Rabbi Natan Gamedze: Getting Off the Conveyer Belt

Swazi prince on his conversion to Judaism. Aish has the story of 40-year-old Natan Gamedze, born into a royal family in Swaziland. (Hat tip: Winds of Change.)
Aish.com: It is unusual, to say the least, for someone of your background to find his way to Judaism.

Gamedze: I was never interested in religion, per se. I was interested in what was going on in the world. What is our reason for being here? Okay, so you get up in the morning, you eat, go to work, have a shower, watch TV, go to bed, get up and start all over again... Hey, I did that yesterday!

I felt that life was like being on a conveyer belt, and eventually you get off. So what was the point? I couldn't accept that.

Aish.com: An existential question.

Gamedze: Yes. In other words, I wasn't searching for a way to give my life meaning. Rather, I was trying to find out what was going on, like a detective. I felt there's something going on in this world, something behind the scenes. And I wanted to know what it is.

Aish.com: If you weren't looking for religion, how did you find it?

Gamedze: I was sitting in a boring Italian literature class one day. I think we were studying D'Annuncio. And as people do when they are bored, they look around, and I noticed some guy was writing backwards in funny letters. So after class I asked him what he was doing. He said he was doing his Hebrew homework. I thought: That's really interesting. Imagine if I could write like that! And then I forgot about it. But later on, I needed a credit to complete my degree. I wanted to take Russian, but I had a scheduling conflict. Then I remembered about Hebrew. It fit my schedule, and so I began studying it.

Aish.com: So what was the moment of awakening?

Gamedze: The first text we got was the biblical passage of the Binding of Isaac. Coming as I did from a moderately Christian home, I was familiar with the text, but I was surprised at how Hebrew appeared to convey much more than could be conveyed in any other language. I couldn't figure it out.

But what was so compelling was that I thought it was telling me something about myself. It was like opening an inner dimension that perhaps many people don't even know exists. It wasn't like an archeologist trying to find out about, say, ancient Incans, an interest which has really nothing to do with him. Here, I felt it was telling me something about myself. I thought it had to do with the language itself. I didn't know at the time it was the religious dimension.

Aish.com: And from there?

Gamedze: I began to discover the beauty of Judaism. I got interested in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah. ...

Read the rest at the link, and be sure to read the comments (scroll down, then click link for more) for stories of other Jews from nontraditional backgrounds.