Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Finally a Jew

Yesterday, I went to the Mikvah and became a Jew.
The 13th of May corresponds to the 4th of Sivan year 5773.

Sorry for not blogging the last 6-7 months. I needed space. If I ever start writing again, you all will be the first to know.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dating During Conversion: Don't Do It

So you've fallen in love with Judaism and now you want to fall in love with a nice Jewish boy or girl? Wait. Crazy Jewish Convert has actually written a really nice blog post on this subject from the purely Orthodox perspective, so if you're considering converting into Orthodox Judaism you should check that out. Mostly, she discusses the halachic perspective of the rabbi and how things will work within the community. But I think the advice not to date during conversion is important advice for any convert of any movement.

If you are already dating someone, your situation is different. But you should not be converting to Judaism for that person. You need to think about what will happen if you break up: will you still want to be Jewish? Will you find another Jewish partner and still raise your children Jewishly? Conversion is permanent, are you OK with that regardless of this relationship status? Converting while dating can also be problematic because the converting partner tends to become more observant and/or interested in Judaism. But that has its positive side as well. 

Starting a new relationship while converting is not a good idea. When you're converting, you are building a relationship with Judaism, with your rabbi, the members of your shul, the Jewish community, with Israel and maybe reestablishing or reevaluating a lot of your other relationships. And, of course, you are working on your relationship with G-d. You have A LOT going on. Adding another new relationship into that can be messy. 

You might not be as dedicated to the new relationship as you would be otherwise. You might not be alert to signals about where the relationship is or isn't going. If your partner isn't Jewish, he or she might not understand that you will eventually be Jewish and your relationship will be an interfaith one. If your partner is Jewish, he or she might have a different observance level than you and might be resistant to your way of doing things. Either way, your whole relationship with this partner is intertwined with your conversion to Judaism. If and when the relationship ends, you'll realize a lot of your really great Jewish memories are associated with them. And you might want to forget those things, but you can't because they are some of your earliest and most important Jewish memories.  

If this person really is "the one," they'll be there after you convert. It only takes about a year to convert to Judaism and you have the rest of your life to find your Jewish soul mate and build a Jewish life with them. Don't rush things because you might end up really, really hurt.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Post-Holiday Dysphoria

Sigh. The holidays are over. It's a sigh of relief but also a sigh of sadness. It's hard when all the holidays come right after another but it's also really cool. My Yom Kippur was epic. I spent something like 14 hours in shul. On YK day, I woke up and just kind of sat in my room because I didn't know what to do. It's the one day where I don't have to eat breakfast, make coffee, put on make up, or do anything elaborate to get ready. I brushed my hair and teeth and put on my clothes. I was actually early to shul, for the first time and probably the last until next YK. As you have probably heard or figured out, most people can't be quiet during high holiday services. Most of them aren't regulars and are catching up with people or talking about people they haven't seen in a long time. In my opinion, this is the last thing one should be doing on YK but I'm probably just being a zealous convert. So, Yom Kippur is one of the four holidays on which we do the Yizkor service. Yizkor is about remembering family members, friends, and Jews in general who've died. It's kind of a yarzeit for everyone. Yizkor comes after the Torah service in the morning service and before the musaf service. Apparently everyone in my shul dislikes musaf service so after yizkor more than half the congregation left. But they acted like there wasn't a service going on and were just chattin' away! Oy vey, but what can we do? The clergy was clearly peeved but they know it happens every year. But I still prayed away.

Speaking of praying and spending 14 hours in shul, the rabbis and cantors were surprised by how much time I was spending there for the holidays, but now they know I'm serious sally. I have hardly seen other people from my conversion class at shul. Granted, I don't go every week. I only saw one guy for a little bit on Rosh HaShanah. He came and sat by me so he didn't have to be alone. But he just kind of left without saying goodbye after the Torah service. He told me he still hasn't decided if he wants to be Reform or Conservative, so I don't know if my clear comfort in Conservative services bothered him or freaked him out...? Anyways, I'm kind of seen as a regular now at my shul, which is cool. All the people in conversion class are supposed to get mentors for services, and seven weeks later, I still don't have one. My friends don't think I'm getting one either because the rabbi probably doesn't see it as a pressing need.... But I will always have questions. I want one! Anyways, Yom Kippur was epic and my soul grew, as it is supposed to. Got closer to G-d, to Judaism, and to myself.

Sukkot is great because it starts just a few days after Yom Kippur and it's a pretty chill holiday. You just sit in the sukkah. There are special Sukkot services but you don't have to go to them and have it be a huge thing like on Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur. You eat in the sukkah; you do homework in the sukkah; you shmooze in the sukkah. It's an all around great holiday.

Then, we cap it off with Simchat Torah! Simchat Torah is when we finish the Torah cycle and start all over. At the evening and morning service, there are seven hakafot, which means to dance and sing with the Torah. I didn't really know this but it's a drinking holiday. There was a liquor table at the back of the shul and every time people circled around the back during each hakafa, they were drinking and taking shots. It's kind of a free for all. This was my rabbi's highlight of the year because he is a huge goofball. This and Purim are probably his favorite holidays. Moral of the story: I really, really like Simchat Torah.

