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Wednesday, May 08, 2024 

The sojourn of a Turkish convert to Judaism

Here's the story of artist Lea Gul, a Turkish woman who converted to Judaism, and what's great about this news is that it looks like she's not the kind of convert who follows the kind of dress code the ultra-Orthodox go by:
Painter Lea Gul’s first solo exhibition in Israel – opening the evening of May 15 at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv – marks a new chapter in the fascinating life story of a religious Jewish Jerusalemite raised as a secular Muslim in Istanbul.

A mother of four who looks like a fashion model even though she just turned 51, Lea overcame many obstacles to get where she is today.

Though many students in her Istanbul high school were Jewish, she says, and all her boyfriends were Jewish, her pull to Judaism was precipitated by nearly dying in a car crash in 2000.

“I should have died, and I started wondering why I didn’t,” she says.

That question led her on a spiritual search, and in 2002 she told her parents that she wanted to move to India.

Her mother suggested that first she should read three holy books “to see if I could find the source of the power that protected me from death.”

Converting to Judaism

She was very taken by the Torah’s philosophy and started to research Judaism. Two years later, while visiting Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, she made her decision to convert. “That’s what I wrote in the guest book on the way out,” she recalls.

At home in Istanbul, she had two passions: competitive horseback riding and painting. She had a painting studio where she taught adults and children, and hosted evening discussions with art historians and philosophers. She had four solo and two group exhibitions between 1999 and 2005.

Gradually, her mother took over the classes so that Lea (then named Konca, Turkish for “rosebud”) could delve into Jewish learning. Her mother was fully supportive, happy that her daughter had found something to believe in.

But she couldn’t convert in Turkey because Ottoman law forbids Jews from converting Muslims
. In 2005, she decided to live in the Amsterdam Jewish community and convert there, but first she had an exhibition of her horse paintings.
Her family may have been "secular" and only Moslem by default, but the rest of Turkey is run by sharia that clearly does pose a threat to ladies like her, so it's lucky she was able to travel elsewhere, if that's what it took to ensure she could convert. That said, Turkey should not have to continue being run by Islam, and someday, all land stolen from Greece must be returned, including the Hagia Sophia cathedral that Recep Erdogan's regime is converting to a mosque.
HER FATHER passed away in 2019 and her mother in March 2021. Needing to support herself, she put her full energy into painting, a passion she had returned to in 2015, using a style she learned from surrealist Turkish painter Erol Denec, a protégé of Austrian painter Ernst Fuchs, co-founder of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.

“I felt if Hashem gave me this talent, I should use it,” she says.

“My work now is an unlimited way of seeing beyond reality. With Torah, I was able to express what is inside of me.”

One day, a real estate agent who had come to show Lea’s apartment to a prospective client saw Lea’s paintings and told her friend Vered Daya, from the ZOA Gallery, about Lea’s talent.

Veteran art world publicist Michal Sadan, a former curator, was brought in to help make arrangements for a show. Excited about Lea’s potential, Sadan engaged Galit Zimbalist to curate the ZOA exhibition, which runs through the end of June.

“I know that she will find her standing in the Israeli world of art because her work has powerful energy, her paintings are fascinating, and the spectators are deeply moved,” Zimbalist writes in her text for the “Unmasked before the Forces of Creation” show.

“Lea paints her pure emotions, using an intense multicolored palette, layers of color, and the precision of the boundaries that create the sense of virtual reality in the story.
This is something I'm impressed to read, that the lady's talents in art are being recognized, and religion shouldn't have to stand in the way. Nor should there be any fuss about dress codes and such when it comes to how a religious woman runs her life. Something we should hope more ultra-Orthodox will come to recognize as well.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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