Asher Wade's Story

Originally appeared "Rabbi Asher Wade: Following The Script Of Life" by Helen Zegerman Schwimmer. The Jewish Press. July 14, 2000. Page 38.


Asher Wade is fond of quoting Shakespeare, which is not surprising for a man who was offered a teaching position at Cambridge University in England. What is astonishing is that this Chassidic rabbi, dressed in a black hat with flowing gray beard, spent the first quarter century of his life also quoting the Christian gospels, chapter and verse.

As Rabbi Wade tells it, "Something happened on the way to church one morning." The spark that set off an explosive chain of events that would completely alter the life of this ordained pastor in the Methodist Church was the Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Kristallnacht. It was November 5, 1978 and Asher Wade, a native of Virginia, was attending the University in Hamburg in Germany working towards his doctorate in the field of Metaphysics and Relativity Theory.

He had already earned a B.A. in Philosophy in America and a post-graduate degree in Philosophical Theory at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. In addition, he had previously worked as an adolescent and marriage counselor at the U.S. Army Chaplaincy in Berlin while he was attending the Goethe Institute for Language Studies.

The Legacy of Kristallnacht

When Asher Wade and his German-born wife turned the page of the local newspaper that fateful morning in November, they were shaken out of their languid Sunday routine by the graphic pictures of the destruction of Jewish homes and stores of Hamburg during Kristallnacht.

But the photograph they found most unsettling was the Great Synagogue of Hamburg during Kristallnacht. To their horror, they immediately recognized that the site where Hamburg's once thriving 180,000 member Jewish community had worshipped was now their university's parking lot. How could this be? How could the country that had nurtured Beethoven and Goethe also be the incubator for such heinous acts of destruction?

And so, their long journey began with a series of questions. "What was it like to be a student on Kristallnacht? What was it like being a scholar on Kristallnacht?" And finally, "What was it like being a Christian Kristallnacht?"

When they innocently posed these three questions to the respective authorities in their community, according to Asher Wade, he and his wife were shaken out of their nest, "that comfortable position of the Cambridge elite."

As the representatives of their church, they were dismayed when they discovered that the first to join Hitler's ranks was the Medical faculty, followed by the Law faculty. Five out of eight students, they found out, had openly joined the Nazi party.

As a result of their probing, he and his wife began to feel like "charter members of the Hamburg leper colony."

They were further shocked and disillusioned with Western Civilization, he said, as they "stumbled across what apparently looked like the unbroken gunpowder trail from the Holocaust -- to the six Crusades -- to the 305 years of the church-sanctioned Inquisition."

The Jewish Question

But now that they were out of the nest, two more positive and upbeat questions focused their attention in a new direction. "Who was this strange troop of people known as the Jews?" they asked themselves, "who didn't have a country but yet somehow survived with their own jurisdiction, their own laws and order, civil as well as religious, no matter where they went and no matter what language they spoke."

They wanted to know, "What is this thing called Judaism?" Although he was a highly educated and knowledgeable man, Asher Wade had never been taught a course in Judaism and so he was determined to teach himself. Mrs. Wade, a nurse whose father and grandfather were pious Lutheran ministers, encouraged her husband to go to the source and "read the front of the Bible." And once they began to compare the front of the Bible, the "Old Testament," with the new, they realized they had finally found the answer to their question, "What does G-d want?"

The will of our Father in heaven, Asher Wade learned, was very clear. "It is to do this and not that. Eat this and not that. Behave like this and don't behave like that." They were looking for the script of life, says Rabbi Wade and it was his wife who "got it first." It took about a year for them to reach the conclusion that Torah Judaism fulfilled all the "intellectual, academic, spiritual and emotional truths" for which they had been searching.

And although he had it made in two worlds, academia and the world of religion, Reverend Wade withdrew from the church, left the ministry, converted to Judaism and he and his wife moved to the United States.

While living in America, he was contacted by Ner Yisrael Yeshivah in Baltimore which led to he and his family being sent to Jerusalem where he learned for a number of years at [Yeshivah] Ohr Somayach. Today, Rabbi and Mrs. Wade live in Jerusalem with their six children where he lectures, counsels, teaches and conducts tours of Yad VaShem. He is presently visiting the United States, sharing his inspiring journey with audiences throughout America.

When they hear his riveting story, the question on most people's minds is "what was your parents' reaction?" He was surprised to discover that when his parents were first married, they lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and had Jewish friends, so they were familiar with the laws of kashruth and Shabbos. Therefore they were supportive of Asher and his wife's decision to convert and readily provided separate dishes and a separate microwave when they visited.

His in-laws, however, were initially devastated by their conversion to Judaism. However, after four solo trips to Israel, his wife's mother was so impressed by the spirituality and modesty of their lives, that she convinced her husband, a minister, that "they're living the Bible. Everything we preach, they're doing." After visiting them in Jerusalem and seeing this for himself, he [Asher Wade's father in-law] has now made peace with them.

What's In A Name

Revealing that he took the name Asher, spelled Alef, Shin, Resh, which means fortunate and happy, it described exactly how he felt about what he had found.

But each time his Chassidim greeted him with Reb "Usher" he tried unsuccessfully. "My name is Asher. Not Usher. It's Asher." The one day suddenly he realized, "mamesh, they're right. My name IS Usher. It's hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence.) They're telling me my job description. It fits me like a glove. What is an usher' in English? That's the guy in the long black coat standing outside the revolving door of the theater of life with a script in his hands telling all the latecomers and stragglers, come on in, the plot hasn't thickened yet, Mashiach hasn't arrived yet."

Rabbi Wade agrees with Shakespeare that the whole world is a stage and we are but the actors on it. However, he points out, "It's just that some of us actors got the script. And that was us Yidden [Jews] at Har Sinai [Mount Sinai] and they call it Torat Chaim." Asher Wade was searching for the script of life and he and his wife found it 19 years ago and they haven't stopped reading it and following it since.

Asher Wade can be contacted through his website, - Judaism Online