Getting to know people and hearing their stories is like reading an amazing book, replete with intricate, detailed characters and written by the author of all things. Getting an inside glimpse into the likes, dislikes, passions, fears, and dreams of people has been truly eye-opening. Each character, beautiful and complex in their own way, has taught me so much about others and especially myself. Yes, I’m entering into, as my kids like to tease, “spirit mode”, but I really do feel this way. I am so appreciative to Hashem that he has given me the opportunity to improve myself, but hopefully to inspires others as well. My only fear is that I represent each person in the way they see themselves and with respect. It isn’t my job to judge the content of their stories, but only to listen and appreciate. So, thank you to those I’ve interviewed, and for allowing us to see into your world.
Being a Jew is not easy. Rewarding, but not easy. A convert, a person who chooses a life of Torah and mitzvot, is in a category above. Our sages teach that Hashem gives each person custom-made challenges, and the greater the difficulty the more faith Hashem has in the person. What if, you were raised as a Jew, but then when faced with questions of validity began to discover that who you thought you were needed to be proven. Suddenly, your challenge becomes much more complicated. Working to maintain a connection to your community and having to prove yourself at the same time. This week’s interviewee is faced with such a challenge.
Meet William Yisroel Savigne:
If you’ve been to the Jewel kosher section, you’ve most likely seen William. Quiet and friendly, William has a pleasant demeanor, and when given a smile, responds with a good-natured smile back.
William was born on May 3, 1970, on the Northside of Chicago. His parents, Anna and Dematrio, immigrated to the United States from Havana, Cuba in the 1960s. Once they became U.S. citizens, they were able to travel between the United States and Cuba, before Castro closed the doors. When William was two years old, his parents moved back to Cuba for almost two years to spend more time with their family. Although the family moved back to Chicago when William was four, he remembers the time spent with family, great food, and beautiful beaches. William’s family loved cooking, and when he was seven, began learning to cook traditional Cuban cuisine as well. He was the only boy in a family of four sisters, the youngest being twins. Sadly, William’s father passed away when he was 12, and his mother passed away when he was 28. One of the twins also passed away in 2012 from complications due to prescription drugs.
William was raised in a home with traditional Jewish values and traditions. His mother and father always maintained they were Jewish, and he never had a need to question his identity. He was taught that his father was descended from Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews and his mother from Spanish Sephardic Jews. They only spoke Spanish at home, and many Jews hid their identities taking on last names such as Castillo (his mother’s maiden name), Vasquez and Arollo. William noted that his parent’s papers were taken at immigration and that since they both passed away at a young age, the only proof of his Jewish heritage is what he was told,
what he believes, and what he feels in his heart.
He does understand why he needed to convert and found his place at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Lakeview while living near Irving Park and Ashland. He enjoyed the learning, Rabbi Russo and the acceptance he felt in their community. He underwent a hatafat dam brit and had a supervised immersion in a mikveh. The conversion certificate maintains that William has agreed to uphold the mitzvos and studying the Torah. His Conservative conversion was completed in 2013, and William would like one day to have an Orthodox conversion as well. He joined the Anshe Emet Chevra Kadisha and a learning club known as the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club, where they put on Tefillin and learn Torah.
That same year, William moved to West Rogers Park. Recently, he began to drift away, because he was tired of having to prove himself. “At some point, after being told who you are your entire life, having to constantly prove yourself becomes exhausting”. It is also because of his busy schedule, that William has less time to focus on converting in a different way. Between Jewel and night school, he has limited time. William has a deep passion for traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. His main focus is Qigong (pronounced Chi-gong), a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for the purposes of health, spirituality, and martial arts training. His parents were very involved in making herbal elixirs and his father was involved with martial arts. From the age of five, William began to learn from his parents.
“My parents made elixirs from plants and herbs. I saw how they helped heal others with different ailments like stomach and skin issues and I assisted them. It was so cool”. In 2011, William went to alchemy school, learning to make elixirs and became a certified herbalist. For many years, William trained under a martial arts master and began to find his calling. Over a two year period, he spent time training in Thailand, Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan. He was a mixed martial arts fighter (MMA), commonly known as a cage fighter, a very popular full contact sport. His time in Thailand was spent training under some well-trained fighters. While in Asia, he also began to take an interest in acupuncture.
At the age of 22, William returned from Asia. He did more training in various fields, including becoming a certified nursing assistant and a medical research technical assistant. He’s also worked security and as a bodyguard due to his extensive martial arts training. William has had many different jobs and experiences, but his focus has become wholistic healing.
William is currently in night school for clinical massage therapy as a stepping stone into the world of alternative medicine. He dedicates much of his time continuing to practice Qigong. His ultimate goal is to teach others this method of self-healing. William eventually hopes to open his own business, specializing holistic healing methods such as massage, acupuncture, and making herbal and plant-based remedies. William practices yoga, meditation, and prays every morning before he starts his day. He loves to help others and told me what he feels has been his greatest accomplishment. “When I was 17, my instructor and I helped kids improve themselves through martial arts. We taught street kids involved with dangerous lifestyles to change their lives. Even though I risked myself to help these kids, that’s what I consider to be my greatest accomplishment”. I learned that William is a very kind and giving person. He told me a story that represents who he is as a person.
“I truly like helping people. There was a man outside of Jewel. I see him a lot and I know he is poor and hungry. I like to give a helping hand. He told me people were ignoring him. I told myself that this could happen to anyone. I only had $40 dollars, which I needed, but I didn’t care. I went back into the store and bought him food and gave him the extra money. I was wearing my favorite martial arts sweatshirt, but it was cold, so I gave him that too.”
William’s advice to the world: “Really get to know one another. Try to love each other, because you never know when the last time you’ll see them”.