Clearly, I had a great holiday season, but now there is nothing until Chanukkah. Well tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh, but we don't get out of our Jewish studies classes for that so I don't consider it a real holiday.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yom Kippur 5773

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the entire year. It's a daunting, important day. A lot of people dread it because the fasting and long synagogue hours. But it is the sabbath of sabbaths. In the end it is a happy day because all your sins and all the sins of Israel are forgiven and essentially erased for the coming year.

Fasting in each religion looks a little different. The Yom Kippur fast of Judaism has five components:

  1. No food or drink.
  2. No anointing with oils. IE no makeup, perfume, or cologne.
  3. No sex.
  4. No leather shoes.
  5. No bathing for pleasure.
The first is pretty self explanatory. No food or drink for 25 hours, from sunset tonight until sunset tomorrow. In the US the fast will end around 8 o'clock depending on your location. Please consult hebcal for your city's details. Back in the day, anointing with oils was a little different which is why I gave you a modern day explanation. This day is not about looking good to impress your spouse, lover, friends, or yourself. So you don't need to put on makeup or smell fruity. The third one is technically "no marital relations" but its 2012 and people have pre-marital sex. Just don't do it on Yom Kippur. Back in the day, leather shoes were considered particularly comfortable and a sign of wealth. The day is not about being comfortable and all people are considered equal before G-d. And no bathing for pleasure means don't take a shower tonight after services or tomorrow morning. Shower before hand. But you can wash your hands when you go to the bathroom.

So, some people don't brush their teeth on Yom Kippur because they might accidentally drink some water. But I don't do that. If washing your hands to be sanitary is allowed then brushing your teeth to eliminate terrible morning breath should be allowed. I make a conscious effort not to swallow water so I believe I am acting within the spirit of the day. Fasting will cause enough bad breath, let's not add to it by not brushing our teeth. That's just my opinion, do what works for you.

Yom Kippur is not about starving yourself, as some people might think. Yom Kippur is about detaching from the material world and being immersed in the spiritual. This is a time when you can be totally connected with G-d and disregard the normal day-to-day activities and concerns.

Last year was the first time I fasted, ever. When I was little Ash Wednesday and Good Friday were supposedly fast days but my mother was not interested in me doing that. Wasn't healthy she said. Plus, in the Catholic Church fasting is defined to be a regular meal and two small meals. That sounds like a diet to me, not fasting. So fasting for real was a 100% new to me. I think some people thought I wouldn't be able to do it, I would need to ease into it over a few years. But it wasn't a problem. I was dedicated to atoning for my sins and coming closer to G-d. That's all you need. Do what works for you. Don't let other people or your inexperienced past dictate your holy day. My roommate from last year couldn't believe I was really fasting at first. She'd never seen me be spiritually or religiously dedicated to anything. She knew it was especially difficult for me with my medication that gave me horrible, chronic dry mouth. I rinsed my mouth once the whole day, which was impressive given the fact that I normally would drink water every five minutes just from the dry mouth. We both knew that after really observing Yom Kippur there was no turning back, only moving forward. We both knew one day I'd be a Jew after that first Yom Kippur.

Tonight's service - the Kol Nidre service - is the most highly attended service of the entire year. This is true everywhere. If you are going to synagogue, get there early. In Israel, Jews who don't attend synagogue for the rest of the year still go out to hear the Kol Nidre service. It is common for those Jews to gather outside of synagogues and for the doors to be open so they can hear the service. The phrase "Kol Nidre" means "all vows." The prayer cancels all the vows for the coming (or previous, depending on the tradition of the synagogue) year. Basically, it says G-d forgive me for the promises I will make but will be unable to fulfill. It's preemptive.

Tomorrow night at the Neilah service the judgement for who is written in the Book of Life and who is written in the Book of Death will be sealed. Remember last week when we chanted On Rosh HaShanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed? Yeah, that sealing happens tomorrow evening. The Neilah service is one of quick pace and anxiety. You can feel the gates closing and you want to put in your final plea to G-d. Then you get to break fast with friends and family and be thankful you made it through.

Today is your last chance to apologize to people for your sins against them. And then Yom Kippur is all about apologizing to G-d. If you're dreading the fast, remember it is only one day and it is all for a higher power and a higher good. After tomorrow night you will feel great. You'll have a blank slate for the coming year and can be anything or anyone you want. This is your chance to become the person you've always wanted to be. What a gift.

May you have an easy fast and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rosh HaShanah 5773

Chag sameach and Shanah Tova everyone! In just a few hours my favorite holiday will officially begin. I am rushing around my apartment trying to get ready both for dinner and for services. But I wanted to take a few minutes to share some more thoughts on Rosh HaShanah. Last year was my first one and I absolutely fell in love. In some ways, observing the High Holidays was when my real commitment to Judaism began. By this time last year, I wasn't just committed to Jewish ideas and values but to Jewish life. I just needed to experience more Jewish life! This year I've really been looking forward to Rosh HaShanah, and one of my 10Q question explains my personal connection to it.

