Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Prayer Shawl

A brief definition before we begin:
A Tallit is “is a Jewish prayer shawl. The tallit is worn over the outer clothes during the morning prayers (Shacharit) on weekdays, Shabbat and holidays.

       Toward the end of March I went to a “make your own Tallit” class at my Synagogue. It had been a long time since i'd had a sewing project, so I took up the challenge gladly. I didn't start making my Tallit right after this class. I wanted to, but for some reason I didn't. It wasn't because I couldn't find the materials- NYC has an entire garment district full of stores that had everything I need but for some reason, I didn't want to get my supplies in NYC. I was taking a trip to my hometown of Bellingham, Washington at the end of March and for some reason I wanted to wait and buy the fabric from this fabric store I used to go to all the time: Fabrics etc. I didn't know why it had to be that store, but I just knew it did.

       When I went home I took a trip to Fabrics etc and in no time I found this beautiful white sateen that was perfect. I also wanted to find some blue fabric to compliment it. Water gives me a great sense of peace, something I wanted to incorporate into my shawl. It had been a very difficult winter for me, especially because I was used to the beautiful scenery of the pacific northwest and to go from acres of forests and the vast expanse of the Puget Sound dotted with picturesque Islands to a world of bleak, grey concrete was hard. Yes, there was Central Park but it paled in comparison to my hometown. I wanted a blue fabric that reminded me of the water, so I could take a bit of home back with me. (I have also since then discovered the half a dozen other beautiful waterfront parks NYC has to offer. It's not the Puget Sound, but it's definitely close).
       I found exactly what I was looking for but there was a problem: I didn't have enough money. I needed at least a foot and a half of the white sateen as well as at least another foot of the blue fabric. I was still trying to figure out what to do as I took the fabrics up to the counter. The woman looked up my account. As it turns out, they had a rewards system that I completely forgot about. If you spent a certain amount than you received 20% off your next purchase. Last year, before I moved to NYC, I spent the required amount but I never redeemed my 20% off. And I completely forgot about it.

       Do you believe in coincidences? Because I certainly don't. This was why I had to go back. I was able to get everything I needed to get started.

       I started sewing when I was fourteen or fifteen, if I remember correctly. I remember afternoons spent happily hand stitching some half-formed idea of a huge project that I would inevitably abandon. I have used a machine in the past, but the vast majority of my work had been hand-sewn. Sewing by hand, to me, is an act of love. Yes I could pop something in a machine and be done in two seconds and have a perfect hem, but I find far more meaning in hand-sewing. When I decided to make my tallit, I knew I would hand-stitch the entire thing. What better way for me to show my love for Judaism and God than to carefully hand craft my Tallit?

        I also decided that I was going to be far more attentive and patient this time around. Usually in the past, when a project idea occurred to me, I'd follow the instructions for a little while until I got the general idea of what the end result is supposed to look like and then would go off on my own. I'd get sloppy and cut corners. I wasn't going to do that this time around. I was going to take my time and be as close to perfect as possible. I was going to use my powers of perfectionism for good.

        When I got home that day, I put on some music and began to sew- something I hadn't been able to do since moving to NYC. In the initial move, I left my sewing kit behind (A mistake I will not make again). While I sewed, a wonderful thing happened. I felt peace, true peace, the likes of which I had not yet found in New York. I didn't realize how much I missed sewing, how much I needed it, until then. It felt so good to do something with my hands and after those first few hours when I had a completed hem, I was able to look at every stitch and remember that feeling. Even now, when I drape the unfinished shawl around my shoulders I feel peace and warmth. Happiness.

        I took it a step further. I wanted to hand stitch the blessing that ran across the top of the Tallit as well. When I got back to New York I went to Michaels and bought the supplies for embroidery. Now, I had never embroidered a day in my life, but from what I understood, it was very similar to hand stitching. I sketched in a notebook until I had an idea of what the letters should look like and after some practice I got started. Every stitch hand sewn. Every letter crafted with love. The pictures below show the blessing that will go across the top. when it's done it will be in one straight line. also, sorry about the poor lighting.

       This has been the most amazing project i've ever undertaken and it's brought so much peace to my life.

