There are a lot of things I write about on this blog which give clue to who I am as a person, but there are just as many things left unwritten.
I don’t often discuss this portion of my life publically, but I’m going to take a stab at sharing a little bit with you all. Maybe I’m crazy for opening up this can of worms. Perhaps, I just need that little high I get from writing something super personal. Either way, here goes:
About 5 years ago my entire life–and the lives of my family–all got turned upside down when we decided Orthodox Judaism was the right path for us. You might know someone who has converted, you might not. But, it’s equally likely that you don’t know who the converts are around you, because they have chosen not to be public with their decisions. Frankly, I get this. When you are converting, or have converted, the first thing people want to do is pick you apart and find out the “whys” and “hows” and “under whoms” you are converting. And no matter how open a person you are, it can be really mentally exhausting to feel you must always entertain the masses with your very personal life details. Especially when it’s in a public situation. Or with strangers. Yes, because there is nothing quite like being asked at a Shabbat table full of brand-new friends, with your mouth stuffed full of [gluten-free] challah, “so, what made you want to convert to Judaism, anyhow?”
Where do I start?
The truth is I don’t really want to share every tidbit of my journey to Judaism, nor the process that lead up to that decision, with everyone. To me, it’s a bit like being asked exactly what I love about my husband or why I decided to have four kids. I could never sum that all up convincingly to a bunch of strangers, so why would I even try? Chances are I would sound like a babbling fool and give the impression I had no idea what I even liked about either of them. Same with Judaism. My answer ends up being a sputtering mess of half-assed answers that have nothing to do with why I am here.
My reason is actually quite simple: I belong here. I just do.
Of course I do open up with some friends. And I am not at all insulted by people who are curious. It’s just that I have spent so much time thinking about and studying to become a Jew, molding my life into the role of an Jew, and trying to prove to a group of rabbis (most of whom I don’t know) on a beis din why I am worthy of being a Jew–that I have run a bit dry on the words, you know? Like how many times can I say it? After turning my life upside down and inside out and leaving everything I’ve ever known and loved behind, let’s just trust that I am clearly passionate and obviously committed.
We may have many similarities, but we aren’t all the same.
Not every convert or conversion candidate feels like I do. They don’t all have the same reasons for conversion–even if it does come from the same force deep down within our souls. We all have a different story which led, and is leading us, down this path in life. Making a change to convert to another religion is a HUGE step, but at some time or another most of us have made a weighty, life-altering decision. If you haven’t yet, you will. I promise you will.
If you want to know what conversion feels like: just imagine giving up your whole life: friends, family, traditions, celebrations, cultural norms and comforts and then adopting unfamiliar ones. Imagine it generously for 10 or 20 minutes. Imagine how your life would change, and how awkward you would feel in your old life and well as your new one–probably for many years. Now, imagine replacing all of your kitchenware! (That one still stings!) And then wrap it all up by sitting in front of three highly intimidating elders to ask permission to be let in–hoping beyond hope they say yes. Hoping that after all you have given up for this new life, that they don’t decide to turn you away. (Every converts biggest fear.)
That exercise is probably more telling of how it feels to convert than any essay I could write for you.
I’m not a scrooge.
Quite honestly, when I was a new candidate I was ALL about telling my story. I was on fire and convinced that becoming Jewish was the answer to all of my spiritual and personal life crises. I was sure that the beautiful blessings, ritual prayers, and 52 Shabbats a year would make me a better person. I remember in dead-seriousness telling a friend: “I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be a Jew!” I was captivated at each new teaching, and every time I learned a new bracha (blessing) I would weep. I felt like I had found my long-lost family.
I was infatuated.
But, I realize that now I am really just the same person inside. Same likes and dislikes. Same tastes in music. Same temperament. Same faults. Except now I live not only for myself, and not only for my family, but for a community of people who I find myself committed to–even those I’ve never met.
Conversion is a lot like marriage. You flirt with it, date it, become engaged with it and eventually find yourself hitched to it. And by the time you start to see that it’s a lot more work and a lot less fun than you thought it would be, you realize how committed you really are. You fall out of puppy-love and the only thing keeping you from throwing up your hands and walking out that door some days is knowing how much you have already invested in it. How hard it would be to start over. How fucked up being and ex of anything is. So you go back, and work harder at the relationship, putting in overtime, making good memories, meeting new goals, and enjoying your new life. And eventually, you fall in love for real. Or you walk away.
And I am in love for real.
I don’t ooze weepy tears all day long, and sometimes I even take a bracha for granted, but I love Judaism so deeply. I am so in love with the Jewish people.
Despite that Orthodox Judaism is such a huge part of my life, actually because it is, I sometimes get lost. See? Even though I didn’t live life as a Jew for the first part of my life, I found meaning and purpose in it. And though I find my current life to be deeply fulfilling, it doesn’t mean I want to toss everything else aside. The first 28 years of my life are a part of who I am! It’s what it took to get me to this point in my life. To becoming this person. To finding Judaism.
I still have a strong relationship to my parents: both Christian. And my brother: agnostic (last I asked. Which was probably 10 years ago. But who am I to speak for him?) I make a point to not only connect with old friends, co-workers and acquaintances, but also to connect with the parts of myself which is still held in those memories.
I admit that there are sometimes gaps between the old and the new which end up being these rough ditches along the path of my life. My way of smoothing them out is by owning both parts of my identity in this blog. By saying that all of these differing sides of myself all work together to create one whole person.
Because I am both that girl who grew up on a farm in Southern Maryland listening to rap and eating vegetables from Robin Hood, the young adult who fancied herself a real punk rocker and fell in love with her husband after they met at a rock show, and the woman who weekly sits down with her family of six at a Shabbat table full of kugels, deli, and cholent. (But, never, ever gefilte fish. Because, eww.)
Nice to meet you.
So, if by chance you meet me in person and ask me a super personal question like, “so, why did you decide to convert Orthodox instead of Conservative or Reform?” and I clam up and change the subject–you’ll know why.
And, listen, I get it–maybe you are just dying of curiosity. Sometimes I am dying of curiosity too! I mean I’d really, REALLY like to know what’s up with this lady who I seem to see walking her dog, no matter what time I happen to be taking my dog out. I mean does she just spend her whole days walking her dog? Does her dog have a chronic bladder problem? Is she training him for some kind of doggy walk-a-thon? But, I don’t ask. Because–and this is really crazy here–it just ain’t my business.
And if by chance we are having a conversation in which my conversion naturally comes up–I may just let you in on a few personal details. Because we are in midst of a one on one discussion where we are both sharing something and it makes sense. I may even tell you how I met my husband, and what I love about him, and maybe even my birth stories! But, you’re going to have to be willing to spill a little too.
But, whether I decide to open up and share my personal details with you or not–don’t misunderstand. It does not mean that I am ashamed, nor shy, nor anything but proud of who I am.