Day 5: 
Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? "Spiritual" can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth. 
Your Answer: 
Going to Shabbat at Hillel for the first time was very spiritual. Hearing the shofar blown and hearing a real cantor sing a prayer for the first time at the 9.11 memorial was extremely moving. I found myself smiling listening to him. And I got goosebumps when I heard the shofar. Also, hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah was totally awesome. I also got goosebumps then, and I felt truly awakened - just as the shofar is supposed to do. And experiencing my first Torah service on Rosh Hashanah was something to be remembered. I'd never seen a Torah in person before and getting to see the reverence that everyone paid to the Torah was awe-inspiring. After/during Rosh Hashanah was when it sort of became solidified that Judaism is the religion for me. No other experiences, traditions, or symbols of Christianity ever affected me the way the shofar and Torah service did.
Tonight, I will know Aveinu Malkanu; I will be able to read new and old prayers in Hebrew; I will stand with my Jewish friends and be connected to them and all the Jews throughout space and time.

Tonight, you can expect to see a lot of Jews you've never seen at services before. You can expect new melodies for all the prayers. But the service tonight will be nearly identical to other evening services. You can expect the air to feel different, because the new year brings new feelings of excitement and reverence for G-d.

Tomorrow, services will look different. When the shofar is blown, expect three different notes to be played. Teki'ah is one long blast. Shevarine is three broken sounds. And Teru'ah is nine staccato notes. There are four different combinations of these three notes.

Tomorrow evening will be the tashlich service. Tashlich means "casting forth" and in this service you cast away your sins. This casting is symbolized by throwing bread pieces into a living body of water.

If this is your first Rosh HaShanah celebration, mazel tov on making such and important decision and being committed enough to do so :)

To all my readers, l'shanah tova tikatevu. May you be inscribed for a good year!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An Accounting of My Soul: 10Q Edition

The High Holidays are upon us. While some Jews might dread this time of year, what with having to account for your actions in the last year, lots of time in shul, and having to miss a lot of work or school, I AM SO EXCITED. I love the High Holidays. They're just so Jewish (duh?). I love honey and I love fall. Recalling what we've done in the last year and thinking about how to be a better person is a really good exercise for the soul. This is known as cheshbon ha'nefesh which literally means "accounting of the soul." What better way to start this than to review my 10Q responses from last year!

10Q is a project that sends you a question every day during the Days of Awe. You respond and then the answers go into a virtual lockbox for the next year. You don't have to be Jewish to participate by any means, but the calendar does run on the Hebrew calendar. I have two responses I want to share with you.
Day 4: 
Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why? 
Your Answer: 
The killing of Osama Bin Laden - I remember find out in a way through twitter. I didn't find out the details but I remember knowing something big happened and i turned on the news. And there they said it "Osama Bin Laden is dead." I called out [my roommate] into the living room and called my dad and told him to turn on the TV. It was such a momentous occasion. We called and texted all of our friends and family. Then we saw on facebook that people were jumping in mirror lake. We drove over to campus and got out and frolicked around with everyone. It was so exciting. 
Sometime in the next week, I was watching the news again. The anchor had on a priest, a rabbi, and an imam to discuss the death/killing of Bin Laden. I found my self strongly disagreeing with the priest but completely understanding the rabbi's point of view. The priest sad that Bin Laden wasn't evil...? He said just because he committed evil acts that he himself wasn't actually evil. The rabbi said, no! when you commit evil acts over and over, you are evil. You are your actions. Now that made sense. Also, the very next day after the event, two of my Catholic friends posted a quote from the vatican that no Christian rejoices at the death of a man, blah blah blah. These two had been at mirror lake celebrating the night before! so, 1. hypocrites and 2. Bin Laden was our enemy and killed our people. why can't we rejoice at his defeat? Well, I read several articles from rabbis that week that said just that. The rabbis said it was possible for us to simultaneously mourn the loss of a human life, G-d's creation, and celebrate the defeat of our enemy who sought to destroy us, just as G-d permitted the Israelites to celebrate the defeat of the Amonites/Egyptians(?) (but did not allow the angels to celebrate). 
This was an important time in realizing and understanding that my heart and my mind naturally disagreed with Christianity and naturally agreed with Judaism.
Wow. Intense... I think I've always had a Jewish perspective when it comes to thinking about actions, I just didn't know it until a couple years ago.  Human emotions are very complex and I think Judaism honors that much more than Christianity. Honestly, I hate doing the whole compare and contrast thing with the religions, but sometimes that is just what happens. I was happy and I celebrated with the rest of my country when Osama Bin Laden died. That was our natural reaction. We didn't stop to think about it. That's just how we felt. Judaism honors natural human inclination. But the next day we think about it a little more, and it is sad that a human life was lost. Our enemy is gone but so is part of G-d's creation. We can be sad and happy at the same time. Part of the reason we all celebrated was because a dark period in our nation's history ended with Bin Laden's death. We have every reason to celebrate. Certainly, terrorism has not come to an end, but a major leader in the movement can no longer lead or cause harm to us. So I think the celebration comes from the era dying not so much that individual person.

