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.