A Journey of Faith From Christianity to Judaism, Ahuvah Gray has found her home
A little more than five years ago, Delores Gray was an Ordained Minister in a born-again African American church in California. Today, she is Ahuvah Gray, an Orthodox Jew living in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood.
What made Delores, the granddaughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, leave her church, her faith and country to become Ahuvah, the religious Jewish Jerusalemite? “This is a question I am frequently asked,” says the 52-year-old Ahuvah Gray. She often lectures on the topic and is also in the process of writing a book about her incredible journey to Judaism and Israel.
Born in Chicago, Gray grew up on the city’s west side, the daughter of working class parents. “My parents were not especially religious, although we went to church,” Gray recalls, “but my grandmother in Mississippi was. She stressed prayer and good works and this was passed on to us, the grandchildren. Her life revolved around the Bible.” Gray’s grandparents lived on a 125 acre farm in the African American community of Mound Bayou where she and her siblings would spend their vacations. “I remember Grandmother always stressed that Sunday was the Lord’s day,” Gray continues. “We had to do all our preparations on Saturday – cooking, cleaning, bathing, etc. On Sunday, we just got dressed and went to church. This life was, in a way, preparing me to live as an Orthodox Jew and to receive Shabbat.”
When Gray was in high school, she got a job working in a local dress shop owned by a Jewish family. This was her first encounter with Jews. “They were a wonderful family and would invite me to their home on Friday evenings. They were not religious, but they were traditional. This was my first taste of Jewish life.”
After graduating from Eastern Illinois University in 1969, Gray became a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. Over the next 25 years, she continued to work for Continental, rising to the rank of supervisor and then to sales and marketing representative. At the same time, Gray became a born-again Christian and was ordained as a minister in a non-denominational church.
“In 1984, I was Continental’s sales rep for the San Fernando Valley in California,” Gray says. “I became very close to two travel agents, Mimi and Lenny Rich, who were traditional Jews. I used to joke that they were my Jewish parents.” The Riches arranged tours to Israel. Lenny kept insisting that Gray should open a travel agency specializing in tours to Israel. In 1990, he finally persuaded her to join a pilot tour to the Holy Land. It was to be the first of 14 trips she would make to Israel over the next five years.
“The first time I caught sight of Jerusalem, my heart starting beating rapidly. Suddenly, I felt that I had come home,” Gray explains. Gray returned to the States determined to get into the travel business. She rushed to call Mimi and Lenny to tell them the good news, only to learn that Lenny had suffered a heart attack and died. “I felt that if Lenny had such confidence in me, then I had to carry through.” say Gray, “I started my own travel agency, DG Travel, specializing in tours to Egypt, Israel and Greece.” One month after she opened the agency, Gray led her first group to Israel- a Pastors’ study tour.
It was also around this time that she met Ruth Broyde-Sharone, a journalist and documentary filmmaker. “The church I belonged to in Los Angeles, the Strait- Way Church, was a very unusual one,” Gray states. ” Our Pastor believed that since Christianity’s roots stem from Judaism, we had to know about Judaism. He would teach us the Torah in Hebrew. I believe he set the mode for me to make the transition from Christianity to Judaism.”
Boyde-Sharone had heard that members of the Strait-Way Church observed Pessach and decided to do a documentary on the church. When she came to one of their services, she suddenly had a vision of bringing Christians and Jews to retrace the Exodus and arrive in Jerusalem for the Pessach seder. She approached Gray who offered to put together the tour. In December, 1992, Gray and Sharone did a pilot tour of both countries. “I had never been to Egypt, Gray relates, ” but the first time I saw Mount Sinai, I felt I had been there before.” She and Sharone organized three “Festivals of Freedom,” bringing multi-cultural groups to Egypt and Israel.
But Gray’s heart was already in Jerusalem. Soon Gray stopped going to church and practicing Christianity. Instead, she began to observe Jewish holidays. In the summer of 1993, Gray was invited to study Hebrew at U1pan Akiva. She remained in Israel for the High Holidays and, for the first time, went to services in an Orthodox synagogue. “I had been taught repentance as a Christian, but this was a totally new feeling,” says Gray. “When I left the synagogue that night I finally knew who my God is.” But it was the January 1994 Northridge earth quake which served as the final catalyst for Gray’s conversion and aliyah. “I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to find my whole apartment shaking, ” Gray recalls. “I ran for the door and all I could think of was Psalm 121 – ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.’ When it was all over, my apartment was in shambles. All my china and crystal were broken. I looked around and concluded that this was a wake-up call from God. I knew that it was time for me to take the big step – to convert to Judaism and move to Jerusalem.”
After the third Festival of Freedom in 1994, Gray stayed in Israel. Friends, Mordechai and Avigail Goldberg of Katamon took her in. “I had no idea what I would do or where 1 would live. These two wonderful people let me live in their home for two months until I got my bearings and moved to Bayit Vegan,” says Gray. Gray started studying and working on her conversion. In order to live, she organized a cleaning service and cleaned houses when she wasn’t studying. After two years, she officially became Jewish.
After her conversion, Gray began studying at the Neve Yerushalayim study program in Har Nof. At present, Gray is completing an 18-month course to become a licensed tour guide. How does one make sense out of this journey? Says Gray, “I have had a lot of challenges along the way, but converting and moving to Jerusalem was one of the most quality decisions I have ever made in my life. A person who has a Jewish soul is like someone in exile. He or she will do whatever it takes to find the way to Judaism, unable to rest until that way is found. I feel I have found that way.”