Today, I don't think I am conscious of "this is the Jewish perspective on X event." I think my perspective just naturally agrees with the Jewish one. Well, that's pretty easy when the Jewish perspective can be one of a hundred things. But you know what I mean.
Day 6: 
Describe one thing you'd like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you? 
Your Answer: 
I want to know the prayer service. If I don't have a transliteration in front of me I want to still be able to participate. I also want to know the whole Hebrew alphabet, know number values, and several Hebrew words, both in prayer and in conversation. I hope to find a synagogue to go to when I don't go to Hillel, possibly a rabbi to convert me. Unsure of the specifics on that right now. 
I'd also like to take the GRE again and score much higher on the verbal. This means improving my vocabulary a great deal. 
I want to be working toward getting something published if not already by this time next year.
So, the only goals I achieved this year were my Jewish ones. Oy. I don't know if this is bad or good. Technically, I am working toward getting something published, but I've been working on it since March. Things keep getting in the way. I don't know if it will ever happen. I haven't even finished the article yet, so there is no publishing possibility in sight. I have no intentions of taking the GRE again. I've become completely disenfranchised from the concept of standardized testing.

I know the prayer service. In fact, at Hillel's summer shabbat in July, I was the one reminding everyone of the order of things, saying things like "Now we remain standing for the hatzi Kaddish." I didn't mean to memorize the Reform Hillel service; it just happened. I don't need a transliteration anymore because I can read Hebrew. I think I went above and beyond in achieving that goal. Well, maybe I originally meant that I wanted to memorize the service. I know the basic order but I truly think it's better not to memorize everything because then I am more engaged in the prayers. I have to think to participate.

If you've been reading my blog over the last month, you know that I found a synagogue and a rabbi to convert me. Check.

I am excited for the next 10 questions to be sent out, even though it can be difficult to answer some of them. Some of the questions and my responses are a bit to personal too share here. But Judaism gets personal.

Do you 10Q?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Belated Birthday to My Blog

I missed my blog's one year anniversary because I was so overwhelmed with school work. I still am but I am taking a little bit of time for me this labor day weekend. I'm proud of myself for keeping this going for a whole year, even if there were a few months when it seemed like I'd abandoned the task all together. Converting to Judaism is really strange, and so few of us actually do it. It's nice to have the blogging world to connect us to other JBCs, Jews, and people who are just interested in our stories.

A year ago, I really wanted to convert to Judaism, but I wasn't sure if I could, should, or would. I loved Friday night services at Hillel but worried that I could never really be a Jew. Now, I sometimes forget that I'm not. It gets quite annoying actually. People are always trying to count me in the minyan and I have to stop them. But one day, I won't have to and what a glorious day it will be. The rabbi asks if I want to light candles on Friday night. I can, but I can't do it alone, and I don't feel like pointing that out in front of a crowd of people. Friend asks me to say kaddish for someone he knows who died in the last week, have to ask someone else to do it. Other people forget I'm not Jewish or don't learn until after they've met me and someone insolently points out that I'm not actually Jewish I just like doing Jewish things. Oy, that's getting really old.

This blog has really helped me come to terms with a lot of issues I bring as a convert. Everyone's set of issues is a little different and I am grateful to everyone who reads and comments.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Just Mumble Under Your Breath

There's always that one person who asks too many questions at all the wrong time, even in your conversion class. But, besides that, the first class was good. I love that there is a couple in my class who is not Jewish and has no intentions of becoming Jewish. They just want to learn about the religion of their neighbors. I love that Judaism is open to everyone, not just Jews. There is light and learning for all.

As you might have picked up from earlier posts, my rabbi didn't turn me away three times as the tradition dictates. I was surprised how open he was, even for a Conservative rabbi. But, as he said, he doesn't make conversion easy by any means. We have 100 essay questions to answer by the end of the course in May. Some of them are simple. Some of them are not. I know most of the answers and have already started writing them out. If I finish very early and get bored I may ask for more. That's very nerdy of me but the point of learning with a rabbi finally was so I wouldn't be bored with my learning, so I don't want to go back to that point. The shul does this really nice partnering thing where everyone in the class who's converting is paired with a regular at Saturday morning services to help them along. Once the rabbi brought this up he looked at me and realized he never assigned me one. He seemed a little distressed but I clearly am not. I've been on my own in Jewish services for well over a year; we don't have to rush too much getting me a partner, though it might be nice to have someone's brain to pick whenever I have a random question. 

My rabbi is hilarious, which shouldn't surprise anyone, because he's a Jew. Basically, he made us a book for the class and he wrote several documents as well as including articles and prayers. The "Bluffer's Guide To Going to Shul" made my and several of my friends' day. The third point in bluffing your way through shul includes:
When putting on the tallit wrap it around your head for a few seconds while mumbling under you breath.
Fact. No one will ever know what you're saying because everyone mumbles it, so just mumble something. Mumbling can actually get you by in many situations... But, I digress.

Finally, our rabbi reviewed how his conversions are viewed. The reason his conversions stand in Israel is because he doesn't put the letter on the synagogue's letter head. If they don't know immediately it's a conservative synagogue, they just don't care. Clearly, they're not worried about "kosher" conversions, but politics. He also refuses to have a woman sit on the beit din because of the situation in Israel. He doesn't want to cause problems for his converts. When things in Israel and interdenominational relations change, he will gladly have a woman sit on the beit din. Amein.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Meeting with the Rabbi

I met with my rabbi yesterday, and I think I can officially say I am converting to Judaism. I never thought of converting to a religion as an ongoing process until I learned the ins and outs of converting to Judaism. To say one is converting to Christianity, it's more like saying one is going to convert at such and such point. But to say one is converting to Judaism, it's like saying one is in the process of converting. So, I think the process has officially begun.

