Strangers No More
One Family's Exceptional Journey By Shlomo Ben Avraham Brunell
One Family's Exceptional Journey from Christianity to Judaism..After serving as a minister for the Lutheran Church for 12 years... More Below
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Strangers No More
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One Family's Exceptional Journey
Shlomo Ben Avraham Brunell
In his new book, Strangers No More: One Family's Exceptional Journey from Christianity to Judaism, Brunell reveals the personal account of his wife and children, as they embark on the journey of a lifetime; he explains why he chose to walk down a different path, from a privileged and comfortable one - for something so difficult and different. He believes that by sharing his experiences, he will help others realize and rediscover the preciousness and uniqueness of Judaism.
Critic Reviews: For as long as he can remember - and long before his name was Shlomo Ben Avraham Brunell - he has been driven by a thirst for spiritual truth. It's what led him to become a Lutheran minister in Finland for 12 years.
But Brunell, who converted to Judaism in 1996 and moved to Israel along with his wife and four daughters, says his life-long thirst was not quenched until he discovered Judaism. 'From being a minister in the church to becoming a happy Orthodox Jew living in Israel today - that's a pretty big step, or rather many small steps leading to this new, completely different life,' says Brunell. 'It was simply a craving in the soul that was not fulfilled until we got to the origin of the Bible.'
His first book, Strangers no More: One Family's Exceptional Journey from Christianity to Judaism, offers an autobiographical chronology, and also deals with aliya issues, the rabbinate, the Jewish Agency, the weaknesses of Christianity and what Brunell calls 'the beauty of Judaism.' 'The holy Torah is like fresh spring water, pure and clean. You can't get any better guidelines for life, because it is life itself. Other religions might have bits and pieces of it, but the Torah is pure, genuine, original and true. None of these adjectives could describe Christianity,' he says.
For Brunell, converting was as much about embracing Judaism as it was about rejecting Christianity.
'Many Christians claim the New Testament is like the second floor of a two-story building, built on the Hebrew Tanach (Bible). There is only one problem: the original blueprint does not include any second floor. It doesn't even allow a second floor to be built,' says Brunell, referring to Devarim 4:2, which reads, 'You shall not add to the word I command you, nor shall you subtract from it.'
'This is replacement theology.'
Brunell explains that according to official Christian dogma, the Church has replaced Israel. 'But if there is no building permit, the structure will be dismantled. And I believe that the organization of the church will fall, as we saw Communism fall.'
There is a good reason why Brunell says of his book: 'The Pope might banish it. The Bishop of Finland might burn it. But you better read it.'
WHEN BRUNELL announced his decision to step down from his ministerial post in 1990, the Church accused him of being a heretic.
'In one meeting with the bishop and the Church Council, the bishop actually showed me the door and told me to leave. The church threw us out and we became strangers in Finland,' recalls Brunell. 'Then again, when approaching Judaism, the rabbinate threw us out three times,' he jokes. 'But we did not take 'no' for an answer.' All kidding aside, there was a six-year spell between 1990 and
Brunell's discovery of Judaism, a period he refers to as 'religious no-man's land.' 'You don't want to be there,' he says with a shudder. 'It's like being left alone in a foreign place, on a dark street, stripped of your passport and ID, and you can't explain who you are, and even if you tried, no one would believe you. Leaving the church meant we had no religious or spiritual identity.
'We spent a long time looking for the truth.' He explains that throughout the course of his search, he came to realize that no denomination of Christianity was satisfactory. 'Finally, when I peeled off what I realized was not true in Christianity, I came to the basics of my faith, and from there I was simply led to Judaism.'
It was this dark period in his life that inspired Brunell to write the book.
'I want to help others who have veered off Judaism's path back home to their roots, to the life-giving waters of the Torah. I want to inspire fellow Jews to be strong in the Jewish faith.
'The Torah is like the rudder of a ship; it can steer our life in the right direction and to the right goal, but we have to hold onto it.'
Brunell does not rule out the kabbalistic concept that his soul was banished from inclusion within the Jewish people because of sin. 'Perhaps I was punished by being cut off from the nation, and my soul was given to this boy born to Christian parents in a far-off place like Finland,' he suggests. 'In order to repair the damage, and to make tikkun, I had to come back. I was given one chance. I had to take it.' That's not to say that Brunell's 'reentry' has been easy. In addition to the fact that the Israeli rabbinate required the family to convert a second time (despite an Orthodox conversion in Finland), finding work in Israel was not easy. 'Coming here and trying to earn a living with a degree in theology from Finland... I'll just say there's not many ads for that.'
But after settling first in the absorption center in Ra'anana, Brunell found a job at American office furniture company Steelcase, where he has worked for the past eight years. 'We left Finland and the church behind us despite the good and easy life, and we live in Israel today regardless of the hardships. In Israel, life is hard, as we all know. But we have a caring community, a minyan to pray with, a shul to go to, and the hagim are public holidays. This is heaven for my soul! 'We certainly don't feel like strangers any more.'
