David Martinetti was born an only child to a typical Italian family in a small city called Cesano Boscone, an hour away from Milan. Today, he hopes to be a shliach and find the place in the world where he and his wife are most needed.
By Sofya Sara Esther Tamarkin – Chabad.org
David Martinetti was born an only child to a typical Italian family in a small city called Cesano Boscone, an hour away from Milan. His parents were traditional Catholics, but not particularly observant in their daily lives. From a young age David questioned the authenticity of his parents’ traditions, yet the answer he received did not satisfy his curiosity. At some point during his teenage years, David came to the understanding that the foundation of the Christian faith is Judaism, and felt it important to pursue the source and read original texts.
By the time he was 16, David still hadn’t encountered an opportunity to meet an actual Jew. On April 25, 2010, he attended the annual celebration of Italy’s liberation from the Nazi regime, where he saw representatives of the Jewish Brigade Group wearing Jewish attire. His dream of meeting a Jewish person was coming true at last!
“As I went up to speak to the group, I told them that I was interested in their organization. One of the members invited me to participate in a celebration of Israel’s Independence Day just a few weeks away.
“Although this was my first encounter with ‘real’ Jews, I had secretly already been trying to learn to read Hebrew on my own. Unfortunately, my parents were not particularly supportive of this new interest. So while I did not share my plans to attend the Israel Day parade with my parents, I let my grandmother in on the secret, and on the much anticipated day, she traveled with me to Milan to help me find my way.
“I was so excited that I arrived hours early. It was there that I saw an Orthodox Jew, a real rabbi, for the first time in my life. He had arrived early too, to set up his outreach work for the large crowd that was anticipated.
“I stood alone, observing him. The rabbi walked toward me with a smile, extended his hand warmly, and offered me my first Jewish greeting: ‘Shalom.’ I froze, completely overwhelmed.
“As the day unfolded, I observed this warm and friendly rabbi putting “black boxes” (tefillin) on participants, smiling and answering questions. I felt instantly connected to him. After all, he was the first rabbi who shook my hand and greeted me in the holy tongue. Unfortunately, I was too shy to speak to him or ask questions.”
By that summer, David had made the life-changing decision to join the Jewish people. Of course, at the time, he had no idea what conversion to Judaism entailed or just how complex his journey was going to be. Despite the challenges that lay ahead, his determination was undeterred, and just like his future wife, Elisheva, he was committed to sacrifice whatever it took to become a part of the Jewish people.
“It took a lot of courage before I finally dialed the number of one of the organizers from the Israeli parade,” David recalls. I asked to be connected to a teacher who could help me learn about Jewish traditions. Amazingly, when I finally met my potential rabbi, I was greeted by that same friendly face and unforgettable smile of the rabbi who shook my hand months ago—a clear sign that I was on the right track.
“It was the beginning of my lifelong connection with Rabbi Shmuel Rodal. We started learning about the Seven Laws of Noah. Although 16 people attended the second class of the series, I was the only student present for the first, which gave me an opportunity to ask questions, bond with the rabbi, and confide in him my desire to convert.”
The weekly classes took place in Milan, ending late at night when the trains were no longer running.
David’s parents picked him up after the first class but made it clear that they were unwilling to do it again. After the second class, he was visibly worried that he had no way of returning home. Just then, his fellow classmate shared that he lived a few minutes away from David’s house and would be happy to give him a ride home each week. Once again, David saw this as a sign that he was on the right path and was being guided by his Creator.
As time went on, David’s commitment to his Jewish education intensified. He appealed to Rabbi Rodal to include lessons on important Jewish ideas, in addition to the Seven Noahide Laws. Recognizing how seriously the young man took his studies, Rabbi Rodal agreed to teach him twice a week.
By this time, David knew with certainty that he belonged with the Jewish people.
“When I turned 18, I became legally independent and decided to move to Israel. My parents were shattered and went to speak to the rabbi, asking him to convince me to finish high school in Italy.
“The rabbi listened to their anguish and told me, ‘David, whatever you start in life, you need to finish. You need to complete your high school education and then move on to the next stage of your life.’ The rabbi also advised me to honor my parents and get the best grades possible.
“I listened to his advice, spending hours toiling over my homework, and graduated high school with all A’s. After my graduation in 2012, I started looking for a Jewish school—a yeshivah either in the United States or in Israel—with hopes of beginning my conversion process. I knew that I needed to start living in a Jewish environment.
“It had become increasingly complicated for me and my parents to live together. Unfortunately, my plan to attend yeshivah did not come to fruition since no Jewish school was willing to take me in. Once again, Rabbi Shmuel Rodal acted as my guardian angel and offered to create a custom curriculum just for me. For two full years, we studied together every day for four hours.