My rabbi is really cool, kinda spacey, but still really cool. The reason I really wanted to work with him is because I have heard he is a wonderfully amazing teacher, and isn't that what every convert needs? I think I really lucked out here.

Let me say now, before any questions from readers come up: I am converting with a Conservative rabbi. I have expressed a couple of concerns with Orthodoxy and Orthodox conversion in the past so you probably knew I would go liberal. I love the Reform movement and so much of what it stands for. But I do not like Reform services. At the Hillel I go to I like them. They only use a guitar. But throw in a piano, organ, or flute, and I completely shut down. It reminds me too much of church and I can't concentrate or pray. I start staring at the ceiling or looking at the building structure. I just can't do it. I love the Conservative services I attend so I feel very comfortable converting in the Conservative movement.

That being said, let's talk about acceptance from other Jews. Apparently, where I live, it's not much of an issue. My rabbi told me the Orthodox rabbis generally accept his converts. Now, I know the Chabad rabbi and rebbitzen at my university don't but I literally couldn't care any less about what they think. If the Modern Orthodox and regular Orthodox are cool with it, then that's a huge bonus for me. I had already dealt with the issue and expected not to be accepted by any Orthodox. In Israel, you'd think there would be a problem, right? Apparently not. Three of his converts have made aliyah and have had no issues. Yes, one of them was recently married in Israel without having to reconvert.

Another Conservative rabbi in different part of the country told my rabbi that he has pretty strict standards for conversion and that maybe their shul should reevaluate their process and model after him. Perhaps the Orthodox in our town and in Israel recognize the conversions are truly halachically kosher? I am not sure but it's pretty awesome that Jews to the right of him accept his conversions. I guess real life is very different than the hypothetical cases I read online...

We talked about my background (obviously) and he took the paper I wrote to read later. I also made up a list of all the learning I have done in the last 19+ months, a Jewish resume, if you will. He seemed impressed with all the reading I've done and recognized that I would have no problem with the final essay exam we have to do.

We've got a good mix of people in the class. It's not just a conversion class, but it can lead to conversion. That's why they call it Introduction to Judaism. There is a couple taking it who moved to the Jewish part of the city and realized they wanted to know more about the religion of their neighbors. There are some born Jews who just want to learn more about their religion. And of course, there are people converting. So far there are about 10 people signed up and more will come in the next couple of weeks, he said, even though the class starts Sunday.

All in all, I am pretty excited that this process is getting started after so long studying alone. By next fall I could be a Jew.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Mashiach ~ משיח

I remember being in Sunday school when I was about four or five and learning for the first time that Jesus was a Jew. The teacher told us that Jesus was a good little Jewish boy: he respected his parents, loved G-d, and prayed at the Temple. I'd never heard this word, "Jewish," before. I asked my mom later in the car, "Mom, if Jesus was Jewish, why aren't I Jewish?"

"Well," she told me. "The people who accepted that Jesus was the Messiah became Christians, and the people who didn't stayed Jews."
"Oh. So who's their Messiah?" 
"He hasn't come yet." 
"When's he coming?" 
"I don't know. They don't know." 
"Oh, well... I hope he comes soon!"

I had virtually no understanding of what the Messiah means in either religion. I just wanted Jews to have their version of what we had. It's only fair. I was a kind child in that sense, wanting equality for all. When I grew up, I still really had no idea what Messiah meant but I knew that Jesus supposedly had saved us from something. But it didn't makes sense that he didn't save everyone. Why would he only save the people who believed he saved them? Anyway, in those fights I had with my parents about religion, church, and Jesus I remember yelling, "What good did Jesus even do the world? There is still war and starvation. Terrible things still happen. We weren't saved from anything!" I wasn't cognizant of it, but I knew what the Messiah meant, and Jesus wasn't him.

As an adult, I still only knew about the Christianized telling of the Messiah, the one where the Messiah was the Son of G-d and Savior of man kind from the fiery pits of hell. I justifiably thought there was no Messiah and there never would be. I thought Jews were as delusional as Christians for waiting for something so unrealistic. But then I really discovered Judaism, real Judaism not just Channukah, the Rugrats Passover special, and the Christian explanation of the Messiah. Jewish beliefs about G-d and humanity are so sound, practical, and meaningful. I worried that I wanted to be a part of something that had a nonsensical belief hiding at its core.

When I went to buy my first introduction to Judaism book at the bookstore, I saw in the table of contents of Judaism for Dummies the page with the question "Why don't Jews believe in Jesus?" I knew all of my concerns could be addressed by reading this page. I was scared to find out that Jews really do believe in the coming of the Son of G-d. But they don't. When I finally read that Jews do not believe that one person could be the son of G-d, I sighed a huge sigh of relief, knowing there could be a space for me in Judaism.

The messianic age will mark an age of peace on earth in which every day is like Shabbat. Sounds fabulous!

Now, I still don't know how I feel about a personal Messiah. Reform Judaism believes in a Messianic age that will be brought about by humans' collective actions. The Orthodox believe in a person who will come redeem the world, a man from the line of David. The Conservative Movement believes it is up to each person to choose what he or she believes. Since I most identify with the Conservative Movement and will be working with a Conservative Rabbi, I get to choose what I believe. I like what the Reform movement has to say. It is much like what the Kabbalists teach: each person has a messianic awakening inside of him/herself. I think that is not only possible, but truly necessary to peace among people.

