The McJunkin family – Chad-Sholom, Nechama Liba and their eleven children – have made a long and eventful journey of faith, beginning with conversion to Judaism and ending this week with aliyah, the Hebrew term for moving to Israel. The timing could not be more significant for this family from the American south, as both their conversion last year and their arrival in Israel this year took place around the time of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
The McJunkins caught the media’s attention last year, when they first converted to Judaism. Speaking to The Times of Israel then, father Chad (who adopted the Hebrew name Sholom), told of the family’s long search for meaning in their lives. Once practicing Mormons, they even joined an Amish community for two years, eschewing technology in the pursuit of holiness.
“I became a [Amish] brother and we lived in an Amish community west of Nashville. It was the real deal: horse and buggy, no electronics or Internet,” he said.
“But when I came into contact with people who told me about the Hebrew scriptures and I learned about the Torah, I realized there was a conflict between the Five Books of Moses and the New Testament,” McJunkin explained. “One was true and the other was totally false — and it’s obvious which one was false.”
After leaving the Amish community, the family moved first to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where they had been living previously, then back to rural Georgia, where the parents had grown up.
“I was really hurt that my whole life had been wrapped up in a lie. We cried for a week and had a family meeting and decided to go toward Judaism,” Chad-Sholom recalled. To that end, they once again returned to Chattanooga, where they studied Judaism under the wings of the local Chabad movement. They eventually converted in Brooklyn, New York.
Following the conversion, Chad-Sholom and Nechama Liba (formerly Libby) remarried, this time in a Jewish ceremony. Their youngest child, Yosef, was born after.
Now, the McJunkins and their eleven children, Ashley (17), Madison (16), Clara (15), Chad Jr. (13), Madeline (12), Ryan (10), Ethan (8), Journey (6), Natan (3), Nava (2) and Yosef have made their spiritual journey physical, by moving to Israel.
According to Israel Hayom’s Hebrew edition, they arrived Wednesday, along with dozens of other new immigrants, on a group flight organized by the Nefesh b’Nefesh organization, in conjunction with the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption.
“On Shavuot a year ago, we became part of the Jewish faith and tradition, when we completed the conversion process,” Chad-Sholom told the Hebrew paper. “There is nothing more exciting or amazing than the fact that this Shavuot we will mark as citizens of the Holy Land, the State of Israel, and fulfill ourselves the commandments of the pilgrimage festivals and settling the land.”
Like the Biblical Ruth, whose story is traditionally read in synagogues on the holiday, the McJunkin family chose to tie its fate to that of the Jewish people and make its home in the land of Israel.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh b’Nefesh, told Yisrael Hayom, “There is a deep symbolism in the arrival of dozens of immigrants to the State of Israel on the eve of Shavuot. There is great beauty in that among them is a dear family like the McJunkins, who chose not only the Jewish fold, but also the State of Israel as the place to which they will move and establish their home.”