“The first year, I continued to live at home, hiding everything Jewish in order not to upset my already aggravated parents. At the end of the year, I moved in with my grandmother where I could be more open about my observance.
“During the summers, Rabbi Rodal was away in another city so I had to take a break from our learning. My usual daily schedule included a two-hour commute, our four-hour learning session, as well as extra time with the rabbi’s family. Since I no longer had anywhere to go, I moved into a vacant family vacation home, where I spent my days watching countless videos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s talks. There, in isolation, I worked to improve my Hebrew reading skills, spending hours in prayer and study.”
As I listened to David share his story, I thought back to the way I concluded my first article about Elisheva. At the time I did not know what had become of her, so I simply wrote what I imagined: “In my dream, she is holding hands with her skirt-wearing daughters, while her kippah-wearing husband is talking to her in a soft, kind voice.”
Incredibly, David is that kippah-wearing husband, and they do have a little girl. Sometimes, reality is even more magnificent than dreams! Yet I could have never imagined that while Elisheva was finding her way to the Jewish people, David was seeking the same truth in another part of the world.
While David was alone in his journey, fortunately Elisheva had support of her mother.
When I asked David where he drew his courage, despite his loneliness and the resentment from his family, he explained:
“In one of the many arguments with my mother, she tried to reason with me, saying that even if I was to convert to Judaism, I would never truly belong because no ‘real’ Jew would ever marry me. She was certain that I would be completely alone in the world.
“She was worried that I would have no friends, no community, and no support. She was genuinely concerned. I was surprised by my own reply when I asked her, ‘What is the difference between gold and aluminum?’ She was confused by my question. I explained that while both metals seem similar, gold is infinitely more valuable and rare. I understood that I could have a lonely, unfamiliar life, yet to me the value of the ‘golden’ truth was infinitely greater than all the noise of the mundane ‘aluminum’ world.”
David found his authentic truth, and nothing could stand in his way.
“At the end of my second year of intense studies, Rabbi Rodal smiled and announced that by Rosh Hashanah I would be counted as a 10th person in the minyan. I was converted by a beit din, a Jewish court of law, in Brussels, on the 24th day of the Jewish month of Elul. I didn’t know it at the time, but the day already had significance as it is Elisheva’s birthday!
“Two months after my conversion, I went to study at a yeshivah in Safed, Israel. Rabbi Rodal arranged and paid for my studies. No words can express the gratitude that I feel. His time, generosity, thoughtfulness and financial support can never be repaid. I simply want to emulate his kindness by the way that I live my life. This is the only way I can honor the rabbi that changed my life.”
Two years prior to David’s arrival in Israel, his future wife, Elisheva, was studying a few blocks away in this same city, growing in her own journey. Three years later, their destinies would merge.
After studying in Israel for two years, David went on to learn in a yeshivah in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. Once again, he was embraced by the kindness of the Jewish people. He met the Blizinsky family who “adopted” him as their own. He ate every meal at their house, where he met their niece and her friend. The young women knew Elisheva, who was teaching in London at the time, and thought of introducing them.
When I spoke to David about meeting his wife, he concluded that the story was nothing short of a miracle. “When I began to date, my parents were not the only worried ones. Many people expressed their concern for my future. After all, I had a complex identity and an unusual past. At some point, I decided for myself that if I was not married or engaged by my 24th birthday, I would never find the right girl. While this was a silly notion, the thought haunted me. In the end, Elisheva and I celebrated our engagement on the night of my 24th birthday.”
Elisheva and David were married in London in October 2018; their wedding was attended by friends and rabbis from China, Italy, Israel, Australia and the United States.
Their stories span continents and cultures, each detail clearly orchestrated by Divine Providence.
Today, David’s parents are proud of the life he has built with Elisheva. They love to visit and play with their beautiful granddaughter. David’s grandmother has also visited. David is a rabbi and continues to spend his days learning Torah. His wife is his greatest supporter.
Before we concluded the interview, I asked both David and Elisheva about their future dreams. I was not surprised by the answer of this power couple.
“Our dream is to emulate all the kindness we received along our journeys. We hope to become Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, shluchim, and find the place in the world where we are most needed.”
I wiped away tears as I looked through the screen of my Zoom meeting with this Chinese-born young woman and Catholic Italian-born young man.
Throughout their journey, David and Elisheva experienced Divine guidance and tremendous kindness, empathy and dedication from the Jewish people. The way these seekers of truth were treated, respected, and cared for offers us a glimpse to the powerful, eternal Light of the Jewish nation.
Their journey is a clear reminder that when a person wants to find a path back to the Creator, no obstacles will stand in the way. As David pointed out: “A life where G‑d’s ways are revealed is a life of true blessing!”