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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 →

Feb 5 2013

Time to Start Planning My 4th Grader’s Bat Mitzvah

By at 11:50 am

My daughter is in fourth grade, and believe it or not, it’s actually time to start thinking about her bat mitzvah.

When I was pregnant with her, I couldn’t fathom how she’d be able to have any kind of clear religious identity. Wouldn’t she feel torn between her Jewish father and my own hard-to-describe-but-still-incredibly-important-to-me spiritual beliefs? She was the springboard for me to learn about Judaism in the first place. And it feels like it was just the other day that I realized she thought of herself as Jewish the way she considered herself Irish. But because neither of us had converted, according to our Conservative synagogue, she wasn’t Jewish. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 18 2012

My Rabbi Outed My Conversion on Facebook

By at 9:34 am

I have lost a couple of friends over my conversion to Judaism.

At least, it seems to be the reason after I mentioned in passing that my husband and I were going to start conversion classes. The next thing I know, none of my repeated phone calls get returned and they are no longer my friends on Facebook. No other reason could possibly make sense, because we hadn’t had a fight or falling out.

The other most common reaction when people learn I’m converting to Judaism is to invite me to a Christian bible study. Now, this reaction may be more common here in the Bible Belt, but it still strikes me as odd. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 29 2012

Bikini Line Grooming & Other Conversion Questions

By at 2:15 pm

As a candidate in a conversion class at my local Reform synagogue, who can I ask the pertinent questions?

I’m not talking about which prayer to say over challah, either. They give us plenty of books, and I can always head to Kveller when I’m in need of the day-to-day questions. I’m talking about the really personal questions, like, “Are you supposed to shave your hoohah before the mikvah?” because I definitely can’t ask my rabbi in the middle of class with 20 other candidates on a Saturday morning.

I’m by no means shy… but asking a rabbi about shaving my nether regions is even beyond me. I don’t want to be known at synagogue as the one who asked the hoohah question.

A friend of mine who I met in the conversion class said she once asked her Jewish stepmother if she could use her seder plate as a Thanksgiving hors d’oerves tray. The answer was yes, but she felt so weird about it that she decided to use another platter instead. I once got brave and asked in class why Jewish people binded things to their heads and hands. The reaction I got was, “I’m a Reform Jew, so I don’t have to do that…” which is fine, but it didn’t answer why some choose to do it (or not).

My European husband and I are vegetarians, as if being über liberal and converting to Judaism didn’t alienate us enough while living in a small town in south Texas, both heavily Republican and Christian in nature (not that there is anything wrong with that, to quote the wonderful Jerry Seinfeld). I can’t help but wonder if we’re vegetarian, does that make our house automatically kosher or do we still need a blessing? I assume we’d need a blessing, but you feel silly asking. I would also assume that it can’t be done until the conversion is complete. Another topic yet to be brought up in class is kids. We have two young kids. If we convert, do they have to convert, too, or do they get into the tribe by proxy?

That’s the thing about being a Jew by Choice: we don’t grow up with the innate knowledge of how to do things, because we don’t see the people around us doing them. In my case, I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. It’s an extremely hard (and sometimes lonely) path when the faith of your birth is the wrong one for you. There is a delicate balance to finding your own way spiritually without pissing off your parents and extended family. My husband, Sephardic by genealogy, but agnostic in faith, can’t guide me, either.

Personally, I’d implement an “Adopt a Bubbe” program as an add-on for conversion candidates. It would give you a go-to person to get answers that you’d trust. However annoying or silly they may be to the person answering them, they are meaningful to the one posing them. At the same time, it would be also be nice to have someone to share Sabbath dinner with on occasion to make sure that you’re doing it right. I know we are told that you can’t do it a wrong way, but there are times it feels innately wrong to me.

Oct 18 2012

Explaining My Jewish Family to My Christian Parents

By at 2:30 pm

bride and groom figurines in front of ketubahWhen I was in middle school, I was lying on the couch one day reading a book when my dad walked through the living room. He asked if I’d done my study guide for a test I had the next day. I told him, “No,” as I continued reading and he asked if that was a smart idea. I said, half paying attention, that I would be fine. I failed the test.