Soon I will talk about my “Jew Class” as I call it as well as a possible future future career plan. Until then, sorry for the wait, but I hope it was worth it. And, when my prayer shawl is finished I will post more pictures. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The December Dilemma

    Yes, I am aware that it is January, a full three months since my last entry and no longer December, or 2010 for that matter. But there is a crucial issue that a lot of converts (as well as many non-converts) deal with ever year, and I feel that it should be included in my blog about the conversion process.

   This is the magical time when Carols overrun the airwaves, everything takes on a red and green glow and the majority of Americans eagerly await Santa’s arrival on Christmas day.

     Until last year (meaning 2009) so did I. Now, however, I get to celebrate Hanukkah! I love Hanukkah - what better way to celebrate the beginning of winter than with a lot of candles, fried foods, and a story of a triumphant battle that took place thousands of years ago? I was all ready to trade my Santa hat for a dreidle, my Christmas tree for a Menorah. I had already written Christmas off a few years ago, when I made the decision to convert. I hadn’t been raised with the story of the birth of Jesus so I never really incorporated that with December 25th. To me it felt pretty easy to cast off a holiday involving Santa and a day of presents. It was a very small price to pay to live a Jewish life. Christmas didn’t feel like my holiday anymore. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
       And then I got the card. My grandmother sent me a wonderful “Happy Hanukkah ” card instead of the usual Christmas card this year. I was unbelievably moved by this gesture. To me, it wasn’t just a card; it was a symbol of her acceptance of my decision and respect for my religion. I called to thank her. While I was talking to her, it hit me; Hanukkah was now my holiday. My family still celebrated Christmas. It was something that they all still shared. Together. Something I used to share with them but I don’t anymore. This was just the first of many things that now separates me from my family, besides our geographic locations.

     I’m no stranger to doing things a bit differently from those around me. When I was younger- particularly in high school- I loved that about myself. I held on to the particular ways that I was different, or thought I was different, from those around me as a way of self-identity.       
         But this was something else entirely. While talking to my Grandma I found myself needlessly defending Christmas as if to reassure her that I still respected Christmas, that I still loved her, that I was still a part of this family. For some reason, it wasn’t until this phone conversation that I realized this Hanukkah-instead-of-Christmas thing alienated me from my family, which didn’t sit well with me. I’ve always been very family oriented. I was the weird kid who, when many my age were going through the “I-don’t-want-to-have-anything-to-do-with-my-parents-and-oh-yeah-my-brother-was-adopted” phase I was hanging out with my brother on the weekends, and spending time with my parents whenever possible. I loved family road trips, game nights, all of those corny after-school-special elements of family togetherness. I’ve known for years that I was going to convert, so mentally I was preparing for this, but I still didn’t really realize what it all meant until that card. Until that conversation.

        I am not like my family in a very significant way. Not that they can’t share that with me- of course I’m more than happy to include them in as much as they want, but that’s just the thing- I’m going to be including them. Judaism is mine in a way that is wholly unique from my family. It’s not something that we share together. There was a time when that fact would have made me feel special or important. Now it just makes me feel a bit lonely, to be honest.

     The moment has passed. The ball has dropped and the New Year has begun. But next December, this same issue will arise. And even more so. Every day I am incorporating more aspects of Judaism into my life. By next December, I will be very close to the end of my conversion (I had my first class a couple days ago. More on that later). Every day I am becoming more and more different from my family. Even though I chose to convert four years ago and during that time I knew that this would be a big change, I didn’t fully start to realize how that change would affect those around me until now.

       After taking a step back I’ve calmed down and realized that, though Judaism will be a very integral part of my life, I am still a member of my family and I know they love me unconditionally.

       Christmas is no longer my holiday. I no longer share that with my family. However, just as my Grandmother respected me by sending me that card, so I will respect their holiday. When December 25th rolls around again, I will call my Grandmother and wish her happiness on that day because even if the day doesn’t hold the same significance for me anymore, she is still my Grandmother.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

