Radio presenter's journey to Judaism

Born a Roman Catholic, ex-Under One Roof actor converted to the Jewish faith in 2002

Radio producer and presenter Andrew Lim may be most famous for playing the pill-popping hypochondriac Paul Tan in home-grown sitcom Under One Roof. What is less known about him is that he is a practising Jew.

Mr Lim, 48, now also goes by the Hebrew name Ethan Eliyahu Avraham after he and his wife Angelena Loh converted to Orthodox Judaism in 2002. Their three children - sons Elliott, 16, and Eliav, 12, and daughter Eliana, 14 - are also Orthodox Jews.

His journey to Judaism began, aptly enough, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in the hot summer of 1998. He was praying at the wall, and had asked God to reveal himself.

"Then, I had a tap on the shoulder from this old man. He had startlingly white short hair, a very long beard, a sharp nose and a black skull cap," Mr Lim recalls. "He seemed to be looking right through me."

In very heavily accented English, the elderly man began asking Mr Lim, among other things, whether he was Jewish and the names of his parents. Mr Lim answered him, and the man told him three times that he was Jewish.

Today, the Lims' daily routine has changed a lot, mainly to accommodate their dietary requirements. One of the rules requires them to eat only fish with scales, such as seabass. So eel and stingray are out, as are prawns and shellfish. Mr Lim, who likes his nyonya laksa, replaces the shrimp needed for the dish with anchovies.

"(I was) being interrogated by this old man while I was trying to pray, being asked what, to me, were inane questions, and being told I was Jewish when I obviously was not," recalls Mr Lim. "He then asked if he could say a prayer for me, and I said yes."

The man said a prayer which he knows now as the Mi Sheberach.

That encounter took place years after Mr Lim, who was born a Roman Catholic, became intensely interested in the roots of Christianity, following a childhood fascination with exorcism. He and his wife even studied exorcism for a year in Surrey, Britain.

The chance meeting in Jerusalem, however, was not the impetus for his conversion, Mr Lim stresses. His interest in the religion was piqued after the trip and he began to research Judaism "voraciously".

"As a Christian, the only Jews I knew were the Pharisees, who had a strict code of law and Jesus had a really hard time with them, telling them it's not the letter but the spirit of the law that matters," says Mr Lim.

"So I wanted to know who the Pharisees were, what they believed in... and how Jesus' mission evolved through the ages."

The Pharisees are spiritual fathers of modern Judaism.

When Mr Lim told his mother, whose father was Eurasian and whose mother was Peranakan, about the episode with the elderly man, she grew silent for a while, he recalls. Then, she told him that his maternal great-grandmother used to go to a synagogue in Britain with his youngest maternal aunt Rosalind and light candles on the Sabbath.

He was so seized with this newfound aspect of his ancestry that he researched Judaism into the wee hours, "bulldozing my way through whatever article I could find online".

 

The teachings of the faith, he adds, resonate strongly with him.

His wife, who is the granddaughter of a revered Methodist pastor in Singapore, was bemused by all his frenetic research, from which he left mountains of paper on his desk for about six months.

He muses about their relationship then: "There weren't earth- shattering confrontations... And after a lot of research that she did on her own, one day, she said, 'Let's pull together'.

"That was probably the happiest moment of my life. It was a relief!"

Mr Lim then contacted Rabbi Mordechai Abergel, the longtime Rabbi of Singapore, who guided his family in converting to the Jewish faith. They studied, among other things, Jewish law and its many requirements.

Rabbi Abergel also invited him to spend Passover with his family a few times, thus enabling Mr Lim to steep himself even more in the faith. Passover is the major Jewish springtime festival, commemorating the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.

Together with their two older children, Mr Lim and his wife - who was then pregnant with Eliav - went to Melbourne, Australia, to complete their conversion. "We still don't have an infrastructure for conversions here so we still have to do it overseas," he says.

Today, the Lims' daily routine has changed a lot, mainly to accommodate their dietary requirements.

One of the rules requires them to eat only fish with scales, such as seabass. So eel and stingray are out, as are prawns and shellfish. Mr Lim, who likes his nyonya laksa, replaces the shrimp needed for the dish with anchovies.

Pork is forbidden, as are meat- and-dairy dishes such as beef stroganoff prepared according to its traditional recipe, that is, with sour cream. He can buy kosher chicken easily - except that it costs $10 each compared with the usual price of $6 or so for one bought from the supermarket.

It helps that Mr Lim's work schedule is flexible, allowing him to cook a lot for his family, as eating most of their meals at home is the solution to adhering to their faith.

When his children go on school trips, they lug cans of tuna and kosher instant noodles with them.

Their children were homeschooled for a few years, but they are now educated formally, Mr Lim says, because "they should be able to mingle with other people from the country that they live in".

Mrs Lim, who had taught at Singapore's only Jewish school, the Ganenu Learning Centre - now known as Sir Manasseh Meyer International School - for some years, has returned to scriptwriting.

Asked whether converts to Judaism are on a par with those who are born Jews, Mr Lim says firmly: "There would be no distinction in Jewish law. A convert is a reborn Jewish person."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'Radio presenter's journey to Judaism'. Print Edition | Subscribe