Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shiksa no more!

Last week I converted to Judaism. It's been a long time coming, I think I first approached our Rabbi about it when Delma was a few months old. So all told, it's been maybe a year and a half? And in that time I've done some reading, I took a course in the basics of Judaism, including some history and explanations of rituals and holidays and differences between Orthodox and Conservative and Reform. I've met with my Rabbi to ask him if it's a requirement to believe in God, and why my husband who was never raised Jewish but because he was born Jewish can just walk into the Temple and be accepted as a Jew, but I have to work hard and jump through hoops to be Jewish? But more than anything, I've essentially been living life as a Jew this whole time, regularly attending services, actively participating as a mamber of our Temple, and trying to create a Jewish home where our children will never question that we are a Jewish family.

It's been such a long (well not really, but it feels that way) process, and in my mind and my heart I made the committment to Judaism so long ago now, that the actual conversion felt a bit anticlimactic. More than anything, I was just happy to have it over with, so I can get on with my life. It's sort of like a wedding, or like childbirth... They're a big deal but they're really very quick, and then you get on with the business of marriage or parenthood, or in this case being a Jewish wife and mother and woman.

Last Tuesday I met with the Bet Dihn (3 Rabbis), who are supposed to ask you questions and ascertain whether you are prepared and sufficiently committed to become a Jew. It's really a formality, the Rabbi you study with would never bring you before the Bet Dihn until it was really clear that you're ready. Why waste everyone's time? I expected lots of soul-searching questions, but it was really very quick and easy. I think it makes a difference that I am already married to a Jew, that we're raising a Jewish child and are active Temple members. My committment is clear and proven. I'm not doing this just so I can have a Jewish wedding to keep my in-laws happy or something, there's no question of my motive. Then I had to immerse myself in the Mikvah and say some prayers. My girlfriend Katie was my witness (she herself converted just last year, so she knew the routine and was the most obvious and perfect choice for a witness), and the door was open just enough so that Josh and the Rabbis could hear me say the prayers but could not see me in there. It was pretty cool doing that while pregnant, having this baby there with me for such an important experience. Then I got dressed and we all held hands while my Rabbi said a blessing, we all hugged and that was it! I was Jewish. Ta-dah!

The hard part was on Friday during the Shabbat service when I had to go up to the Bimah and read some prayers, and answer some questions in a public ceremony before our congregation. That was absolutely nerve-wracking and I was just beside myself with anxiety. I had repeatedly warned the Rabbi that I may very well pass out up there, but amazingly I didn't. I think he might have actually been disappointed that I didn't deliver the drama I'd promised. I also did not go into premature labor, though apparently it looked like I was going to to since I was clutching my stomach for something to do with my free hand (other hand was holding the papers I had to read from), and at one point the Rabbi leaned in and told me that I was doing great and that I was NOT ALLOWED to give birth right there.

The worst part, as I knew it would be, was the crying. I am not a graceful cryer. I'm not one of those fancy soap opera ladies who can give a monologue with tears streaming down their face. No, at the first sign of anything remotely resembling an emotional display of any sort, my throat closes up and I can't breathe evenly and I can barely squeak out a word. So I would manage to say maybe 3 words (NOT exaggerating!), then stop and take some deep breaths and try to relax my face so I didn't look like one of those theater Tragedy masks, then say a few more words, and repeat, etc. It all took about 5 times longer than it needed to because of how hard it was for me to just physically be able to speak. And it set off this whole involuntary empathetic domino effect that had almost everyone there that night crying too. It was like CryFest '08. I think most everyone shared my great sense of relief when it was over.

Afterward everyone was so lovely and I got lots of hugs and kisses and congratulations from friends and family and also from lots of complete strangers. The nicest thing I heard was from a younger guy, maybe 20 years old, who came over and told me that his mother converted before he was born and he was so happy that she did. He was telling me that it was a beautiful thing that I did for my family. And really, that is why I did it. I want my children to feel 100% Jewish, and I don't know how to give them that gift without both Josh and me being Jews. And now we are. I'm still amazed.

My dad said a funny thing that night. He said he felt like he was giving me away, even more than he felt at my wedding. I don't know that I really understand what he meant by that, but I think he feels like Josh and I are starting out on some journey that in some ways will leave him behind. We are, that's true, that's just a fact when your children start their own families. But this whole process has served to just further reinforce how important our family is to us, and what lengths we will go to with the hopes and intentions of creating a strong immediate and extended family.

1 comment:

Agatha said...

Welcome! & well done!