Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why did I choose to be Jewish?

Some of you may have already read this, but some of you haven't and I wanted to share this with you. My Jewish faith has been on my mind so much lately and I wanted to share with you why I chose this life.

I began this journey because I fell in love with a Jew. I have chosen to continue this journey because I have fallen in love with Judaism. The exact point at which I decided that “Yes, I want to become Jewish.” is unknown even to me, yet it is a decision that was made, unwavering and absolute. It has been a journey along a road that has meandered, in and out of my consciousness, but has paved its way – permanently – into my life, into my heart and has left in its path, a series of tangible and intangible alterations that have forever changed me.

I met my husband, Adam, in college, shortly after I’d convinced myself that the right man for me was not soon to be found. We became inseparable, so much so that when we graduated, we moved in together and shortly after that, found ourselves planning a wedding. I was happy to accommodate Adam and have a Jewish wedding. In fact, I was more than happy to make this accommodation. I’d long ago lost my ties to the Catholic church but was eager to have a meaningful, spiritual wedding ceremony.

But I knew I was not ready to begin the conversion process. I knew that if I were to convert in time for our wedding it would be for all of the wrong reasons. I had the foresight to understand that it would be a process wasted and that I would be missing out on a spectacular progression. I was also battling with my thoughts on G-d and often found myself wondering if G-d even existed, not entirely convinced that He did.

The night my son was born, I found myself holding him, staring into the eyes of the greatest miracle I’d ever witnessed, not anticipating the ferocity with which I loved him. Ethan Joel had been in my life for mere minutes and I already couldn’t imagine how I’d lived my life for so long without him. It was in those few moments that I knew – I knew- that not only did G-d did exist, but that He was present. From that day on, I have never again questioned His existence or His presence.

After the blurry months of early motherhood passed, and I was able to focus on thoughts more sophisticated than calculating how many ounces of formula Ethan had that day, or how long it had been since I’d changed his diaper, I began to ponder about how I would raise this child. I knew how to care for him and meet his needs, but I wondered how I would nurture him. I wanted him to have a foundation from which he could build his own life. I wanted him to have a framework from which he could derive his decisions. I wanted him to have guidelines against which he could measure his actions. I knew he could not have this without some major adjustments in our life.

For this foundation, this framework, for these guidelines I was seeking, I turned to Judaism. A strong faith, a sense of religious and cultural identity was something I’d lacked in my own childhood and it was something I hoped to provide to my son and to share with my new family. I wasn’t convinced that Judaism was the answer, but I was convinced it was worth a shot.

Adam and I set about to find a Rabbi to supervise my conversion. Our search came up with no front runners and no close seconds. Discouraged, but not beaten, I got my hands on any books I could find about the conversion process, about Judaism. I read them voraciously. And I decided to take a class – Intro to Judaism 101 – taught by Rabbi Norry. I came to cherish my Thursday night classes, and sat each week, utterly fascinated, writing notes just as quickly as my hands could get the words on paper. On the ride home, I would call Adam, eager to share what I’d learned. And over time, to my surprise and delight, I got it. It made sense. I realized that this is what I’d been missing in my life.

And it is over the past year, that I have been uncovering, along with Rabbi Norry, exactly what the ‘this’ is. It is over the past year that a very interesting – and wonderful – change has taken place in my life, in my family’s lives. I have followed my heart throughout every step of this journey and it is my heart that has led me to this moment. The progression of my journey to Judaism has been somewhat unmapped but has occurred at its own perfect pace, as if taking on a direction all its own.

I do not remember the day I stopped referring to Jewish people as “Jews” and instead began referring to Jews as “we” or “us”. I do not remember the day that “Shabbat Shalom” rolled off my tongue as if I had been using that greeting with friends my whole life. I do not remember the day that Adam and I stopped discussing going to Shul on Shabbos morning and just went, no discussion required. I do not remember those days, but I feel their significance, as it is just those sorts of moments that have allowed me to identify myself not just as a student of Judaism, but as a Jew.

Written in November 2005

2 comments:

Lisa said...

Hi Jenny! As I told you this weekend, you are an exquisite, eloquent writer and I am blessed to have you in my life. This was one of my favorite pieces that you ever shared with me because it gave me such a vivid glimpse into your thoughts as you went through your conversion. I'm glad you shared it with the "world". :-)
Love you! Lisa

Jen said...

Thanks for letting me know! I'm so glad you read it again and appreciate all the crazy thoughts that run through my head. Stay tuned for some more "meatier" stuff!

I, too, am blessed to have you in my life as well. Thanks for all of your wonderful encouragement. It makes it a little less scary to bare my soul. :0)