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Feb 7 2013

I’ve Got a Bad Case of Conversion Envy

By at 3:28 pm

Recently, I watched three people from my conversion class become full members of the Jewish tribe. It was an intensely moving, yet brief ceremony, which took place on the bimah.

Now, I’m a bit of sap when it comes to ceremonies. I’m the type that needs tissues at graduations, bar mitzvahs, and weddings. But when it comes to the conversion ceremonies, I simply want it to be my turn. I have been suffering from conversion envy since I first heard that someone in our class had converted. I am a bit of a conversion junkie… I want to know all of the details from the Beit Din to the mikvah.  (My two friends recently gave me a great mikvah tip– bring a towel!  One of them forgot hers, so they had this great bonding moment where they shared one between them.)

My own conversion journey started in October 2011 when I heard the news that Gilad Shalit had been freed from Hamas militants after five years of captivity. I had gone to synagogues as a child with a friend, but something told me to go to synagogue in celebration of this joyous occasion the night I heard the news. The closest one to my work was Orthodox and I was more than a little nervous to show up uninvited. Before leaving work, I did a quick search on what to wear and then dropped by a store to pick up a long skirt. Upon entering the synagogue, a woman asked if I was new. I must have stood out like a sore thumb. I answered yes, explaining that I had recently learned of Jewish heritage in my family and would like to attend services. The woman introduced me to the rabbi who was very kind and later called out the prayer book page in English during the ceremony for me to follow along. There was something very soothing about the rhythm of Hebrew and the cantor singing.

After learning of my own Jewish ancestry, I did some digging to find that my husband’s name was Sephardic in origin. It had always been important to me to find a religion where my agnostic husband felt as much at home as I did. After learning that his name was Jewish, he also wanted to learn more about Judaism. We signed up for the introductory class for conversion at a Reform synagogue in January 2012. The course requirements ranged from attending weekly classes, going to services, and celebrating one event for each Jewish holiday during a calendar year. My husband knew that I was serious about converting when he realized that I’d agreed to get up early on Saturdays for an entire year. The synagogue offered free daycare services for our daughters, now 4 and 6, while we were in conversion classes. It didn’t take long for our girls to make some wonderful friends.  Soon, we started to celebrate Shabbat at home when we couldn’t make it to service on Friday nights.

After a year into this journey, Judaism is home and I feel anxious to get the rest of the official steps out of the way to claim my membership in the tribe. There are a couple of mandatory pre-cursor steps left for me to do, including make an appointment with a counselor to talk about my conversion and finish the written tests–a Hebrew test and another personal one entailing what make my views Jewish in nature.

I joked with my husband that it should be called the “Are you up to snuff?” test.  I know it can be sent back if your answers are not complete enough, but the Type A personality in me wants to ace it the first time.

I have to admit to some sadness about no longer being in class and feeling part of a special group. We have been lucky enough to make wonderful friends along the way. One Friday night, another couple invited us to their house for dinner. We had the best of going to services, but we talked so long that we missed the beginning of services, so we celebrated Shabbat at their house. Conversion classes have helped us to settle into a new area and make friends with similar beliefs, having moved from Europe to Texas the year before we started class. There is a slight sense of trepidation when you realize that the rest of your Jewish learning is up to you and that you won’t have a class full of friends to keep you company.

At the reception after the ceremony, two of our three rabbis asked me if I was next. I hope so!  I know that there are people who finished the course last spring who have not converted yet and I know it isn’t a race, but it’s something that I just innately know that I need to do.  I want to hear those questions asked of me, because I’m ready to give my answers


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