#BlogElul 1: Prepare

You work, you run yourself down, you rest, then, you prepare. There’s an abundance of preparation in my life right now.

Preparing for the start of school.

Preparing for my kids to come back.

Preparing activities and lessons and materials.

Preparing my house to be clean and calm.

Preparing my desk to be more organized.

Preparing to turn 30.

Preparing to mentally get in the right space for the High Holy Days.

Preparing for another year’s fast.

Preparing for thinking about forgiveness.

#BlogElul2013: See

I’m excerpting this from an essay I published elsewhere on the internet – just a small paragraph, but it sums up my last moments as a non-Jew beautifully.

I head to the preparation room to ready myself for my immersion, trying to stay calm as I look into the mirror before picking up the phone to call Leah, my mikveh attendant, to let her know I am ready. These are my last moments as a non-Jew, I think to myself. I take one last look at myself in the mirror, a smile of anticipation lighting up my face. Taking a deep breath, I call Leah, then head into the mikveh.

That moment, where I looked at myself in the mirror, truly saw myself, and smiled was incredibly powerful. I saw myself as a woman on the verge of a profound, yet invisible transition – from non-Jew to Jew, the fulfillment of a dream long held and long denied.

#BlogElul2013: Hear

Hearing is different than listening. When we listen to another, we take in the sound of their voices, their words. But when we hear them, when we dig deeper than listening, we pick up on the subtle cues that were not present when just listening. When we hear someone, we get the fuller picture: the joys, the fears, the anxieties.  Sometimes I wonder how many of our interpersonal communication issues could be resolved if we took the time to hear, rather than simply listen.  It’s good food for thought.

#BlogElul2013: Believe

I am someone who relishes reading all sorts of material from any corner of the internet, regardless of whether it makes me angry, makes me question, or is simply diametrically opposed to my worldview.  Sometimes this is just a purely intellectual exercise – I enjoy finding out what makes people who are so different from me “tick,” and other times, it is a useful exercise in critical thinking, in finding some semblance of common ground, and I’ve found that my thinking gets shaped by what I read and how I interpret it.

I don’t generally venture into the realm of atheist blogs/communities online, but in the course of pursuing other interests, I’ve come across a sizable number of skeptics, who seem to see it as their life’s mission to decry any form of outdated, superstitious, silly nonsense (or, to use their favorite term, “wooo”). Some of these skeptics are dear friends of mine, but I’ll admit that, as a person of faith, knowing that their skepticism extends into their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and sometimes, it can be tricky not to take their blanket statements about people who believe a tiny bit personally. Yet, at the same time, I know that they have a point – I have no way to prove that God is real. All I can do is take the proof that has been offered up in my own life and my own experiences as enough, and trust that my belief is sufficient, that it is real and justified. It’s not called a leap of faith for nothing, but I choose to believe that what Judaism teaches about the existence of God is real.  Perhaps paradoxically, I also take comfort in the fact that my faith allows for people who doubt or even do not believe – Humanistic Judaism is not something I ever see myself subscribing to, but I like the fact that just because you don’t believe, you are cut off from the Jewish faith, and that it is open to so many diverse interpretations.

To end, let me shamelessly copy the Ima on the Bima, who posted this song at the end of her own entry on “believe”:

To me, this song says it perfectly.

There can be miracles/when you believe.

#BlogElul2013: Be

How do we train ourselves to be in the moment? To be present in our relationships with other people, to fight the increasing encroachment of our phones, of the urge to grab our phones even when in the presence of other people? When engaged in conversation but our mind starts to wander? When sitting in shul waiting for services to begin, head down instead of up and smiling, trying to build relationships and connections?

It’s something I struggle with a lot, and it’s a habit I not only dislike, but one that I think is detrimental. When we are not being in the moment, when we are not giving someone our undivided attention, our relationship with them suffers. I’ve hurt people and had to seek forgiveness for behaving this way. I’m sure others have in turn hurt those they love with these behaviors. The less we “be” in the moment, the more absorbed in our own internal world we become, observing rather than participating. And that’s sad. It’s one of the main reasons I’m thinking of banning smartphones at our wedding – so that our loved ones are focused on us and our vows instead of being distracted by their phones.

Spiritually, more and more, I find (sensing a recurring theme here) that I’m struggling but very much needing to be in the moment of Shabbat. To disconnect, to engage, to recharge and to be in the moment, in the peace, and the quiet, and the rest that is Shabbat.

I have some teshuva to do in the context of my human relationships, but as far as my relationship with Hashem is concerned, I need to work harder at being mindful and present and just being in the moments, big and small and everything in between.

#BlogElul 2013: Do

Things to be done. Things to do. Doing, doing, doing.

Sometimes, it’s really easy to retreat from the seemingly endless list of things that need to get done, and fall instead into a hopeless puddle of inertia, enabled by the internet.  The “to-do” list seems to grow ever longer, the alerts and notifications creating a buzzing sensation in my brain, all the things that need to be DONE, but aren’t, that I’m not doing, or only partially doing, but are not done.