First Meeting with the Rabbi

Wow, a month. That’s bad- even for me.
      I met with the Rabbi almost 2 weeks ago and we had an official conversation about starting the conversion process. On the whole, I think the talk went well. The only touchy part was when I showed him my tattoo. I didn’t want to start this process on the wrong foot; I wanted to be completely upfront and honest from the get-go. This was probably due to previous experiences, but I just wanted to make sure that everyone knew everything.
     So, my tattoo. Shortly before I graduated last June I got a tattoo on the inside of my left wrist. It’s the Tarot card the 2 of cups. One cup has my Hebrew name (Ahava) and the other cup has Adonai spelled in Hebrew. It’s immensely symbolic to me; I knew that I was about to graduate college! I was going to move to New York and either conquer the world or fall flat on my face. I knew myself well enough to know that I can get caught up in the small things, both good and bad. I live my life with so much passion that it’s easy for me to get off track. I wanted something to help remind me of what is really important, help ground me when my head gets so far in the clouds I can’t see straight. At the end of the day, it’s me and Him, for better or worse. I wanted it on the left arm because I have another tattoo on my right leg, and I like to keep things balanced. I also wanted it on my left arm for the same reason that it’s customary to wear a wedding ring on the left hand; the veins in the left ring finger pump blood straight to the heart, so there’s more symbolism there.
      I understand how this can be offensive to people and trust me; that is definitely not my intention. I want to be perfect (unattainable, I know. It’s my thing). The perfect person would not have body art that offends people in places that offend people. I hadn’t really thought too much about my tattoo offending people. I knew that Tattoos weren’t exactly… okay in the Torah and the Jewish community, especially after the Holocaust. The last thing I wanted was to remind people of that horrific event. But my tattoo meant something to me. It might be childish or na├»ve, but it was meaningful to me.
        After our talk I, of course, freaked out. What if I offend everyone? What if it stops me from being able to convert? Should I get it removed? On and on, it’s very exhausting to be me sometimes. Eventually I calmed down, and talked to my roommate who had a very good point; sometimes I will do things that other people will not approve of. It will happen. This will be one of those things. I just have to get used to it.
        So that’s been a huge struggle of mine lately.
        The rest of the talk with the Rabbi, as I said, went really well. I filled him in on my experience with Judaism thus far (basically, everything in this blog) and he helped prepare me for the next step. Ideally, it would be classes but as they cost money and as I was recently laid off I don’t have any money. That part has to wait. In the mean time, I can do other things to start living a more Jewish life. He noted three key things: keeping Kosher, observing Shabbat and performing Tzedakah. I had tried to keep Kosher before, and I had tried to observe Shabbat during college. My problem, as with everything else, is that once I decided to do it I dived in 100%. I tried to follow all the Kosher rules, half of which I didn’t really know. That didn’t last long. I had tried to follow Shabbat when I was a Freshman. I didn’t go on the computer, talk on the phone, anything. By the end of those 25 hours I was focused solely on checking Facebook. Shabbat had lost all meaning.

      This time it’s different. I’m going to slowly incorporate elements of all of these Mitzvot into my life.
      For Shabbat I will not work and I will not clean. Any cleaning project I have I will save for after. Now, in light of recent events, if I find a job that requires me to work on Saturdays, I will take it. I think G-d will understand. If that happens, I will find another way to make Shabbat different from all other days. Maybe I won’t go on the computer for the whole day or make any personal phone calls. I’ll worry about that later.

     For Kosher: I had spent the last year and a half adjusting to my Gluten allergy (I knew that would come up again) which in and of itself is an incredibly restrictive diet. However, I feel that I have a better handle on that. So now I have incorporated the two main Kosher rules I know how to follow: I do not mix meat with milk and I do not eat pork. Those are the rules I am most comfortable with, as they are the most common and, for me, the easiest to follow.

    For Tzedakah; Tzedakah loosely translates to charity. It is in the Torah that the Jewish people give what they can, when they can. Usually, it comes in the form of donating money to charity, usually 10% of your paycheck. A way that the rabbi explained it to me, when discussing giving change to those less fortunate is basically (paraphrasing): I might not agree with the decisions you’ve made in your life, but everybody needs to eat. That, I feel, is essential. Everybody needs to eat.
       Before my current situation, I would give change when I had it. Now however, I am finding other ways to give back. I recently applied to volunteer with the Trevor Project. As some of you probably know, the Trevor Project is an organization that helps LGBTQ teens. They have, among other things, a 24-hour suicide hotline and Dear Trevor letters where people can submit non-time-sensitive questions, sort of like a Dear Abby set up. I still haven’t heard back from them, so I will look into other areas of volunteering. Since I cannot financially give back, I will find other ways to do so.

