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Today, it's more like a paramount chief than a king, but they do wield power. Gamedze: I speak 13 languages: French, German, Italian, English, Hebrew, Afrikaans, Zulu, and other African languages. But later on, I needed a credit to complete my degree. Coming as I did from a moderately Christian home, I was familiar with the text, but I was surprised at how Hebrew appeared to convey much more than could be conveyed in any other language. But what was so compelling was that I thought it was telling me something about myself. So I went to check the calendar, and of course, that day was Yom Kippur! I had told my Jewish friends that the only time I'd consider converting to Judaism is if I couldn't sleep at night. Gamedze: I knew the road was going to be extremely difficult.Everyone in my family speaks at least two European languages; my mom speaks about 7 or 8. In other words, I wasn't searching for a way to give my life meaning. I wanted to take Russian, but I had a scheduling conflict. It was like opening an inner dimension that perhaps many people don't even know exists. I had gone to Rome to get away from the whole thing -- Rome is probably the “least Jewish” place in the world. Wherever I'd go in the Jewish community I'd stick out like a sore thumb, the only black guy in the room.
Gamedze: I was never interested in religion, per se. I felt there's something going on in this world, something behind the scenes. Aish.com: If you weren't looking for religion, how did you find it? Here, I felt it was telling me something about myself. I didn't know at the time it was the religious dimension. Gamedze: I began to discover the beauty of Judaism. I would carry it around and read it and tell my Jewish friends about it, who later became observant. But while in Rome all I could think about was the suffering of Jews at the hands of Christians. At this stage, I had not yet taken on any Jewish observance. As I was saying it, I felt that all those people who had given up their lives for Judaism were saying it with me. Gamedze: I only discovered the answer to that a few months ago.The story of every convert to Judaism is a gripping tale of spiritual discovery.In the case of Natan Gamedze, that journey began 40 years ago in Swaziland, where he was born into a royal family.Gamedze casts an imposing royal figure, but it is his intellectual capacity that makes the biggest impression. It's a small, land-locked kingdom that borders on South Africa and Mozambique -- about the size of Israel, with just over a million people.Graduated with honors from Oxford, he received a master's in translation from South Africa's Wits University, and served as translator in the Supreme Court of South Africa. Aish.com: Were you in line for the throne yourself? But the British, who had colonized southern Africa, created the states of Swaziland, Bosutoland and Bechuanaland.I was interested in what was going on in the world. Okay, so you get up in the morning, you eat, go to work, have a shower, watch TV, go to bed, get up and start all over again... I felt that life was like being on a conveyer belt, and eventually you get off. Gamedze: I was sitting in a boring Italian literature class one day. And as people do when they are bored, they look around, and I noticed some guy was writing backwards in funny letters. It was a bit strange that the very person who was bringing them closer to Judaism wasn't Jewish. I couldn't understand why I had such a thirst and love for Judaism, and not be Jewish. But I decided to say “Shema Yisrael” there in my hotel room by St. I felt as if I were a channel through which they were saying Shema. I was teaching a class on the biblical Jethro, trying to convey what kind of special person he was.
And yet there were Jewish people who couldn't care less, it appeared. I couldn't understand why God would play such a trick on me. And I remember what I had heard many years ago from Rabbi Moshe Carlebach, who said that the first time the phrase Baruch Hashem (“Blessed is God”) appears in the Bible is when Jethro -- a convert -- praises God for saving the Jews from the Egyptians.
Not only that, but when they did decide to get interested, it was easy for them. At that point, I figured the best thing would be to get away from all this Jewish business. The whole idea of a convert is that of Baruch Hashem, of bringing additional glory to God.
Gamedze's gift for language -- he is fluent in 13 languages -- played a central role in his discovery of Judaism. They drew artificial borders, very often failing to take into consideration the ethnic distribution.
After many years of study, Gamedze is now a rabbi and teaches Jewish studies in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat where he lives with his wife and son . So in many places, different ethnic groups were lumped together in the same state. And the British chose to recognize a rival royal family as the ruling group.
In order to win our cooperation, they made certain concessions to our family -- such as granting ministerial posts -- and we have a semi-autonomous region within Swaziland.
My father served as minister of education and ambassador to the EEC countries. Gamedze: The first text we got was the biblical passage of the Binding of Isaac. Now by that time I had attended some lectures on Judaism while I had been I in Israel, and so I remembered that there was one day in the year, Yom Kippur, when Jews don't eat. Aish.com: Was that decision the hard part or the easy part?