Ex-Pentecostal preacher to speak on return to Judaism

She was born in Lougsborough, a small town in England where apparently no Jews resided. She was raised a devout Christian. Her father is a Protestant minister.

Yet Tova Mordechai (née Tonica Marlow) felt a deep void in her life.

Mordechai, 42, will present the story of her quest for her Jewish heritage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

Mordechai's mother is an Egyptian-born Jew who converted to Christianity during World War II. During her childhood, the family life was centered around church activities.

"My mother never spoke one word about her Jewishness or her life in Alexandria, Egypt," Mordechai wrote by e-mail from her office in Safed, Israel. "Nor did we see her family, who lived in Israel when I was young. My mother, as the preacher's wife, was very active in the church, also."

At the age of 16, Mordechai was accepted at Covenant College in Nottingham, England. She received her ministerial degree in 1976 at age 20.

Although her childhood was happy and she was successful in the church, Mordechai wrote, "From early years I felt a deep void, a sensation of isolation and loneliness. In hindsight, it was obviously my Jewish soul gnawing away at me. In the depths of my life I felt different, but I couldn't understand why."

Before she began her search, she had no idea that she was Jewish. But prompted by her feelings, Mordechai started asking theological questions. She was told constantly to just "believe." She wrote, "Christians don't like questions. As far as they are concerned, it is evidence of unbelief. In the end, they said that evil spirits had taken me over."

In her presentation, Mordechai will explain how she sought answers to her questions. She relates that she found it disturbing that she did not find God in the church. Although she composed songs that became popular in the church community, she eventually found God in Orthodox Judaism.

Mordechai has written of her search in an autobiography, "Playing with Fire."

"I want to show the power of the Jewish soul," she wrote in her e-mail. "There is no reason on earth why I should ever think I was a Jew or ever know about one. But God heard my sincere prayer and request to find him."

She would like to inspire others to embrace and explore their own Jewishness. She has been traveling internationally for the past 10 years, meeting the entire spectrum of Jews from all affiliations.

Mordechai, who is married with three children, presently works at Machon Alte, a seminary for young Jewish women. She says, "These women, like myself, did not have a chance to study Judaism in their youth."

Her husband is from Sacramento, and was raised in the Episcopalian Church. He converted to Judaism in Israel at age 18, studied at yeshiva for six years and received rabbinic ordination.

Mordechai's presentation is open to the public and is being hosted by Chabad of the Greater South Bay. Admission is $10. Refreshments will be served. For more information call Chabad at (650) 424-9800.