       That’s the long and short of the last two weeks. Hopefully it will be less than a month before my next update, but I’m not promising anything J

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mom, Dad, We need to talk

I am currently reading this book a friend gave me; “Choosing a Jewish Life” by Anita Diamant. One of the things she mentions in her books is having to tell the parents about your decision to convert. She gave great advice about how to tell them, advice that I wish I had known a couple years ago.

I've already told my parents of my decision to convert, as well as my grandparents. Most of the rest of my family, however, has no idea. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that we are all spread out over the country and have lost touch over the years. However, if I ever get married in the future, I want to have a Jewish wedding, and I would like my family to be there, so i'm going to have to face it eventually.
For now, though, I thought i'd share with you what my experience has been like telling my mom, my dad, my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandparents. I told my parents separately, as they divorced when I was 11.

I told my mom first. I don't remember exactly when, but she's known about my decision for a long time. I guess at least since I was 19, when I firmly made the decision that I would convert. She's been nothing but supportive from the beginning. In fact, she admitted to me once that when she was a kid, she wanted to be Jewish, which I found odd. We both, at one point of our lives, wanted to be Jewish but we weren't.

 My parents raised myself and my brother to be spiritual, but not affiliated with any religion. When I was growing up, my mom would talk about God and Guardian Angels. If I was ever upset, she said, I could talk to my Guardian Angel and they'd take care of me. Through her teaching, I learned to have a personal relationship with God, but I had no religious background.

I told my dad a couple of year ago now, I think. I merely mentioned it in passing, we didn't exactly have a serious conversation about it. My father is a man of few words and, though I don't like to admit it, still intimidates the hell out of me sometimes. I mentioned Judaism to him every now and again. I didn't want to throw it in his face, but I did want him to know that I was planning to drastically change my life, and our family dynamic. He seemed fine with it when I mentioned it, occasionally posing a question or two.
Before I moved to New York I sent him an e-mail explaining how I was preparing for my move and how excited I was to finally be able to start the conversion process, once I got there. He replied, saying “I'm not sure i'm completely on board with your conversion to Judaism.” That was it. He didn't disown me, but he wasn't totally on board. I sent him a polite, if not formal, response that kindly said I was sorry he wasn't on board, but that didn't change anything. This was something I was going to do. I regret how I dealt with it, sometimes. One of the great things about the book i'm reading is Anita Diamont's emphasis on the convert being aware that this is going to be a big adjustment for the family, not just for the convert themselves. I wish there was something else I could do. I don't want to send him a book, or an article or anything, because I don't want him to take it the wrong way. Ideally, i'd love for him to be involved, or at least aware of this process, but I don't want to make him feel uncomfortable.

I told my Catholic grandmother (maternal) that I was converting a couple years ago as well. Actually, my mom might have been the one to mention it. Either way, she was also extremely respectful of my decision. She sent me an e-mail saying that she knew I was looking into religion and just wanted to tell me more about hers. She wasn't trying to change my mind, she just wanted to give me information about Catholicism. She asked if she could send me a book about Catholicism, and I agreed. I was a little worried about what she was going to send me. When I opened the package I found “Catholicism for Dummies.” I laughed right there! I was expecting something far more ominous. I looked through the book, and I still have it. Even though it is not my religion, I respect Catholicism and all it's practices. Plus, I just love that I have “Catholicism for dummies.”

I was most nervous about telling my father's parents. They lived in Oklahoma and they were members of the Church of Christ, something I've never had a problem with, in fact I love them for that, but I had no idea how they'd feel about my conversion. They were so far away they had been the most out of the loop about my conversion. I told them last fall before thanksgiving, because I was going to spend the holiday with them and I was wearing a Star of David necklace. I was really worried about what they were going to say when they saw it but then my mom said, “If you're worried, why not just be an adult and call and tell them before you go?” She didn't say it to be mean, just stated it as fact. Love you, mom!

I called my grandmother. I said something to the effect of, “I just want to let you know that I'm converting to Judaism. I'm not doing it for anyone else, it's just something I am going to do for myself. I'm just letting you know because I have a star around my neck.” I wanted to get it over with quickly. Also, not what I should have done. In hindsight, I really should have opened up a conversation, not slipped it in like a side-note, but that's what I did in the heat of the moment. My grandmother didn't quite understand what I meant when I said I had a star around my neck (not that I blamed her. I could have been a lot clearer.) She thought that I had tattooed a star around my neck, and freaked out a bit (I would too.) Once everything was cleared up, she seemed much more okay with the whole thing.

