As I prepare for my Mikvah and Beit Din, I’m struck by how Jewish I now consider myself. For a long-time, I considered myself a fraud, and because I lacked a Jewish past, was concerned about my Jewish future. My Jewishness was a Judaism of the head and not the heart. True I was well read (through the wonderful suggestions of Rabbi Greene), but not Jewish in my day to day. Through my wife I had Jewish family, but not my own community. All the while I attended events at the JUF and their Mensches in Motion program, I was concerned I would be found out through the subtle details of (un)common experiences.
There is no manual to Judaism. For all the books created specifically for converts, there is no “one size fits all” approach. I realized, that in becoming comfortable with Judaism and my Jewish identity, I had to become comfortable with uncertainty. I had to become comfortable with asking difficult questions. I had to embrace the often fractious and wonderful relationship so many have with a faith that encourages ideological pluralism. The genius of Judaism is that it asks the questions “why, how, and when” and not just “who” God is.
My Rabbi said that Judaism is a lived religion. That couldn’t be more true. Having now lived a full calendar year, from the High Holidays through Channukah to Passover and Shavuot – I’ve discovered the holy in the day to day. Jewish life is not only in the Synagogue. Jewish life happens whenever one says the Sh’ma, lights candles on Shabbat with family, and finds humor in the absurdity of life. Even as I struggle with the cosmic fairness of an MS diagnosis, Judaism has reinforced the importance of being fully present in the moment. Cliché as it sounds, the idea that our actions and words matter in the here and now, has been highly liberating. Heschel writes about “sacred time”, and I’ve come to believe that God is not just found in houses of worship but in the transcendent moments of life.
Rabbi Saks writes about the “chosen” nature of the Jewish people. In a popular Midrash, the Torah is shown to the Hebrews last, after all others had rejected it. In another, God holds Mount Sinai over the Jewish people, forcefully conveying that this convenent is not a choice. I don’t know that I agree with either interpretation. I feel that Judaism is a religion of responsibility. By accepting Judaism, I take on 613 commandments while the Gentile has seven. The responsibility is not just to God either, but a responsibility the rest of the world. To me, it is no coincidence that Jews have marched alongside and played a starring role in nearly every social movement in modern history. My upbringing, career, and relationships have always embodied Jewish values far before I even knew it.
I’ve waited until almost the last possible minute to write this because I wanted my feelings to be fresh and relevant to now. I am incredibly thankful to my amazing Rabbis who have been patient guides on my journey. I am thankful for their honesty and candor, stressing both the levity and joy of Judaism. I deeply appreciate the gift of being told to live a year “Jewishly”, growing into my faith rather than rushing in.
Even if I’m now seen as a Jew by the Reform Jewish community, my Jewish journey is not complete. Before I was genuinely concerned with my post-conversion experience. With the highs and lows of the process, I worried about the “what now?” let-down from such an important and momentous life moment. I am now energized by the conscious decision to belong to and become involved in a synagogue. I am genuinely excited to create our family’s own Jewish traditions. I am eager for the chance to discuss Torah and wrestle with God.