21 February 2020 / 26 Shevat 5780
Shmuel (Sam) Gordon was born in Nigeria. He was a sickly child and it was uncertain whether he would survive; indeed, he endured two near-death experiences. Miraculously saved, and aged 20, he became a pastor. He was renowned as a dynamic speaker and intellectual thinker; he led a church serving 1,000 people.
In 2005, Shmuel, his wife Shoshana and their three children moved to South Africa, where Shmuel started a congregation in Johannesburg. His popularity soared – appearing regularly on TV and radio and traveling throughout Africa preaching Christian gospel.
One night in 2011, Shmuel had a dream that would change his family’s destiny forever. “In the dream, a man engaged me in physical battle. He would not let me go and kept yelling: Now is the time to choose Israel!’ “
Soon after, a pastor from Norway invited Shmuel to a pro-Israel conference, and he became inspired to adopt pro-Israel activism in “response” to the dream. Shmuel founded the Africa-Israel Initiative to mobilize Christian leaders across Africa – counteracting anti-Israel media bias and speaking out against the BDS movement.
This process accelerated in 2013 when, on a trip back from Israel, Shmuel got every Jewish book he could find, building up a library and sharing that wisdom with his family. “It was like opening a floodgate”. In 2014 the family began observing Shabbat and keeping kosher.
Increasingly, Shmuel shared Torah ideas with his congregation. “My life was torn in two,” he recalls. “The more Judaism I learned, the more disconnected I felt from Christianity. After nearly 30 years as a pastor, Sunday mornings had become my worst time.” One Saturday night in 2016, Shmuel couldn’t sleep, and the following morning, while delivering the Sunday sermon, courageously broke the news. “Then I told them that, effective immediately, the church was closed.”
Shmuel decided, together with his family, to become Jewish. They met with the highly respected Johannesburg Beit Din and were accepted into the conversion program. They moved to a Jewish community, and underwent a daunting, two-year process. In August 2019, after a rigorous final exam in the Beit Din, the Gordon family became Jewish.
Shmuel and Shoshana have eyes set on Aliyah. “I’m hoping my whole family moves to Israel, where I can study Torah the rest of my life,” he says.
Rabbi and Sheyna Riesenberg