Natan Gamedze – Swaziland to Tsfat

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“The whole idea of a convert is that of Baruch Hashem, of bringing additional glory to G-d…Because, as someone coming from outside the Jewish people, who is Jewish by choice, gives additional glory to G-d. Not that G-d lacks anything, but in our eyes, we see it more,” Rabbi Natan Gamedze told Aish.com.

Natan Gamedze was born in Swaziland and was the grandson of the king. When the British took control of the country, a rival royal family was placed in the line of succession, but the British gave Nathan’s father a ministerial position to compensate for the loss of his political power. Natan, one of eight children, excelled in languages, was one of the few black students to attend “Wits” University in Apartheid-era South Africa and was awarded a degree at Oxford University.

Once, when Natan was sitting in an Italian language class, he noticed a student writing backwards in an unusual alphabet. When Natan inquired, the student said he was doing his Hebrew homework, and Natan became interested in learning this unusual language.

Mastering Hebrew wasn’t so difficult for Natan, who is fluent in over 13 languages. The first Biblical passage he read in Hebrew was the Binding of Isaac, a story he was somewhat familiar with, but “It was so much more compelling in the Hebrew… 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.”

Even before he converted, Natan encouraged Jews to come closer to their heritage, and he carried Rambam’s Misneh Torah with him everywhere he went, and read passages to his Jewish friends. When his interest in Judaism seemed obsessive (his sister referred to him as “The Rabbi” in affectionate jest), Natan traveled to Rome so he could “forget about all this Jewish business.” One day, he was overcome with an aversion to food and couldn’t bring himself to eat. When he checked a calendar, he realized it was Yom Kippur. The imposing cathedrals only caused him to reflect more deeply on the suffering the Church caused the Jews for centuries.

Although he had been given a scholarship to learn Hebrew in Israel, Natan’s truly transformational learning was at Ohr Sameach and later the Brisk Yeshivah in Mea Shearim. Natan Gamedze converted to Judaism in 1991, received rabbinical ordination, is married with children and teaches in Tzfat. “All Jews are children of the King,” he says.

By Miriam Metzinger, miriammetz@gmail.com


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