So, I take a deep breath.

I work on the lists of things to do. I break it up. I do what I can, when I can, which takes more effort some times than others.

And yet, when I do do things that need to be done? I feel great.

It’s not always easy to do the things we need to do, should do, ought to do. But it’s also not helpful to get stuck, or to beat yourself up when you don’t do all the things that need to get done.

Instead, do what you can do. Some days, that’s a lot. Others, not so much. In the end, it all gets done one way or another and if it doesn’t, well hey, it couldn’t have been that important, right?😉

#BlogElul2013: Know

It’s hard to explain how I knew I wanted to be Jewish all those years ago. I just did.

It felt like a lightning bolt, crystal-clear moment of insight, a voice in my head that instinctively said “I want to be Jewish.”

Since then, I’ve learned to trust that voice. Whenever I find myself confused or uncertain, if I listen close enough, that voice, that instinct, is still there. And when I follow it, I know I will be ok.


#BlogElul2013: Accept

Acceptance is hard.

Learning to accept someone else’s differences of opinions, thoughts, belief, hopes, dreams? Really hard.

Learning to be forgiving of yourself for your myriad faults and shortcomings, particularly as they relate to your spiritual life and accepting that observance goes through stages, ebbs and flows, but that doesn’t alter the underlying faith? Really, really hard.

Last year, everything was fresh and new and exciting. I was Becoming Jewish and I had direction and purpose. And now, I feel a little adrift. Trying to accept that this is where I am right now without surrendering to it, without giving up, learning where and how to push myself spiritually.

Learning to accept that this is still new for me – as someone who didn’t grow up religious and then spent a lot of solitary time exploring spirituality and faith, being part of an organized religion,  identifying to the core of my being as a spiritual, religious person, a Jew, is still new. It’s just now instead of learning how to become a Jew, I’m learning how to live as one. And accepting that I don’t have the answers, or have it all figured out just yet, that’s hard.  But it’s a worthwhile struggle.

#BlogElul2013 3: Bless

So behind, but I’m trying. 

Each day is filled with countless moments of blessing and grace. We just have to know how to look for them, but sometimes they come in the most unexpected places. Last Saturday, I found myself receiving a moment of blessing from a Catholic priest – both an unexpected place and an unexpected person.

My commitment and love for someone who does not share my faith has taken me to some unexpected and interesting places emotionally and spiritually.  One of those places is designing an interfaith wedding I could never have imagined only a few years ago. Because of my conversion process, we’ve had a good deal of discussions before, only now the hypothetical is real, and so we venture forward, respectfully, cautiously, willing to compromise, listen and adapt as a sign of our love for each other.

As we sat with this priest, who may well be officiating at our wedding (alongside a rabbi), he listened to my story (edited for brevity) on how I came to be Jewish. At the end of it, he paused a moment and said something along the lines of ‘this marriage, the fact that you are committing to an interfaith wedding – it can be difficult, but you can also see it as a moment of grace. God is blessing the two of you, and there is something very profound in this moment.’

That thought really stuck with me. As we work together to build our life together and our future, it is fragile but strong. It can be difficult, but it is also something remarkable and beautiful, a testament to the power of love and blessings from above. I suspect that as long as we keep that attitude in mind, it will all be ok.

#BlogElul2013 2: Act

This is going up late due to a combination of international travel and Shabbat. 

One of the aspects of my new Jewish identity that I am trying to puzzle out is “how do I act in a way that conveys my Judaism?” I don’t really know the answer. As I move towards becoming a married woman, I’ve flirted with the idea of head-covering – mainly because I like the symbolic, private aspect of it, but also because there are so many elegant headcovering ladies (of both the Jewish and Muslim persuasions) out there.  But it doesn’t feel quite like “me,” and I don’t anticipate doing it.  So there goes that.

I’ve also spent a lot of time contemplating the idea of kashrut, or Jewish dietary laws. It’s the aspect of my conversion that people ask about most frequently “so, are you keeping kosher now?” to which I always awkwardly respond “well, no, not really.”

But the truth is, it’s a work in progress. I don’t usually actively seek out pork products (not that I used to), but I will cook with them on occasion. I make a conscious effort to have kosher-friendly meals on Shabbat (no pork, no beef with dairy, though sometimes I slip up). I don’t ever anticipate keeping strict kosher, because the system doesn’t make sense to me (keeping different sets of dishes, the apparently transmutable properties of food through layers of foil or saran wrap), but I do think that keeping some semblance of kosher in my day-to-day life would be a defining act of Jewishness for me.

The question is, how do I carry out the action of keeping kashrut in a way that makes sense to me? I don’t put much stock in the idea of hechsers, though I’m always pleasantly surprised when I notice them on favored products.  So where does that leave me? Pursuing ethically sourced food, particularly meat? Pursuing food options that are sustainable, or help support local farmers (like farm shares)? I don’t know, but I want to figure it out, to act and live a Jewish life.