When I went to visit them, my grandmother handed me a list of bible passages she wanted me to read before I made my final decision. I was reminded of my Grandma sending me Catholicism for Dummies. I respected her request and even looked up the passages on Google when I got home. I heard what she had to say, even if I didn't agree with it.

Over thanksgiving, my grandfather and I had a conversation while we were all playing a card game. it went something like this:

Grampy: You read a lot, don't you.
Me: yes.
Grampy: You ever read the Bible?
Me: No, I haven't.
Grampy: You've never read the Bible?
Me: No.


Grampy: I have a friend who taught sunday school for a long time and she could teach you about the Bible.

Me: Well, i'm in school, haha, and it's senior year and I've got a lot going on, so I don't think I'll have the time.

Grampy: It'd just be over e-mail.

Me: Oh Grampy, look, it's your turn to play.

That was it. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was out in the open, everyone knew about it. In hindsight, as I said, I wish I had dealt with the initial announcement better but I just kind of dealt with it like ripping off a band-aid which, upon reflection, is how I deal with everything, but that's not how I should deal with a situation like this. Judaism is so important to me, I feel I should have given it more time for discussion. However, when my family (or anyone, really) asks me questions about Judaism and my choices, I'm more than happy to answer them, to the best of my ability anyway.

So there you have it! That is my experience telling my family that I converting to Judaism. I could have done it better, but at least I did it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur was on Saturday. I had decided to fast for the first time in my life, and was pretty freaked. I had been advised, as a way to prep for the fast, to eat a big meal before the fast starts. Sadly, I didn't prep for that as much as I could have. I ate, but I wasn't totally full, and I ate too early. In the long run, I don't know that it made too much of a difference, but I still felt I should have prepared better.
Saturday was difficult, but not nearly as hard as I imagined it would be. Throughout the day, hunger would hit me in waves. I was thinking a fast would be a day of constant hunger in which you tried to distract yourself with prayer but I happily discovered it was quite the opposite- It was a day of prayer interrupted, every now and again, by annoying hunger pains. Most of the day was almost pleasurable. There was a lot of intense praying, which felt wonderful. There are few things in this world quite like sitting in a Synagogue and just praying.
The services themselves were intense. We remembered all those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. It was a day of atonement as well as a day of remembering the suffering of those who came before us. It was then that it really hit me, as it hadn't before. As I was sitting there, hungry, as millions of human beings were in the concentration camps, I better understood their suffering. Let me get something straight right now; I am in NO WAY equating a day of fast and atonement to the suffering felt in the concentration camps, it was just at that moment, I understood. I have been blessed in my life to have never known true hunger. There, I felt hunger. I understood.

It got really difficult at about 5 pm. This was it- the home stretch. I tried to distract myself with prayer, but I had prayed so much that morning that it was difficult. Eventually I just succumbed. At about 6pm I stopped actively praying and thought longingly about the fast being over. I wasn't even so much hungry as I was weak and I wanted it to be over. I had taken myself out of the day.
I came back when it was the choir's turn to sing. We were 45 minutes from the end of the fast and I, along with my choir members, went back onto the Bimah and squished together and we sang. It was so beautiful. The music moved me in a way I hadn't felt in a long time. It felt amazing to be singing with the choir again, something that (before this High Holiday Season) I hadn't experienced in a long time. In that synagogue, surrounded by Judaism and Hebrew and beautiful music, I just kept thinking “I am home.”
While on the Bimah, I was starting to get shaky and focused on not passing out. I didn't think I would, but I didn't want to get to that point. We finished singing, we sat down. The fast was ending, it was time for the Havdallah service. They turned off the lights in the sanctuary and lit the candle. It was so moving. I sat in a room full of people, weak after fasting, watching the candlelight. I felt unbelievably blessed to have been a part of this. I felt blessed that I was in good enough heath that I could fast, blessed that I was there, at that synagogue, actively participating. I was drained and emotionally exhausted and running on adrenaline at the same time. It was one of the most intense moments of my life, that whole day was. Havdallah ended and the Shofar was blown one last time, signaling the end of Yom Kippur. I had done it. I had made it. I wish I could better describe that feeling. I wish I could better describe that day, but I can't. And maybe I’m not supposed to.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shana Tova!

