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Jul 10 2014

So You’re Thinking of Converting Your Child

By at 3:54 pm

mikveh

I’m a Jew-by-choice. But my conversion to Judaism wasn’t voluntary. When I was about 4 or 5, my Catholic parents converted and took me and my siblings along with them.

I don’t have a great recollection of the process. I vaguely remember the mikveh, which just seemed like a trip to the pool. I remember standing in front of the congregation as our conversion was announced. But that’s about it.

But while I don’t really remember the conversion itself, my experiences growing up as a converted Jew were instructive. Indeed, considering every adult should be free to choose his or her own religious path, choosing to alter your child’s path requires additional consideration. Here are some things to consider before converting your children. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 25 2014

When It Comes to Food, Southerners & Israelis Have a Lot in Common

By at 3:51 pm

spices

I am a southerner. My husband is an Isreali. On the outset, many people think it is a strange pairing, but in fact, our backgrounds share much in common. We are both from communities made up of tenacious people of faith whose circumstances inspire ingenuity and who are intensely tied to the land.

I was not raised Jewish, but my spiritual journey to Judaism began long before I met my husband. I converted on my own terms, yet my decision to go kosher was one that was venturing into a new and frightening territory. It was encroaching on the little piece of home that I had left, my kitchen.

Living in New York, most Jewish food is of the Ashkenazi fare. Either sweet or salty, it often tasted bland to my palate, and completely foreign to me. I never had a vegetable that wasn’t cooked in bacon grease until I moved here. Nor would I believe you, if you had told me I would never go to another crawfish boil again. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 10 2014

When One Daughter is Jewish and the Other is Not

By at 10:40 am

one-Jewish-child

A lot has changed since I had my first child: I got divorced, converted to Judaism, and most recently, got re-married. My wife is also Jewish. We have a daughter together who is Jewish, and she is being raised Jewish. So far, so good, right?

But this is my second marriage and I have a fabulous daughter from my first marriage. While I do share custody with my ex-husband, my first daughter lives with me the majority of the time. And she is not Jewish.

When converting, I did a lot of reading about the commitment as a Jewish parent of raising your children to be observant Jews. You teach them or you have them taught at religious school about the history, the culture, and the religion of Judaism. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 18 2014

My Conversion Prayers Were Answered Through An Orthodox A Cappella Group

By at 10:16 am

concert-Kol-Shira

I love music. I’ve been singing all my life. I belted out an elaborate rendition of “Old Macdonald” in my yellow bathing suit for the cable guy when I was 3 and sang on stage throughout adolescence and college. So much of my life has been set to music; every year a different show, a different song. It is how I built an inner confidence and poise. I have always felt that my voice was one of the things that brought me closest to God. A gift I was blessed with and never took for granted.

But marriage and careers and babies and more babies made it very hard to fit singing into my life.

I remember the first time I set foot in a temple for services. While it was a Reform congregation, the service and songs were primarily in Hebrew. Everything felt foreign to me. I knew that Judaism was calling to me but in that moment I couldn’t hear it. I felt lost, confused and disconnected. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 10 2014

Can a Christian Mother Raise a Jewish Child? Yes, but It’s Complicated.

By at 10:21 am

challah-interfaith

During a recent parent-teacher conference, I learned that my 8-year-old daughter Sophia was asked by a classmate at her Jewish day school, “So your dad is Jewish and your mom isn’t?” Sophia responded, “Yes.” The other child said, “You know if your mom’s not Jewish, then you aren’t either.” According to a teacher who overheard this conversation, Sophia responded, “It’s complicated,” and walked away.

When the teacher told me this story, my first reaction was anger at the other child and my second reaction was regret that Sophia hadn’t dished out a firm retort: “Yes I AM Jewish, I was converted by an Orthodox rabbi when I was a baby, and, by the way, it’s none of your business anyway!”

I could go on. But it would go south fast, as in, “And you go tell whatever parent or rabbi who taught you it was ok to question someone else’s religious identity to shove…”

OK, I admit it. I’m a little defensive…actually, more than a little. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 27 2014

Why I Am Choosing to Convert My Preschool Son

By at 10:19 am

why i'm converting my preschool son

When my husband and I met, he was Jewish. I was an absentee Catholic. Very early on, we agreed that we both wanted kids, and that they would be raised Jewish. At the time, I didn’t fully grasp what that meant.

