My husband was brought up basically without any religion. I grew up very Catholic. My mother-in-law converted to Judaism several years before we met. Hubby doesn’t take her conversion or any religion seriously.
Here’s the deal, I desire very much to convert to Judaism myself. I’ve finally found a religion that really speaks to me. Problem is I know my husband will not only be shocked…he won’t support me in this. What do I do? How do I approach this?
Here are a few things that often require “support”:
1. Paying off a mortgage or student loans
2. Maintaining ground troops in a prolonged war
3. Getting sober
5. Keeping your boobs above your ankles
Here are a few things you don’t need support for. Or permission. Or even a thumbs up of encouragement:
1. Feeling beautiful, sexy, or powerful
2. Redefining your goals and desires
3. Mistakes, victories, and seeing that they’re one and the same
4. Growing tomatoes
5. Choosing a religion
Jewess, I am so impressed that you have found a religion that speaks to you. That is something few people get to say in their lifetimes. And in my humble opinion, you are joining a great lineage of noble, strong, sensuous Jewesses. (Have you gotten to the Esther story yet? She’s the real deal.)
So here’s my question for you: Why do you need your husband’s support to make this decision? Your faith is your faith, no one else’s. It doesn’t have to follow a certain doctrine or look good in pleated khaki’s or translate into someone else’s definitive language. In fact, faith is truest when it’s raw and full of holes and questions.
Let me tell you a little story about a wee Gefilte, who prayed and prayed and prayed. She recited the Shema and the Kaddish; she prayed for her daddy to get alive again and for the traffic light to turn green, and she prayed that she could be the skinniest, most Jewish gefilte in the jar. If anyone caught her praying, she had to start over again, because she thought it was only sacred if it was secret. She never could let anyone see her pray. So sometimes she hid her prayers behind a napkin, and lots of times she locked herself in the bathroom, and one time she even ran away from home to pray in a pile of soggy leaves behind the synagogue.
This wee Gefilte went off to college. There she met a lot of carp, some flounder, and a few sea urchins (most of them listened to Phil Collins and were in love with her roommate). Her roommate had a life-sized wall hanging of Jesus. She asked Gefilte why she shut the door so tightly and whispered prayers into the night. She asked Gefilte did Jews believe in a Messiah, and if so, when was s/he coming? She asked Gefilte what her favorite psalm was, and who named it the Old Testament and the New Testament, and did she believe in heaven, hell, or Amy Grant?
Gefilte really liked her roommate, but she didn’t have any answers for her. Gefilte was really great at memorizing and reciting her prayers, but it was a little like how she knew the periodic table and all the presidents in order, but couldn’t tell you which was an acid, base, or pulled us out of Vietnam.
Gefilte didn’t have a religion that spoke to her; she had a set of rules and regulations that kept her scared and alone.
And that’s when Gefilte started thinking about what faith could be.
I like this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.
A few years (and anti-obsessive medications) later, this same Gefilte had a different idea of what Judaism meant to her. She wasn’t thoroughly versed in Tanakh (the bible) or going to temple regularly, but she felt like she knew what she loved about her chosen religion. It wasn’t nameable–it was somewhere between the aching chords of Avinu Malkeinu and the sprigs of dill in her mom’s matzah balls. It was in the quiet moments that she could now find at night, just trusting, without pleading.
And then, Gefilte met a Meatball. A Meatball who really liked to dance and drink root beer. A Meatball who wrote a rap for Gefilte, and brought her purple flowers, and said maybe she could be his gal for always.
Except that Meatball didn’t believe in God.
And Gefilte didn’t know how to explain that there had to be a God. An infinitely loving and compassionate entity. Not human. Not superhuman. Too big and magnificent to define or describe. A Higher Power whom Gefilte believed in with all her herbs.
Meatball said, you can think whatever you want. I guess what I believe in is bacon and love.
Jewess-in-Training, I hope you see how our stories intersect. I married that Meatball under a chuppah with a non-denominational minister. We both stamped on the glass, and I’m pretty sure cocktail hour included something treyf (non-kosher). We light Shabbat candles together. We listen to Buddhist podcasts together. Every morning he watches our tiny fish sticks while I meditate and pray–mostly words I’m making up as I go along.
But when I want to go to synagogue and feel Avinu Malkeinu rock me, I go alone. It’s hard, but it also helps me define what is important to me about my faith. It’s made me really think about what parts of the Passover seder I need to include, and why a grateful list feels just as important as blessings over grape juice. It’s made me think about the words I need to say, and hear, and taste, and share.
Please, J-I-T, be fervent and faithful. Be brave and true.
You don’t need your husband to support your beliefs. You just need to trust that you’ll grow into your new selves side by side.
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might just get an answer.