At first, I totally rejected the traditional Jewish belief about an individual Messiah. I found it too similar to the Jesus idea. But after a long time learning and thinking, it's not similar to Jesus at all. I learned that Paul, the guy who spread Christianity, was actually a traditional, practicing Jew who rejected that Jesus was the Messiah. Then he went out in the desert, had a vision, and reimagined the meaning of the Messiah. And that's how we got Christianity as we know it today. So the traditional, ancient, Jewish belief that a human being as one of G-d's many children will lead humanity into an age of peace doesn't freak me out. It's just  I just think about the Messiah in terms of practicality. How will anyone know if this person is from the line of David? The only tribal affiliations we know about today are Levites (and their subset, kohaines). There are no Judahites, only Israelites. Second, in order for the Temple to be rebuilt, the Dome of the Rock has to be destroyed/removed/renovated. There can't possibly be peace on earth with that happening.

I would really love for the messianic age to come and it can't hurt to hope for it. But I am very compelled by the idea that we shouldn't wait around for someone to save us and to redeem the world. We each have to work hard at tikkun olam to bring about the coming of the Messiah.

Side note: for those of you considering converting, the tradition says that once the Messiah comes there will be no more conversion to Judaism. Take your time considering and studying, but don't wait forever! I mean, if you believe in that sort of thing. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012


This bracelet is the first piece of Judaica I ever bought or owned. I bought it during my first trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. I made my first visit there as I was falling in love with Judaism. My mom and I went to visit my brother at his new home after him living there for at least ten months. I like wearing jewelry that reminds me how precious life is and the importance of living each day to the fullest.  

I used to wear a Livestrong bracelet as the reminder. I started wearing it when one of my best friend's grandfathers died of cancer. He was only in his 60's. She actually had moved across the country less than two years before he died and only made a rare visit back home to us. She came home for his funeral, which happened to coincide with my high school's winter dance. We decided there would be no boys, no dates for this dance. It would be all girls and we would all wear a Livestrong bracelet in remembrance of her grandfather and as a reminder of the importance of living. I continued to wear the bracelet every day after the dance because I appreciated its call to action. The only time I took it off was to compete or perform for dance. Even then, I wore it in between numbers. 

When my aunt was diagnosed with cancer my freshman year, the Livestrong bracelet's original meaning became profoundly real for me. My mom bought one to wear as well. I would play and fiddle with the bracelet and pray that she continue to live as she miraculously has her whole life. Then one winter day during my sophomore year the bracelet broke. It just snapped in half. I was upset about my naked wrist and planned to buy another, just as soon as I found the time to get to the mall. But a short while later I found out that my aunt had scheduled her reconnection surgery which meant the cancer was gone. Coming from a somewhat superstitious family, I took the broken bracelet as a sign and I could not buy another. Wearing the Livestrong bracelet would mean I needed to for my aunt's health.

So when I was in the Museum shop a month later and saw this bracelet I thought, "what a perfect replacement for the Livestrong bracelet on my left wrist." To Life: L'chaim. It's one of my favorite phrases in Judaism because it captures so much of Jewish thought in so few letters. This bracelet also carries with it the lessons of the Shoah. Each life is of infinite value and 6 million Jewish worlds and 5 million non-Jewish worlds were destroyed in six short years.

The importance of life and my family's health was tied into this bracelet immediately after I bought it. On the eight hour drive to Virginia, my mother had developed a blood clot. The clot broke loose as we walked around the city the day we were at the Museum. She started feeling pain in her lung that evening and it increased exponentially the following day. She wasn't sure what was wrong, because it felt like a cramp. I woke up early the last day of our trip to drive her home so she wouldn't be stuck in a DC hospital. Scared for my mother's life, I shaved nearly two hours off the trip. This might have saved her life. That night at our home town hospital she flatlined and spent a week in intensive care. That night was one of the single most scary nights of my life. But she lived. The doctors told us how to improve her health from then on our to prevent another blood clot from ever occurring.

I wear this bracelet not only as a reminder that this is my only life and I must take advantage of that, but as an expression of my Judaism. I have always worn it on shabbat, but I also have worn it at random times throughout the week when I felt comfortable expressing who I am deep in my soul. It's hard when the bracelet calls other people's attention and they wonder why I'm wearing it if I'm not Jewish. But now, I don't really care and most people who see it know my story. And by now, most new people don't question it because I seem Jewish. I know too much to be a gentile.

This bracelet will always be precious to me because it holds stories of my life, the history of the Jewish people, and expressions of the Jewish beliefs I connect to most.

Anxiety & Excitement About the Coming Year

My rabbi (hopefully) finally just returned from sabbatical. He was at shul yesterday and said to call him this week to set up a meeting before the conversion class starts. I'm super excited. And I'm super nervous. This rabbi is supposedly one of the best in town and I don't want to mess anything up with him. I really want to work with him because I've heard amazing things about his teaching and patience.

