Reconnecting with her future

A Filipina convert with Marrano ancestry is the subject of a new book by the physician who once saved her life – and is now her husband.

chaty dublin_521 (photo credit: Joshua Hamerman)
chaty dublin_521
(photo credit: Joshua Hamerman)
Angelita Valdés Dublin was an immigrant twice. In 1964, she left a comfortable life in the Philippines for the US, where she met her husband, Robert, and converted to Judaism. Then, in 2000, the Dublins moved to Israel. “The story of my life is that I left my family, my parents, and the second time I left my children,” says Dublin, whose life story has been chronicled by her husband in the book A Journey with Destiny: The Story of a Righteous Filipina’s Conversion to Judaism (Mazo Publishers, 256 pages).
Dublin, known to family and friends as “Chaty,” was born into a prominent family in the Philippines, where her father was a well-respected doctor and tobacco farmer. She later found fame as a dancer and television personality and was selected to represent the Philippines at the New York World’s Fair.
While in New York City, she contracted tuberculous meningitis and almost died. Her future husband was the hospital physician who treated her and saved her life.
Unbeknown to her, Robert was already thinking about aliya while they were engaged, and he made sure his wife’s conversion was an Orthodox one. The rabbi who converted her gave her a sense of belonging, and she became very close to his family. However, her husband’s mother and sister did not welcome her.
“It was only 20 years after the Holocaust, so minds were very closed” when it came to accepting converts, she says.
Worse than the rejection she received from her husband’s immediate family was the anxiety over how her parents, who were observant Roman Catholics, would react upon learning of their daughter’s conversion. When she called her parents to inform them that she had become a Jew, she was so nervous that she forgot about the time difference between New York and the Philippines and woke up her mother in the middle of the night.
After saying she had converted to Judaism, she didn’t hear any response from her mother, misinterpreting the silence for disapproval when, in fact, her mother was sleepy.
“When I told her, she was so quiet, and I thought, ‘This is the end,’” Dublin recalls. “Then I said, ‘Ma, do you still love me?’ And she said, ‘Of course I love you, and maybe even more because you showed me you are a woman.’”
Later, Dublin’s mother told her father, and he wrote his daughter a letter saying that he hoped she would be a better Jew than she was a Christian because religion must be taken seriously.
“I have been a Jew longer than I was a Christian,” says Dublin. “I was only a Christian for 27 years, and a very bad [non-observant] Christian at that.”
Her parents were so supportive that they bought extra sets of dishes and silverware to be used when Dublin and her husband visited them, and they cleaned out their kitchen to make it kosher before their stays. Dublin’s father also once sent his chauffeur to pick her up at the airport in Manila on a Friday because, having crossed the international dateline, he was afraid she might not realize it was Friday. He wanted to make sure that she would be driven home before Shabbat began.
Ironically, after her conversion, Dublin discovered that she had Jewish ancestry. Her maternal grandfather, a count, had moved from Spain to the Philippines and brought a box of jewelry with him. One of the pieces was a necklace with a Star of David.
After her aliya, Dublin found out that she also had Jewish ancestry on her father’s side. A genealogist told her that Valdés, when spelled with an “s” instead of a “z,” is a Jewish name, confirming what she always suspected: that her Jewish roots come from both sides of her family. Becoming the first in her family to reconnect with Judaism is “justice” for her Marrano ancestors, she said.
Before they moved to Israel, the Dublins raised three sons in the Willowbrook section of Staten Island, New York, and lived a modern Orthodox life while supporting Jewish and Israeli causes. She became a prolific artist and held exhibitions of her porcelain artwork in New York and the Philippines.
In October 1973, Robert traveled to Israel to volunteer during the Yom Kippur War. She was sorry that their sons were too young to join him.
“I don’t know anyone who is more of a Zionist than she is,” says Robert. “Her love of Israel, the feeling she has for every Jewish boy that gets hurt, her feeling towards Judaism and Jews anywhere are tremendous, and this in spite of the fact that she was rejected by my family. She had every reason to go home and give up the whole thing, but over the years she just came closer and closer.”
Dublin was not the only member of her family to convert to Judaism. Her niece went to live with them in Staten Island and chose to become Jewish. The girl had been a lonely child in the Philippines after her American father abandoned her family, and Dublin’s father asked her to take her. Many of the Jewish girls in the neighborhood befriended her niece and after a while, living a Jewish life became second nature, and she decided to convert. Today, her niece is a haredi woman with a family of her own in New Jersey.
“She went further than me,” Dublin jokes.
After many years in New York, the Dublins decided to make aliya because of their firm belief that Jews should live in Israel and that new challenges are essential. Before making aliya, they traveled to Israel many times and bought an apartment in Abu Tor, where they live today. One of their sons has joined them in Israel with his family, and the Dublins’ oldest grandson is about to go into the IDF.
“I fell in love with Judaism, and anyone who already started by converting will grow [to love it] even more as they go on,” says Dublin.