My path to Judaism has simultaneously been a very long one and a very short one. I grew up in Washington, D.C., at a school that was secular in name but imbued with a strongly Jewish flavor. My earliest school memories include learning the story of Haman and Esther and learning to use the groggers brought in by a classmate’s parent, attending our annual Passover assembly, and salivating over the smell of freshly made latkes, prepared each year for one lucky homeroom by a loving grandmother. Sometime in kindergarten, my then best friend, Becca, introduced me to the menorah and the dreidel song as we played for yummy chocolate gold gelt, and also gave me a copy of Sidney Taylor Thomas’ All-of-a-Kind Family.
I was hooked. Something in that book spoke to me – I must have read it dozens of times, relishing the way the family celebrated the Jewish year while simultaneously being all-American in their own way. Yet, I wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t always know what I was, but I knew I wasn’t a Jew, if only by the fact that I was one of a handful of kids present in school each Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
My family’s background had never meant much to me on a religious basis, so I wasn’t rejecting anything, but I found myself desperately searching. But I didn’t feel comfortable admitting to myself that there was definitely a Jewish soul inside of me, and so I ran. I tried out Wicca and Modern Paganism first, finding some attraction in the sense of ritual it offered, exploring it with a small group of friends who took the practice seriously to differing degrees. I hung onto Wicca for several years, ultimately realizing it didn’t offer me what I wanted or needed spiritually, so I abandoned it. I flirted briefly with Unitarianism in college, finding its all-encompassing teachings appealing, but rejected it because I felt I needed something more substantial.
Next came a very earnest and heartfelt exploration of the Baha’i faith, a religion I still feel much affection towards. Unfortunately, like the relationship you desperately want to work out but some essential spark is missing, this too fell by the wayside. Fasting during the month of March, attending study groups in France and Connecticut, praying in earnest – none of it really stuck with me. The breaking point came when I began to feel more and more discomfited by the faith’s stance on homosexuality, open debate, and political activism. All too often, I would see passionate disagreements break out over the “gay question,” but what bothered me was the assertion that we shouldn’t make these disagreements public, as they would hinder the goal of providing a model of unity for the rest of the world to follow. The stricture on political activism was also a huge sticking point, as people would argue that it caused further fissures in an already divided world, and that simple prayer would be better. This ran counter to everything I’d ever been taught, the values I hold dear about actively working to make the world a better place, about speaking up when there is injustice and wrongness in the world, and so, regretfully, I went my own way.
The impulse to embrace Judaism however, would no longer be denied. In 2009, I slipped the fact that I still flirted with studying Judaism at the end of a “all about me” note on Facebook. I felt awkward, embarrassed, fake, but I reached a point while living overseas for two years where it just could not be ignored any longer, and shortly thereafter began a half-hearted attempt at journaling my desire in an attempt to make sense of it. But I was still afraid. More change came, changes which brought me back stateside, and I found a rabbi and a temple immediately via Google (the same rabbi who is now supervising my conversion), but I could not bring myself to make the call. Months passed, and as it happened, I met someone incredibly special. As our relationship progressed, I began to talk more about my feelings surrounding the idea of conversion, and ultimately, it was his encouragement that prompted me to pick up the phone and call. Or rather, submit an email inquiry via the website, as calling still felt too daunting.
I walked into my rabbi’s office in late December 2011 for my first meeting. Ever since then, I’ve been growing in my Jewish observance and identity, trying to piece together what it means to me to be a Jew and live a life infused with Judaism and Jewish values. My situation, as my rabbi commented today, is unique because not only am I a Jew-by-choice, I am converting without the influence of a Jewish partner, and while in a serious, committed, interfaith relationship (whereas most other converts are single if they do not fall into the first category). In some respects though, this is hardly surprising – my life has never been filled with the straight and logical path; my path has always had bends and bumps along the way, but the end destination is always in sight. What I do know, however, is that the minute I made that first step, everything has fallen into place. It’s like my soul always knew I was Jewish, but it was just waiting for the right moment to come along for my entire self to embrace this spark inside of me and kindle it into something brighter and stronger.
If you’d like to follow my journey, I welcome respectful participation.