Panamanian survivor of Oct. 7 massacre decides to convert to Judaism

After three days without food or electricity in the safe room of their Kibbutz while Hamas terrorists were carrying out their atrocities Panamanian woman decides to seal her fate with the Jewish people
Denise married David in a civil ceremony and the couple lives on Kibbutz Kissufim. They hid in their home for three days during Hamas’s brutal terror attack. After surviving the assault, Denise decided to convert to Judaism. “Now I feel like I’m part of you and I want to become Jewish according to Halakha (Jewish law),” she said.
David and Denise Heiblum, from Kibbutz Kissufim, hid in their protected room for three days beginning on Oct 7th, disconnected from electricity and the Internet while Hamas terrorists attacked their kibbutz, which is near the Gaza Strip.
David (39) is an Israeli Jew, and Denise (27) is a non-Jew from Panama. David works in a factory in the south of Israel, and Denise is a caregiver for kids of the kibbutz. They met in 2019, while David was touring Panama, and fell in love immediately. Denise soon followed him to Israel, and the couple got married in a civil ceremony.
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דניס ודוד הייבלום
דניס ודוד הייבלום
David and Dennis Heiblum
On October 7, Hamas terrorists tried to enter the house’s fortified room in which the couple hid. Miraculously, the terrorists were not able to get in. After three extremely anxious days, disconnected from electricity and the Internet, David and Denise heard people speaking Hebrew outside. Through a small hole in the window, they saw IDF soldiers searching for survivors. After being rescued, they were taken to a hotel near the Dead Sea to which the kibbutz’s residents had been evacuated, and just recently they’ve returned to Kissufim.
Now, following the traumatic experience, Denise has decided that she wants to be part of the Jewish people and began a full conversion process. She is being helped by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel nonprofit organization, which works closely with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Jewish institutions around the world. The organization operates two conversion programs in Jerusalem – Machon Miriam, an institute for speakers of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian; and Machon Milton, an institute for English speakers – the latter in collaboration with the Rabbinical Council of America.
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קיבוץ כיסופים
קיבוץ כיסופים
A home in Kissufim destroyed in the Hamas massacre on October 7
(Photo: Menahem Kahana / AFP)
“The trauma that I went through connected me strongly to Israel and the Jewish people. I feel now that I'm part of you, and I want to be Jewish according to the Halakhah,” Denise said, using the Hebrew word for Jewish law. She said that it was hard at the beginning for her family to accept and understand her decision, but over time their opinion changed. “Today my parents are extremely happy with my decision, but they requested that even when I’m Jewish, I should not forget where I came from and how much my family loves me,” she added.
“We are deeply moved by Denise’s story and her sincere decision to join the Jewish people and convert according to Halakha,” said Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel. “It is truly heartwarming. We'll do everything we can to assist her in her spiritual journey to the Jewish people.”
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