I realize I haven’t written anything here in about two weeks. I’ve been meaning to, but I have been busy. Expect that a lot. Sorry. I wish I could say I was better about blogging/writing in general but I can’t. Anyway, let’s get to the main event:

Rosh Hashanah

      Thursday I got up and out of the house later than I had planned, I lost my metro card and had to spend another 30 bucks (there goes my savings), the trains were acting funky and I had to get off one and on another and I got to the synagogue and showed my ticket, went upstairs, and sighed. In front of me were at least 100 people, most wearing Kippot and Prayer shawls. The Rabbi, Cantor and I believe the former presidents of the synagogue were walking with the Torahs and I smiled. I was home. I quietly sat down and watched the service. I still didn’t know what they were saying most of the time, as I don’t speak Hebrew, but I was fine with that this time around. I sat and I watched, and I listened and I took it all in. I experienced it as an outsider, yes, yet I had never felt less like an outsider in a Synagogue. Though I didn’t sing with the congregation, as I didn’t know the words or the songs, I still felt a part of what was going on around me.
       When it was the choir’s turn to sing, we all gathered around the podium on the Bima and we started singing. It felt so good to be singing in a choir again. I have always been a choir girl and it always brought me such joy, but I hadn’t been in a choir for a couple of years and I missed it. But here I was- singing in my high soprano register that I had not properly used in a long time (I had been working on developing my chest voice and Broadway-sound the last few years and sadly haven’t had much of a chance to sing in my soprano range). By this point of the day the sun had moved and it was shining through the stained glass windows and it was so beautiful and I was so happy I almost cried. It was such an amazing feeling.
          I talked to one of my fellow choir members who told me that she had recently converted and gave me the information about the course. Apparently, for conversion I don’t go through a specific synagogue but “The Center for Conversion to Judaism.” Yeah, there’s a center specifically for conversion.

            Before Rosh Hashanah I was kind of freaking out. Well, more than kind of. It occurred to me that I was actually going to start the conversion process. Here it was, after four years (at least) of planning for and waiting, I was plunging headfirst (as is my style) into the biggest, most life-changing event of my life and so, of course, I freaked out. Conversion is supposed to be a year of intensive study. What if it takes up all my time and I can’t pursue anything else (I’m also an aspiring singer/actress, like everyone else in New York City)? Will I have time to do both, or will I have to sacrifice one for the other? Could I really pick one, if it came to that?

            Needless to say, I blew things just a wee bit out of proportion (as is also my style). Then I just dialed it back, and I talked to my friend who had given me the info on the Conversion center. She said that the class was one hour, one night a week. I calmed down. That was completely doable. I didn’t have to give up my entire life to convert. However, I’ve never converted before, so it may turn out to be more than I bargained for, or take more time than I planned for, and if that’s the case, I’ll adjust accordingly, but why freak out now? As the old saying goes “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Something I have to remind myself at least once a week.

            I live with passion. I throw myself into everything I do. I’m either 110% in something, or I’m not in it at all. In a lot of ways that’s a good thing, but it makes life difficult in situations like this where my love and my attention is somewhat divided and I want to throw myself 110% into multiple things at the same time. But I freak out for a little while, and then I calm down and figure it out and everything goes back to normal.

            I’m also going to fast for Yom Kippur this year. I’m nervous, truth be told, because I’ve never fasted before. I don’t do well not eating. I get shaky and spacey and nauseous and I will be standing on the Bima singing for who knows how long. What if I faint, or get sick? And here again, I was worried about something that didn’t even happen yet. I talked to the Cantor and she said that, if it comes to that, if it gets really bad and I’m in danger of being sick, I can eat or drink something. The point of the fast, she said, is not to make yourself sick, but to use the absence of food and water to bring you to a higher level of prayer, in a sense, bring you closer to God (now, I might have misunderstood her, I am not meaning to put words in her mouth here, That’s just what I got from when we talked. If that’s not really how it is in Judaism, my apologies.) But it made me feel better.  

          I want to do something for God. Something in return. Every day I look around and where I am and what I’m doing and He has played a big part in that. He’s always there for me and I really want to do something for Him. I want to use this fast as a way of expressing my love and gratitude to God. And also because, as I’ve said before, if I’m in something, I will be 110% in it, or at least as in it as possible.

