Couple re-weds after 20 years, 3 kids

Extract from Sunday Times Aug 1 – we know these guys, well done! (reposted from a retired site, update 2020, Anthea sadly passed away a few years ago)

A Johannesburg couple finally got to have the wedding of their dreams – 20 years after they first said their I dos.

ORTHODOX AT LAST: Anthea Shalkoff with her husband, Farrel, and their children Jeyde, Eden and Harmonie

Until last Sunday Farrel Shalkoff and his wife, Anthea, were not regarded as Jewish enough – barring them and their children from a variety of traditional and religious Jewish rites.

Farrel was born to an Orthodox Jewish family and although they believed that Anthea was too, they discovered that she was a Reform Jew only on the eve of their wedding in 1990.

As a result they could not have the Orthodox Jewish wedding they had hoped for, and settled for a civil ceremony.

Although angry and rebellious at not being able to get the Orthodox blessing for the nuptials at the time, Farrel had a change of heart when his wife’s religious status barred him from offering the traditional blessing at his only brother’s bar mitzvah several years ago.

“You feel as though you belong but you don’t belong. There was always that feeling of being an outcast,” Anthea said this week.

On July 7 she finally completed her conversion programme and last weekend they found acceptance among the Jewish community of Highlands North in Johannesburg, when they had their wedding ceremony witnessed by 120 relatives and close friends, including five rabbis.

The 42-year-old mother of three had attended a Jewish high school and “as far as I was concerned, I was Jewish. I didn’t know any better. My mom told me that her mother had not done the mikvah (conversion) but my parents never told me that I was a Reform Jew.”

She only discovered this when she had to produce her mother’s marriage certificate for her own nuptials.

Anthea said most of her friends were shocked after seeing a message she posted on Facebook informing them of her conversion.

“They thought I was Jewish anyway. For the past 20 years, our lives were on hold.”

She said she couldn’t become a member of the synagogue they attended because she was not Orthodox and this had impacted on her daughters, Jeyde, 19, and Harmonie, 17, and her son, Eden, 13.

Because she had only converted recently, her children have not had their bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvah. They, too, will have to first become Orthodox Jews before they can be allowed to do this at the synagogue they attend.

Eden, who was enrolled at a Jewish school catering to Orthodox Jews in June last year, was barred from attending lessons in August – ostensibly because of “gaps in his education”, said Farrel.

But “as much as we were upset at the time, we’re not upset any more”, he said.

Once Eden converts to Orthodox Judaism, they plan to have his bar mitzvah at Israel’s Western Wall – the retaining wall of the Temple Mount.

“This will be our way of saying sorry to our children for having put them through so much in the past 20 years.”

Farrel said they were determined to put all three children through the conversion programme to “bring the conversion journey to a close”.

His wife, according to Farrel, had unsuccessfully tried on three previous occasions to complete the conversion programme.

“We rebelled because we couldn’t believe that Anthea wasn’t Jewish and we didn’t feel she had to convert.

“Anthea is one of the most religious Jews I’ve ever known,” said Farrel.

Her conversion programme had also been interrupted because the family had moved to different provinces over the years.

During her last conversion programme, which started in June last year, Anthea had to, among other things, learn to read prayers in Hebrew; learn to observe the Sabbath days as well as Jewish holidays and festivals, and learn to identify foods that were kosher.

She was also tested orally by a rabbi every two or three months to determine her progress.

“Finally, she had to stand before three members of the Beth Din (Jewish court) who decided whether she was ready to convert or not,” said Farrel, who had to live in a granny flat during the last three months of his wife’s conversion programme as the couple were not allowed to the live together during this time.

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