HOW THE CHRISTMAS TREE GIRL BECAME JEWISH
Amanda Kantor was raised on a 50-acre farm that grew Christmas trees. Her mother was of German extraction, while her father was pure-bred Irish. The Kantors were Protestant, but not avid church goers. Their main holiday was St. Patrick's Day, which was feted with a dinner of corned beef, cabbage, and lots of Guinness beer. Amanda's maternal grandmother was an adamant atheist, who told her children that G-d wasn't real, just a myth.
Life on the farm was wholesome and simple, until 1996, during her senior year of high school when Amanda did a project on her family history. Her father's side was easy. Her mother's side posed greater challenges as her great-grandmother, Anna Hilder, spoke mostly German. When she did speak English, she repeated the same questions over and over: "Where are my parents, my little brother Ezra, my sisters?
Grandma Doris wasn't helpful either, but she handed Amanda a leather-bound diary. “This was my mother's.”
The diary was in German, so Amanda approached a classmate who was studying fourth-year German, and the girl agreed to translate the diary. A month later, the girl returned the diary with a list of words she couldn't translate. She also mentioned peculiarities like “holidays" in September. The classmate concluded, “I think your great-grandmother may have been Jewish.” An internet search turned out that the unknown words were not German, but Yiddish.
During her teenage years, Amanda attended churches, a Mormon and a Baha'i temple, but never even considered Judaism. She didn't know a single Jew, but one day she looked at the diary and thought, “Perhaps this is an arrow to point me in the right direction.”
Amanda knew that Jews pray in synagogues. But there were none near the farm. So Amanda ordered Jewish books from Seattle on interlibrary loans and discovered that Judaism is transmitted through Moms. Her first concrete action was to stop eating pork. After two years she asked Grandma Doris, “Was your mother Jewish?”
Doris got defensive and angry. “I don't know why you need all that information.” She snatched the diary and yelled, “If this is what you're going to do with this information, you don't need this.”
Four years later, Doris, suffering from Alzheimer's, was moved to a nursing home. Amanda searched but the diary was gone. Apparently it had been destroyed. Over the next few years, during and after college in Seattle, Amanda took classes with a Rabbi. In 2002, a company hired to research her family’s past revealed that her great-grandma, the oldest of six siblings, was married off by her father to a well-connected Christian neighbor, hoping that Anna would be saved from the Nazis.
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935, however, dashed those hopes. So they fled to the safety of America, while the rest of the family was rounded up and deported. None of them ever came back. The youngest was Ezra. The evidence from Germany was sufficient to convince a Jewish court that Amanda was Jewish.
Today Amanda and her husband, an Orthodox Rabbi, live in Jerusalem with their daughter.
Underneath the Christmas tree there were Jewish roots. Today it flourishes in the Holy City.
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