Veterans: A guiding hand

Born in Germany, a Gypsy woman made a physical voyage to Israel and a spiritual journey to Judaism.

Ilunia Selczer 311 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Ilunia Selczer 311
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Ilunia Felczer has traveled a long road to be who she is today – an Orthodox Jewish woman with two sons and five grandchildren, all observant.
“God always guided me and showed me the way,” says the pretty 55-year-old painter whose religious-themed artwork covers the walls of her apartment in Ramat Hasharon.
But she was born a Gypsy in Germany, belonging to the Sinti tradition. The Sintis believe they originated in what is now Pakistan but have been in Europe since the 11th century. The Nazis targeted them as assiduously as they did the Jews, and thousands were murdered in the camps.
“Most of my family perished in the concentration camps,” says Felczer. After the war, her father married and the family lived in Hanau, where she was raised.
“We always had good relations with Jews,” she says. “It was a Jew who taught my father to read and write in a prison in Poland after the war. Since the 11th century, whenever anything happened to the Jews, the same happened to us. We have always known discrimination – and even today, although our children go to school, they can never be educated above a certain level.”
Ilunia met her husband, Daniel, when he was serving in the US Army in Germany in 1970.
“My brother became best friends with Daniel and wanted to bring him home. In our home, you couldn’t just invite someone; my parents were very protective because of the Shoah, so my brother brought a photo and he was allowed to come. As soon as I saw him, I felt I knew him, that our souls knew each other.”
Ilunia was 15 when she met Daniel, and they married two and a half years later in a Sinti wedding.
“Yes, my motherin- law had a problem with it,” she admits.
But the couple traveled to meet the family in California and soon they fell in love with their new daughter-in-law. After their son Ben was born in 1979, they moved there permanently and Daniel qualified as a lawyer.
“I became very depressed after the birth of my son and felt very bad. I couldn’t sleep and had phobias about the dark – it was a terrible time.
Now I realize that without all that, God would not have been able to test me. All sorts of people with different beliefs tried to help. There was a Jehovah’s Witness, a Baptist, Mormons all trying to influence me. Then a friend brought me a Bible and said I should read the Old Testament.
I started reading Genesis and felt a comforting presence in the room. For the first time in months, I slept like a normal person.”
Within a short while she had converted to Judaism through the Reform temple she attended but always felt it wasn’t quite right. Then she tried the Conservative synagogue but felt it was also not for her. Finally she met the local Chabad rabbi and was very hurt and angry when he told her that her children weren’t Jewish.
“Eventually I got to know my rabbi and started to attend the Chabad synagogue. By this time I had become observant and was studying, and the rabbi told me I had to go to the mikve and have a Jewish wedding. In 1989, the evening before my son’s bar mitzva, I finally converted. I felt a change come over me as I emerged from the mikve, and the wedding took place soon after. After that I told my husband I was worried about assimilation, and I wanted to move to Israel so my sons would marry nice Jewish girls.”
Daniel had quite a large family of cousins here, and Ben had been on a youth program.
Ilunia had visited and was quite ready for the adventure of aliya. She came alone with her two sons, while Daniel went to New York to take the Israeli bar exams.
For six weeks they stayed in a Tel Aviv hotel and started to look for a place to live.
“Daniel’s cousin was helping me find a place. One day we drove to Ramat Hasharon and I liked it; it reminded me of California.”
They rented a cottage and the family has been in the town ever since.
Daniel opened a law office in Ramat Gan and Ilunia worked with him for more than 20 years, handling the financial side of the business. For more than 10 years they worked in Poland, helping survivors and their children reclaim their inheritance.
With Ben and their second son Naim married, the idyll of their marriage continued until the tragedy of Daniel’s death six years ago. Ilunia finds consolation in her painting, in which she feels a divine hand guiding her, and her paintings are evidence of her deep faith and intense spiritualism. Her journey from little Gypsy girl to a mature Orthodox mother is complete.