A journey into the foundation of their faith led a California pastor and his wife to a destination they had not anticipated.
Yaakov Ephraim Parisi and his wife, Sarah Devorah, began their journey of discovery in the late ’80s, when he was serving as pastor of an evangelical Christian church in California. In 1992 they became pastors of their own church in southern Oklahoma.
“There were so many doctrinal discrepancies and so many unanswered questions,” said Parisi, who was raised in Brooklyn in an Italian-Catholic family. His wife grew up Catholic in Vermont. “With no one to turn to, we searched the Torah for answers.”
Eventually they began to embrace Torah concepts, observing Shabbat and keeping kosher. When their church closed, they began the rigorous process of conversion to Judaism. Today, Parisi said he and his wife are Torah-observant Chabad Jews, spending part of the year in Israel and part in Morristown, where Parisi is a full-time student at the Rabbinical College of America.
Parisi will share the couple’s story in a lecture at Chabad of Western Monmouth County in Manalapan on Sunday evening, Jan. 9.
Parisi received his rabbinical certification at RCA this fall. After his studies are completed, the couple plans to return to Israel, where they made aliya in 2002.
‘Commitment to Yiddishkeit’
Their thirst for Judaism was actually sparked years ago while the couple was learning about Passover, Parisi said.
“We began to study by ourselves, buying Jewish books and commentaries and studying the major Jewish feasts and Shabbos, as well as the history of the Jews, the church, the Romans, and Greeks. After many years of study, and comparing Christianity with Judaism, we saw many discrepancies and found Judaism to be the truth.”
The couple moved to Denver and began an 18-month conversion process. They took their Jewish names in 1998 when they appeared before a Jewish court at the completion of their studies.
“We were told by our rabbis that now is the time to tell our story of commitment and mesiras nefesh [self-sacrifice] in order to inspire all Jews to increase their own commitment to Yiddishkeit,” Parisi said. “It is important to us to make the beautiful Jewish people realize the gifts they were born with — the one true God, the true living Torah, and each other.”
Jews have the ability to be a light to the nations and to change the world, Parisi said. “Today there are many people like us who are knocking on doors, giving everything up, leaving nation, family, jobs, and friends to seek what Jews were given for free at birth.
“There is nothing else we would rather be than Jews.”
Parisi’s message should resonate with all Jews, said Rabbi Baruch Chazanow, director of Chabad of Western Monmouth County. “Here is a non-Jew who was searching for meaning in life and found it in the Torah that we have already,” he said. “In the same way that sometimes we don’t recognize the special qualities our children have until someone points them out, it takes someone from the outside to remind us of the treasures we have in our own backyard.”