.
Being a self-confessed ‘foodie’ he did extensive research on Jewish cuisine and was surprised to learn that it is actually world cuisine with modifications for kashrut, reflecting the immense diversity in Jewish life around the world.
He also was quickly drawn into the rich and diverse musical traditions within Judaism. “Jewish music is very close to my heart,” Andrew explains while confessing his love for Klezmer, Sephardic lullabies, Yiddish folksong and niggunim. He was recently introduced to niggunim, by friends and says, “I often find myself being very affected by it when I hear one. This is music that resonates in my soul.”
He indicated that growing up in Singapore exposed him to most of the world’s major religions. He has known devout Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, and Muslims all his life. While he was taught to have respect for their practices and tradition, he was never drawn to them.
Once Judaism became clearly more than an interest for him, he began his serious study. He embarked on a challenging self-study course, with on-line guidance from a rabbi from Israel and one from the US. Rabbi Mordechai Abergel, of the Singapore community, also provided him with guidance as well.
His inspiration, though, was the Baal Shem Tov. “To him Jewish law and practice was dynamic and saturated with richness. Doing a mitzvah is supposed to make your heart leap with joy. Not only are these laws for the benefit of the individual but ultimately, it has to move outward as well.”
Andrew himself finds spirituality in even the most mundane acts and allowed his “G-d-consciousness” to become the way he chooses to live his life.
While it is clear that Andrew’s Judaism is rooted more firmly and deeper than many people who were born Jews, there is still the question of how the outside world effects him. After all, even though the Jewish community of Singapore has accepted him, his wife, who is also a convert, and his three children, there clearly were other obstacles along the road. To many people, these obstacles might have been stopping points.
Initially, and ironically, as Andrew points out, their friends reacted much more negatively than their families to their decision.
Andrew’s family was fairly supportive and even shared their simcha at the chuppa. His wife’s family, had more difficulty with the decision, but they were not surprised. Her great-grandfather was a Methodist pastor and her father was the president of his church council. As far as conversion was concerned, they both made different inner spiritual journeys, but “converged on the same path.”
In terms of acceptance within the Jewish community itself, Andrew reflects that they have been lucky. They, for the most part, have offered Andrew and his family unconditional support and friendship. He and his wife were realistic from the start and did not expect every Jew they encountered to react as positively to them, and says that the prejudice that he has encountered “was initially hurtful but I think it would have been much worse if I had converted for the sake of wanting to gain acceptance from all Jews.”
The hardest part of the process, for Andrew, was the time the journey took. By this point his path was so clear that he found it difficult to be patient during his thirty-two month conversion process, but he looks back on that time period with immense pride.
While he admits that this was a difficult time he was able to use it to immerse himself in an intense textual study of Judaism.
The Mishna/Gemara in particular became favourites of his along the path. His chavrusa in Montreal explained to him that “learning all these intricacies of Jewish argument was beneficial in two ways- one is to enjoy learning for learning’s sake and the other was application – how a particular thread of law is going to affect me and the way I live my life.”
He learned to appreciate the journey itself, to take in the scenery and make meaningful stops along the way, picking up something else he needs for his soul along the way. Andrew understands that Jewish learning as a lifetime pursuit where the beauty is in the smallest detail, making every moment ripe for new discoveries.
As Andrew explains, “First and foremost, a Jewish life is, for me, imbued with spirituality from the moment one wakes up in the morning right up to when one rests in the night.”