Why am I converting to Judaism? That seems to be the appropriate place to start.
I grew up in a secular household where the closest religious ties echoed Christianity. My parents were raised Catholic, however it dissolved to Lutheranism once I was a toddler, and even further on we became twice-a-year Christians. Not that we went to church, but we celebrated Christmas and Easter (until recently).
I never felt a pull towards Christianity, and because of this I hadn’t considered myself a religious person. However, I felt that something was supposed to be where it wasn’t – something that I couldn’t articulate. I was a happy, excitable kid and adolescent, but the pre-engineering major brain in me kept trying to solve the problem I had without enough information to fix it. It was like trying to calculate the heat transfer through a wall without knowing the proper boundary conditions; it’s impossible to solve. (I hope there is at least one other mechanical engineer reading this, otherwise I apologize for the wasted joke) Basically, I didn’t possess the language I needed to understand that I was searching for my higher power.
That is, until I walked into a Buddhist temple. It was a heavy, end-of-summer rain covering the building near Lake Calhoun. I needed to go for a World Religions course I was taking online before starting college, and a friend of mine agreed to come with. We made a date out of it, like we usually did throughout high school. We walked in late, of course, but quickly found comfortable seats and dropped into the guided meditation. After fits of nearly falling asleep, the teacher spoke on the history of Buddhism. He explained how it is a concept of groundedness – you are to be kind because each person has the divine in them. The divine in me honors and sees the divine in you (namaste). After completing the stories, I was holding back tears. It was the first time someone had explained to me convictions I already held; the moment that I knew I had the capacity to have religion.
Fast forward to the first day of college. I met the first person to recognize a necklace I had been wearing everyday. I was surprised because no one I was ever close to knew the meaning behind it, let alone the name of the symbol. Earlier that year, on my eighteenth birthday, my mom gifted me a small, bedazzled silver Hamsa necklace. She told me it was the Buddhist symbol for peace and protection. This is why I was confused when the person who recognized it told me it was actually Jewish. Turns out, it’s a symbol in many cultures, but that is neither here nor there.
After this person opened my eyes to what I had really been sporting around my neck, we decided to fall in love. Well, that’s not the exact recount of events, however we have now been together for three years. He’s a real mensch. Besides the fact that he’s the light of my life, he introduced me to a world I will never return from, a Jewish world.
My initial discovery was explored through a book called The Essential Kabbalah, edited by Daniel C. Matt. It described mystical Judaism from biblical Tzfat and applied it to present day, and again I was back in the Buddhist temple, learning what I had already known to be true. From there, my understanding and desire for more catapulted me into the next level of commitment. I began going to services (only twice a year, I’m not that good of a Jew), consistently observing Shabbat, memorizing the blessings over candles, forming rapport with Rabbis and Rebbinsons, asking questions, and realizing that I wanted to be Jewish. I no longer felt it appropriate to keep saying “no” when asked if I was a member of the tribe.
Therefore, I said “not yet“.
With the support of my partner, his beautiful family, Chabads from two different states, a fellow converted Jew, an entire executive board of a Jewish Community Relations Council, Hillel, and my mom, I decided to convert to Judaism. However, I didn’t want to take the easy way out. No, I wanted to take life by the matzoh balls and do a real, Orthodox conversion. The reason behind this being two reasons:
- I have a lot of ground to cover, and converting through the Orthodox stream of Judaism will give me the most thorough basis so that I can function as a real-life Jewish girl
- I didn’t want anyone to be able to tell me that I wasn’t actually Jewish
Judaism is difficult. It is complicated and it is exhausting and, more often than not, the only answer you will receive is another question. But it is a part of me, it is beautiful and fulfilling, and I am extremely excited to be a part of it.
It may not be the only Jewish question, however I hope the answer to this Jewish question gave insight into why I have decided to begin this journey. From here on will be a real-time account of my experience through conversion.