So that’s about where I’m at right now. It’s good. I’m happy. I’m emotionally pretty spent, because it’s been so up-and-down since I got here, but I am happy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Introduction to Judaism

Before I get much further in this blog, I want to talk a bit about my journey thus far. It’s been kind of crazy.

When I was in High School, I met this girl (we’ll call her Anne), she told me she was Jewish and therefore I thought she was the coolest person ever! When I was younger, the idea of conversion didn’t even occur to me, I didn’t even know it was an option. “Jewish” was just something I wished I could be, but wasn’t. Anne introduced me to prayers and really what Judaism was (or what we thought it was). I had gone to Shabbat services with her a few times at our one and only reform synagogue in Bellingham and also to her friend’s house. I’m not sure how she knew this family, but they were Messianic Jews, and I went to a few Friday night dinners at their house. We would watch a movie about the New Testament and have a Shabbat dinner where we said a blessing to Yeshua (Jesus). Needless to say, it felt very weird to me. But I went a few times because it had some tie to Judaism, which I craved.

My freshman year of college, Anne introduced me to the Rabbi with WWU, through the Chabad organization. Anne told this Rabbi that I was Jewish, just as she had been telling me for years (one of the reasons I loved hanging out with her. She assured me that I was, in fact, Jewish, even though I wasn’t. I wanted to believe her.). Everything went fine that year; I went to services every Friday night and loved it. Here it was – a real Shabbat service, Here was Hebrew and Gefilte fish and Challah! I loved every minute.
 I remember in October Rabbi asked me who in my family was Jewish. He asked if my parents were and I said no. he asked about grandparents, and again I said no. Later that spring (2007), the idea of conversion finally came into my head. This was something that I could do! No, this was something that I was GOING to do. I was going to convert.
I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this, Anne had recently joined the Army and had left home, and I didn’t have any other Jewish friends so I went to the Rabbi’s wife, the Rebbetzin. I asked her what to do about conversion. She said that they don’t really encourage it, and after all I was only 19, why don’t I wait a few years and then re-evaluate things. She said they believed that I was born not-Jewish for a reason.
I took in everything, it all sounded fine to me. After all, I was only 19 and I had just started college. I was fine waiting because I knew I would convert one day. If it wasn’t right then, well that was fine.
Then I asked her if I could still keep coming to Shabbat, even though I’m not Jewish. She said “Yes, of course. You will always be welcome in our home.”

Less than a week later I got an e-mail from the Rabbi. He said that we needed to have a conversation and I can’t go back to Shabbat until we have this conversation. I was shocked, but agreed to have this conversation. I tried to set up a time to talk. He said that his wife was in New York and we couldn’t have this conversation till she got back. In the mean time, I could not come to Chabad. So I waited until I knew the Rebbetzin was home, and tried again. Well, he said, the High Holy Days were coming up and he was extremely busy and we’d have to wait till after they were over. I sent him e-mails. I called about once a week (I didn’t want to bother him too much). Nothing. He never got back to me; he kept pushing me off until finally I gave up. I was in my sophomore year of college and up to my eyeballs in work, so I stopped calling.

I didn’t go to Shabbat for two years.

My senior year of college I moved in with three Jewish women who all went to Chabad. I told them my story and they offered insight. As they had all been going to Shabbat for the past few years, they found out what happened. They told me that since my friend Anne told the Rabbi I was Jewish, when he found out that I wasn’t, he thought that I had lied to him and that’s why he wouldn’t let me come back. However, I was friends with one of the other girls who told the Rabbi and Rebbetzin that, if there had been a miscommunication, it was a mistake; I surely wouldn’t lie to them. Basically, she vouched for me. The Rebbetzin believed her but the Rabbi still wouldn’t let me come back.      
My senior year we had another Rabbi come to WWU. I started going back to Shabbat and I made sure that new Rabbi and his wife knew that I wasn’t Jewish, right from the get go, so there was no confusion, so there wouldn’t be a repeat of my freshman year.

Though I gave up on the idea of going to Shabbat for those two years, I didn’t give up on the idea of Judaism. I checked out other religions. I went to a few catholic and protestant services. I sat in on a Pagan service. I looked, I did my research. Nothing felt the way Judaism feels to me.

So there it is; the whole sad, sorry tale. And I’m still here. I’m still converting.