Over the course of the next few years, I learned about Jewish traditions and culture. We had as Jewish of a wedding as a Jew and a non-Jew can have. When our son came along, my husband searched the Bay Area for a mohel who would ritually circumcise Sam. Since I was not Jewish and so neither was Sam, this was not an easy task. Finally, we found one and our son had his bris at home on his eighth day of life.

Sometime in the following few years, I decided to convert. My year of studying with the rabbi was one of the most important of my life. The rabbi said, “You’ll know you’re ready when you stop thinking of Jews as ‘them’ and think of it as ‘us’.” My studies, attending shul, searching my soul, and my time speaking with the rabbis gradually, over time, transformed me into a Jew. When the scheduler called with my date for the mikveh, I was as excited as I was about scheduling my wedding day. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 24 2013

How My Pregnancy Cravings Led to a Quasi-Conversion

By at 2:13 pm

moroccon food

When I was pregnant with my son, I knew he was going to have blond hair and blue grey eyes like my father. I knew he would take after my American side–rather than his Israeli father–because all the time I was pregnant, I craved pizza, hamburgers, and Coca-Cola.

I was not surprised when he was brought to me: a skinny old man with blue eyes and strawberry blond hair. I gave him a name my Israeli-Jewish husband approved of: Eitan. In America we would call him Ethan, a Puritan name, to reflect my own American Protestant roots. I called him Eitan ha katan because it rhymed. Ethan the little. When my son was 2 years old, we moved, for six months, to Israel.

Conversion to Judaism had never really been a question. My husband and I married just seven months after meeting and I knew I had no chance at an Orthodox conversion. According to Israeli law, I would never be Jewish, nor would our son. And anyway, my husband had grown up on a kibbutz. His childhood was largely secular. His own father had been rumored to eat sausage on Yom Kippur. When we’d lived on the kibbutz for those few months, my father-in-law took great pleasure in bringing me wrapped deli ham from the Russian butcher as a Friday night treat. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 10 2013

A Non-Jewish Surrogate Gave Birth To My Son, And Then We Held a Conversion Ceremony

By at 10:54 am

Boy under waterThanks to a New York Times article, there was quite a bit of discussion last week about whether a baby conceived with a non-Jewish egg donor but carried and raised by a Jewish women is considered Jewish.  And here on Kveller, Jordana Horn eloquently proposed that rather than question the identity of such a baby, we should embrace this child into Jewish life, with which I wholeheartedly agree.  As long as any child or family considers itself Jewish and lives accordingly, should it matter what a small group of Rabbis declares is that child’s identity?  No, of course not.

That said, two weeks ago my husband and I took our four-year-old son to the mikveh to complete his conversion.

Our younger son S. was born through gestational surrogacy.  He is 100% biologically our child but was carried by another women, in our case a non-Jewish woman.

My husband and I have no doubt S. is Jewish.  Neither does S.  He sang the Ma Nishtanah at our Seder, sings Shalom Aleichem each Shabbat, and will spontaneously burst into Adon Olam, to the tune of Call Me Maybe, while playing with Legos.  But because of the circumstances of his birth, there are those who might question whether S. is indeed Jewish. Read the rest of this entry →

May 14 2013

The Book of Ruth–A Story Close to this Convert’s Heart

By at 9:41 am
ruth and naomi book of ruth

Ruth clings to Naomi.

Conversion to Judaism is a profound thing. Stepping into the ritual waters has a ripple effect on everyone close to you, for better or worse.

My decision to convert was met with long blank stares masking mountains of internal dialogue. Many people inconsequentially convert to religions within Christianity, but for someone who was raised Christian to convert to Judaism is by definition a rejection. Rejecting that the Messiah has come can be interpreted as a dismissal of the morals and lessons you once lived, and in many cases a rejection of those who raised you. It can also be seen as a choice that was made that wasn’t entirely your own. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 18 2013

Explaining to My Son Why Some People Don’t Think I’m Jewish

By at 11:48 am

hippo cartoonLast week when I was at the JCC, I saw a girl I knew from our old Ultra Orthodox community. Not thinking twice about it, I took the boys over to say hi. She saw us coming and walked toward us smiling as she called the boys’ names and they rushed to her, waving hello and with arms flung wide, and gave her a big hug.

“Long time no see!” I said, suddenly remembering that the last time she’d seen me my hair was covered in a scarf and my legs with a skirt. I wondered, not able to do much about it, if she would feel weird about talking to me now. Read the rest of this entry →

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