JENNY HAZAN --Jerusalem Post 19 Novemer, 2005
Shlomo Brunell's personal tour de force is more than one man's odyssey through time and space. It is a journey of the soul, epitomizing the struggle of an entire generation that seeks G-d and a proper resting place. It is a homecoming of the spirit that will instruct, invigorate and inspire. It should be read!”
- Rabbi Stewart Weiss, Director, Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana
What possesses a man to say goodbye to his Christian congregation and embark on a journey of a lifetime – with his whole family – to Judaism? Well, he first felt he had anyway been practicing Judaism since Christianity was based on it, 'but had been changed and falsified.' He needed to find the 'God whom [he] knew from the Tanach but who still seemed far away.'
His life spanned from Finland and Australia to Israel. The warning bells began for him when he was explaining the ritual of baptism to a family and he 'suddenly realized that the teachings of the Church were inconsistent with the words of the Bible. Why?' he asked. He then says he 'felt less obligated by the official dogmas of the Church and more attracted to revealing the secrets [he] was uncovering in the Tanach.' He was so frustrated by the lack – in Christianity – of the search for truth that (along with his family) he turned away from it… to Judaism.
Objective: To help others perhaps living similar lives to understand the wonders of what it means to be Jewish, and 'My story is a search for the identity of my soul.'
Comments: The author's language is excellent: 'Being tested in front of a court of three rabbis is no tea party, but it was worth it.'
Use: For anyone converting; those intermarrying perhaps; people interested in different religions.
Jewish Educational Materials Online, The Jewish Agency for Israel
Shlomo Brunell's story kept me spell bound and I was unable to put the book until I was finished reading it. His life's story is very interesting and I am very envious of his courage to move to Israel. Our people need more people like him and his family among us; they are living the life of true Jews. My eyes got a bit misty at the end of the book, when he wrote about his daughter's wedding. I am a father of 4 daughters as well, and pray for the same things that Brunell prays for, for his family.
- Jeffrey Rabinowitz, USA
I have just finished reading 'Strangers No More' and I wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences with me. I loved reading about your lives and the path that you have all taken together. I grew up in a very traditional family in a very wishy washy Jewish community (Canberra, Australia) where we were considered religious because we kept Kosher (but drove to shul onShabat).
My friends were all non-Jews (Christian to varying degrees) and I spent a lot of time explaining why I didn't eat this or that or come to school on certain days (chagim) and all kinds of different things. I really enjoyed reading about your (rather unique) perspective. It explains so many things so logically and clearly that I am going to buy the book and send it to my non-Jewish friends in Australia so that they will understand many things that I have never been able to express to them. Mazal tov on your achievements. You are an inspiration.
- Ilana Cohen, Modi'in, ISRAEL, July 2005
'Shlomo Brunell description of his journey from Christianity to Judaism is very important because he details the trials of reaching the decision to be Jewish. Any person who is deliberating their identity can relate to this personal example. His story is a true lesson of faith, heroism and the struggle for truth.' - Rabbi Yosef Mendelowitz, former Soviet refusnik.
Review of Shlomo Brunell's lecturing tour in the USA.
. . . . . .Shlomo Brunell's lecture was very powerful and extremely appropriate as a Slichot program. You would have appreciated the metaphor he created out of his journey toward Judaism as it relates to everyone's journey toward T'shuvah during this season.
He has a masterful control of his topic and of the English language; his Scandinavian accent is quite appealing and he kept the 100 plus people quite enthralled for the entire time. He did not duck from questions that dealt with his disaffection from Christian theology.
We adjourned to the large hall for tea and cakes, during which time I sat with Shlomo at a front table and we sold his books. He was very kind to everyone who approached him, and he entered personal comments in all the books as he signed them. Universally, everyone fell in love with him. At a pause in the signing, Rabbi Starr asked him to field some more questions, which he willingly did.
Jerry and Sandy Wine Sharon MA.USA after Shlomo's lecture in Temple Israel, on Motzei Shabbat Sept. 24. 2005.
Dear Mr. Brunell,
I was one of the Na'amat ladies in the audience at your speech yesterday. I was so impressed with your story I bought your book. I must tell you I returned home and read your book from 'cover to cover' - in one gulp you might say. I just couldn't put it down. Your story is truly most impressive. I admire your courage, your wife's courage and even more your daughter's persistence in achieving their goals to convert to Judaism. We who were born Jews take so much for granted in our religion. You made me see my religion in an entirely different light.
Thank you for sharing your unique experience to our group and to me personally.
I wish you many years of success and happiness in Israel. May all your beautiful daughters find good husbands and bring you many 'sabras' to love.