January 17, 2010
For me, the question “why are you converting to Judaism” is really 3 questions: Why change religions? Why now? Why Judaism?
I was raised to believe that religion is important, but the religion in which I was raised, Catholicism, doesn’t speak to me spiritually or intellectually. It is not a questioning religion and, as I’ve asked questions over the years, I have never gotten answers that satisfy me or that help to guide me through life. It is a religion in which deeds certainly play an important role but in which faith in the divinity of Jesus is central. While this is satisfying and helpful for many people, I need something more or, perhaps, different.
I have been thinking about conversion for 25 years. About 14 years ago, I began to seriously consider it. There were many reasons I could say why I stepped away from it then, but looking back, it comes down to only one: I wasn’t ready yet. Now, I’m almost 40. I know who I am and what my life is about. I want to be and feel connected to something larger than myself and my immediate concerns. I know that the second half of life will include the illnesses and loss of family and friends and, in facing my own mortality, I want to evaluate the meaning and impact of my life. I have a small son, the light of my life, who I want to be raised seeing religion practiced sincerely, who I want to understand that, when his father and I are no longer able to guide and support him, there is something larger than himself to sustain him, bring him joy, and connect him to others.
I have been fascinated by Judaism since age 6, when I marveled at my best friend’s Hebrew flash cards, envied her Hamsa necklace, and stood with her and her family under a sukkah on a clear fall night. Over the years, I have gravitated towards Jewish friends, attending their bat mitzvahs and baby namings and, for one, attending her ketubah ceremony and signing her marriage license as a witness. Judaism has continued to fascinate me and, as I’ve learned more through study with Rabbi Zemel, I have found it increasingly comfortable, comforting, and spiritually true. My mother’s recent illness was an early test of my new spiritual home and, in Judaism and prayer, I found sustenance and strength. Perhaps the most exciting thing to me about Judaism is the emphasis on the combination of study and action. Learn and do! Social justice, repairing the world, and charity are in synch with my personal values. I love Shabbat. A holiday every week, setting aside time to connect with family, friends, and our better selves – brilliant! Yom Kippur, one day a year for introspection – brilliant!
Rabbi Zemel and I have covered a lot of ground in preparing me for conversion. He and I have discussed broad topics, like interdenominational conflicts, the role of women in Judaism, and the evolution of the Torah, mishnah, and Talmud. We have also talked about more personal, spiritual issues, like how to manage a newly-created interfaith marriage and finding my place among the Jewish people. Because I was fortunate to have this time with Rabbi Zemel, I benefitted from being able to ask any question on any topic that caught my interest or with which I was struggling.
So, what’s next? More! More prayer and worship (now that my mother is improving, I’m able to get back to regular services), more study and learning, more connecting with the Micah community and the larger Jewish community, a trip to Israel, buying a sukkah, gathering recipes for all of my friends’ favorite Jewish foods, more Shabbat dinners, my first Passover seder, making matzoh balls that actually float rather than sink in the pot (I can hope) and, on April 30, 2011, I and the others in the Adult B’nai Torah class, will be called to the Torah. I can’t wait.