Since I tend to forget everything when I am nervous and talking, I decided I should write something down for him. I'm a pretty good writer and that way I can make sure to articulate all the really important things I think he should know. I could convince him that I will be a righteous convert in writing. Except, when I actually sat down to write, too much came out and now he'll probably never read it. Eighteen pages is too long for him; this I am sure. But I won't lie, I love that it so neatly came out to chai pages. I pulled some information from this blog, but it is mostly new. I may post the paper in segments in the future.

I also made up a Jewish resume of sorts. I want him to know right where I am in my learning, my experiences, and observance. This was sort of my intuition as a future teacher. It can take weeks to figure out what a student actually knows. I figured I would help him along and save us both time.

Every time I go to shul the cantors and rabbis ask whatever friend I've schlepped in for the week and me about coming to High Holiday services. They seem to love opening up to college students who can't get home. There is no charge, obviously, but students don't even have to call ahead to get a ticket. You can just show up. I am really excited to spend the High Holy Days at an actual synagogue. Don't get me wrong, I love that Hillel does services for free for students. But they are incomplete and often rushed. They only do three services on Yom Kippur so you end up sitting at home, alone, all afternoon thinking about how hungry you are.

All in all, I have an exciting year coming up and I'm ready to get started.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Critical Response to a Critic

Usually when I get rude or disrespectful comments, I send them to spam and ignore them. However, I got one today that I didn't want to let disappear into cyberspace. This commenter is clearly new to my blog and I thought addressing some of his concerns would give my readers a chance to understand me and my blog a little better, especially if they came late in the game and never went back to the first 5 blog posts. I will not post the person's name but he will know who he is. I do not intend to embarrass or publicly shame him, though it is clear that from his comment that was his intention toward me. These things are forbidden by Jewish Law, not mention common courtesy. On my most recent post Catholic Enough for Hell, the commenter, who will be known as the Orthodox Critic from here on out, wrote
It's not clear to me that you are Catholic enough to be Jewish. Orthodox Judaism has a long historical relationship with the Lord. Reform and Conservative Judaism are inventions of the modern era. So, if you are converting to anything other than Orthodox Judaism, you aren't really converting to anything but modernism. You don't need to be Jewish in order to be modern. You can do that without needing any "conversion classes" at all - just agree with what the world teaches, and you are essentially Reform Jewish, even Conservative Jewish. Everyone remakes God in their image, instead of allowing themselves to be changed by God so that each of us reflects His image. It sounds like you would rather not be changed - if that's true, then your "conversion" to some modern variant of Judaism isn't going to stick very long. You'll soon discover that you can be as modern as you want without bothering about Judaism, or any faith system, at all. 
My initial impression is that the Orthodox Critic intends to guard Judaism like a secret club and does not recognize any Judaism but his own as legitimate. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt and address his concerns point by point.
It's not clear to me that you are Catholic enough to be Jewish. Orthodox Judaism has a long historical relationship with the Lord.
I am not sure what the Critic means by "not Catholic enough to be Jewish." If I were Catholic, I could not be Jewish. And the last time I checked, Orthodox Judaism has NOT had a long historical relationship with Jesus. However, if it has, then I certainly have no interest in practicing Orthodox Judaism. If he means that I did not practice a strict enough Catholicism growing up in order to be Jewish, on the first half he would be correct; on the second half - how does that matter? Why would practicing a strict interpretation of any religion affect how I practice Judaism? Clearly, converting to a new religion means that I did not connect to the original religion. It's not possible to sincerely practice any version of Christianity if you don't believe in Jesus Christ. I thought that was a given, but apparently not.

Furthermore, if the Orthodox Critic had read the rest of my blog and had not jumped to his own wackadoodle conclusions, he would know that my faith in G-d is central to who I am. I believe that G-d created the universe and plays a role in the course of human history. I believe in G-d so strongly that I am willing to join the most persecuted group of people - who also happen to have the strictest standards of any religion for joining them  - just so that I can act on my faith in its purest form.
 Reform and Conservative Judaism are inventions of the modern era. So, if you are converting to anything other than Orthodox Judaism, you aren't really converting to anything but modernism.
I will grant the Orthodox Critic his first claim here. Yes, Reform Judaism developed in the 19th century and Conservative in the 20th. NEWS FLASH: Orthodox Judaism developed AFTER Reform Judaism. Therefore, you can not say that Reform and Conservative Judaism are inventions of the modern era without admitting that Orthodox is, too. If you believe that the Orthodox Judaism practiced today is the same as Judaism practiced in the 17th century, 10th century, 1st century, or at the time of Moses, you are sorely mistaken. However, all forms of Judaism are a continuation of the tradition developed after the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The Rabbis explicitly said that each generation must interpret the Torah for themselves. Jewish texts including the Talmud have always noted the dissenting and losing legal opinions so that new generations could look to those interpretations. It is possible the dissenting opinion for generation X would work for generation X+1 or X+10.