When he asked about it later and I begrudgingly told him that the teacher surely had it out for me, he said, almost to himself, “I wonder if you’d have failed if you studied.” Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 24 2012

Interview with Interesting Jews: Rabbi Heidi Hoover

By at 3:57 pm

rabbi heidi hoover interview on kveller.comRabbi Heidi Hoover is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr Progressive Shaari Zedek in Brooklyn, NY, but unlike most rabbis, Hoover grew up the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. We sat down with Rabbi Hoover to talk about her conversion, swapping clergy stories with her father, and why her Jewish kids believe in Santa Clause.

Do you and your dad ever bond about both being in the clergy, albeit different religions?

Yes! The day-to-day work of a member of the clergy has a lot of similarities across religions. When I was in rabbinical school he once called me to say, “I want to tell you about this committee meeting I just had, because you’re going to have to deal with stuff like this.” Another time he told me I’d inspired him to brush up on his Hebrew, and he called me once to say, “What do you think about [the word] chesed?” A couple of times I’ve called him for advice, in particular one time when I had to lead services in a very challenging situation.

(BTW, I love this question, and it’s not one I’ve been often asked.) Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 1 2012

Shiksa in the Mikveh

By at 9:45 am
mikvah jewish conversion

The ghetto mikvah.

Early on in my conversion study I remember sitting in bed reading one of many books on becoming a Jew-by-choice. I stopped mid-way through a passage and scanned back over the text once more. I turned to my husband and said, “Um, did you know that if I want to be Jewish I have to take a NAKED bath… IN FRONT OF PEOPLE!?” He laughed and said surely this was something only Orthodox women did, but the more I researched and spoke with my beit din (rabbinic court), it was confirmed. I had to take a naked bath if I wanted to join The Tribe.

The photo in Mayim’s recent post (which was wonderful, by the way) is what most literature will show you of a mikvah (ritual bath)–beautiful lighting, marble floors, and immaculate waters. A spa-like experience connecting you with your maker. The mikvah where I lived at the time came with an official rabbinical disclaimer of being “rough around the edges.” The Midwestern city we lived in, like many in America, had succumbed to urban sprawl and what was once was a vibrant Jewish neighborhood was now plagued with one-way routed streets to prevent drug trafficking. The mikvah was a small ritual bath in the back of a weathered home. Read the rest of this entry →

May 9 2012

Actually, I am Jewish, Even if You Don’t Agree

By at 2:02 pm

woman wearing star of david necklaceIt always comes up when I least expect it, inevitably catching me off guard. It’s an innocent question asked in the course of small talk at a party. It’s an observation made by our Irish-Catholic plumber as he is fixing our sink. It’s an article on the Huffington Post that I wasn’t expecting to see.

It’s the question of who is a Jew. And if you aren’t a Jew, who can make you one?

My family history is both common and uncommon, especially in the decades since the Holocaust. My father’s family is Jewish, but I’ll never know for sure about my mother. Her maternal grandfather was almost certainly Jewish, and there may be reason to believe that her maternal grandmother was as well, but persecution and fear in northern Italy during WWII resulted in well-guarded family secrets, most of which died with my grandmother. I’ll likely never know. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 10 2012

Yes, I Live in Nashville, and Yes, I am Jewish

By at 11:44 am
electrician

"You joosh?"

Time to hide the Jew stuff: the HVAC guys are coming. HVAC is pronounced H-V-A-C, by the way. I used to say “aytchvack,” thinking I sounded cool and handy, until a technician corrected me. I’ve checked online, and authorities are mixed, but I’m sticking with the letters.

We chose a huge maintenance firm based on the assumption it would give us peace of mind. Not with prices or guarantees, but with accountability via a hierarchy of supervisors. When we had dudes from small handyman services, I never knew what would happen. I could be preached to, “witnessed” at, or told I’m going to hell. Why? Because we live in Nashville and our house is Jewish.

Evidence is everywhere: e.g. books, seder plates, Hebrew puzzles, Ketubah (wedding contract, jumbo-size, gold letters) and whatever holiday project I might be in the middle of all scream Jewiness. If my husband is home, he’s the evidence himself, what with his Ashkenazic je-ne-sais-quois and Philly dipthongs. Sometimes, I’m glad when he is, so I don’t have to deal with the weirdness alone, but sometimes his presence is what triggers the weirdness. “Are you Joosh?” the tree man asked him, “’cause you sure look Joosh.” And so on. Read the rest of this entry →

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