If I convert to Orthodox Judaism, I would be converting to a modern form of Judaism. But what I think the Orthodox Critic was really trying to say is that no other Judaism is true except for Orthodox Judaism. That is his opinion. 90% of American Jews would strongly disagree. I'm sure they love being told their Judaism is fake. Third on this point, how does one "convert to modernism"? "Modernism" isn't a religion or even a philosophy of any kind. It's an extremely ambiguous term that can only be defined relatively. I already live in the modern world so how could I convert to living modernly? Is that what he meant?
You don't need to be Jewish in order to be modern. You can do that without needing any "conversion classes" at all - just agree with what the world teaches, and you are essentially Reform Jewish, even Conservative Jewish.
 No, I definitely don't have to be Jewish to be modern. But my goal is not to be modern. My goal is to be around people who understand G-d and humanity in a similar fashion that I do. My goal is to study Torah and to live a Jewish life. Jewish values and holidays are meaningful to me. I love going to shul. I love discussing the words of the Torah and current events from a Jewish perspective. Most of all, my goal is to join people who want me to join them. The Orthodox Critic is clearly not open to making me a part of his community, and that is fine with me. I want to make my community out of liberal or open Jews, not close-minded ones. Just as I don't make friends with close minded people, I will not make a community out of close-minded Jews.

I don't necessarily need to take a conversion class; he is somewhat correct. The class is about learning in a group (something Judaism loves) and meeting other potential Jews-by-Choice. They would be a part of my community and we would always be a special sub-group of Jews. Meeting them and knowing them is important. But moreso, the class is about studying, and the only way to become Jewish is by studying. A gentile absolutely cannot become any kind of Jew without converting. 

How can one "agree with what the world teaches"? What does the world teach? If by world you mean people in the world, one must choose a viewpoint. Different religions and philosophies focus on different things. It is impossible to agree with all of them, otherwise there would be no separate ideas or differing opinions. There is no "agreeing with what the world teaches;" one must choose a line of thought and go with it. That is what I am doing.

I'm not sure if the last part of his point means that he believes any "modern" person is a Reform or Conservative Jew... That really doesn't make any sense. Does he think that liberal Christians are liberal Jews? Does he believe only Orthodox Jews are Jews? Both would be wrong. Even Orthodox rabbis know that halachically speaking, a Jew is a Jew. It doesn't matter if they disagree with the kind of Judaism most American Jews practice; they're still Jews.
Everyone remakes God in their image, instead of allowing themselves to be changed by God so that each of us reflects His image. It sounds like you would rather not be changed - if that's true, then your "conversion" to some modern variant of Judaism isn't going to stick very long. You'll soon discover that you can be as modern as you want without bothering about Judaism, or any faith system, at all. 
I've never encountered anything or anyone to support your claim that everyone "remakes G-d in their image." If he means to say that people tend to say G-d agrees with their point of view, then yes that's certainly true. It sounds like maybe he is doing that himself. But in Judaism, everyone must wrestle with G-d to come to their own understanding of Him. So, depending on how he means "remake," he could be right. He is saying something that Judaism actually encourages. Jews have different understandings of the nature G-d but the point is to believe in Him in some way.

To say that it "sounds like I don't want to be changed" based on a post I wrote about Catholicism and my inability to change to meet their requirements is completely inapplicable to Judaism. There is no evidence in any of my blog or in my life that I don't want to change. In fact, in the post the Orthodox Critic read and commented on I said
I let my beliefs change, grow, and expand in a non-Catholic way
I want to continue to grow and learn on the path I set myself on seven years ago.
How could someone possibly interpret that as resistant to change? I have changed a great deal since I was 14 years old and was confirmed in the Catholic Church. My life has changed and my soul has expanded. But my core has remained constant. I will admit that. Certain things remain constant but other things change a great deal. Someone once said to me that all major life changes should only make us more of who we already are. That means a lot of exterior things and some interior things will change but the central parts of who we are should not change. So, no, I don't want those central parts of me to change, otherwise I wouldn't be me.

I am quite aware that one need not be Jewish to be modern, we both already established that. But once more I'll reiterate, becoming a Jew has nothing to do with being modern. In fact, how is celebrating a dinner in a fashion set many centuries ago to remember an event that happened literally thousands of years ago modern? How is not eating pork or shellfish because a thousands year old book said not to modern? Judaism isn't really modern. People have figured out ways for it to survive in the modern world, though, including Orthodox Jews.

Finally, Orthodox Critic, it is clear you don't want me to be a Jew. Luckily, it's not your choice and it's none of your business. That goes for any Debbie or Donnie Downer out there. You are entitled to your opinion, but your opinion is not fact or law. If you want to actually discuss something here on my blog, feel free to do so. But making sweeping statements like this one is not acceptable.

I would like to say to anyone who reads this blog, that I have no issue with Orthodox Judaism or Jews. I have an issue with people like this Orthodox Critic who insist on closing Judaism to others and who think their Judaism is the only Judaism. I actually love much of what Orthodox Judaism has to offer. I considered Orthodox conversion but realized there were a few things that I just couldn't agree with and knew I wouldn't be able to stand it. For example, it's not the mechitza itself I have a problem with. I know many women who appreciate being able to pray away from their husbands or boyfriends. It allows them time and space to focus on prayer and communicating with G-d. I've been to shul with a mechitza and their point it true. It's what men have on their side of the mechitza that I take issue with. Only men sit with the Torah and can be called to the Torah. I believe that when G-d said that the words of the Torah are not in heaven so that you can't access them but here with us on earth, that He was talking to everyone, not just men. It doesn't make sense to me that only men should have access to the words, truth, and guidance of the Torah.

I hope I have made who I am a little clearer to everyone, including the Orthodox Critic. Feel free to ask questions but, please, refrain from judgmental accusations.