After months of studying, attending temple on a regular basis, exploring the Jewish holidays, and seven anxiety-laden essay questions, I stood in the Children’s Library of an unfamiliar synagogue. Keeping my 20-month-old daughter entertained was a welcome reprieve from the nervousness that left me biting my lip as I waited for my turn with the beit din (rabbinic court).
It was a meeting with my converting rabbi, the director of Jewish education from our own temple, as well as one of the rabbis of the temple I stood in. Despite the reassurances that once we Jews-to-be made it this far, there was little to be concerned about, I found myself reading Clifford and varying Shabbat-themed children’s books with an amount of focus not usually given to picture books by a woman in her 20s—even if said picture books were a largely futile attempt to entertain a toddler who had woken too early that morning and desperately wanted to go outside.
Finally, my husband was done with his meeting with the beit din, and I handed our daughter to him and settled in on the couch. He took her back down the hall, and I tried not to be overcome with nerves. I was asked about my story, how I came to Judaism, our plans for our daughter, and my experiences, among other things, within Judaism so far.
My husband was introduced to Judaism years ago after speaking to a man he met on a religious debate forum, a former Methodist minister-turned-Jew. They discussed and debated things within Judaism and ultimately, my husband decided that some day, he intended to convert.
A few years later, we met and began dating, and that same man, now my husband’s best friend, was the best man at our wedding. Throughout our time of dating, engagement, and finally marriage, we had spoken about Judaism, and I had read resources he directed me to, as well as doing research on my own. I found Judaism lined up more and more with the beliefs I already had; I just didn’t know they were aligned with an already existing religion.
I had enjoyed my faith community as a child. I always believed in a higher power, whatever He/She/It may be, but the Christianity I was raised in had, over the course of my adolescence and young adulthood, become less and less of a fit, more and more prickly to associate with, and completely filled with logical fallacies that my mind couldn’t let go of.
After an initial attempt in 2010 to attend Judaism 101 (a prerequisite to conversion) that was derailed by our busy lives, we signed up for Judaism 101 again in 2014. And this time we managed to stick it out and complete the course. And all of those bread crumbs had led me to sitting in the rabbi’s office, surrounded by three people who were definitely better versed in Judaism than myself, explaining my story.
We spoke of how I want my daughter (and any younger siblings that may one day occur) to grow up in a faith community with a support system, but that I also wanted them to grow in a faith that encouraged living in this world and repairing the problems that affect so many of us, instead of living for a life after death that may or may not exist (that’s a debate they’ll have to hash out for themselves one day). I want them to have a relationship with God, but I also want them to be able to argue and question and find God for themselves, not simply take the version that is given. I want my children to grow in a rich tradition that loves them for who they are and could be.
I discussed the somewhat overwhelming prospect of creating traditions where there are none. Unlike most Jews, my husband and I and our children don’t have a “way it’s always been done.” We have to research and think and debate and pray and find what fits for us.
This year for Passover, we attended our temple’s seder, and that was it. Next year, I hope to attempt hosting at least one night’s seder at home, utilizing the Gateways haggadah I won this year from Kveller.
It’s a process with trials and errors, for sure. So imagine my surprise when the rabbi spoke of how he is always impressed by converts because of the way we have to really put effort into the rituals; we have to create them, learn them, and utilize them. We can’t fall back on “the way it’s always been done.” We can’t use our Bubbe’s recipe for challah. We can’t use the same seder plate that has been used by our family for 100 years. Because it just doesn’t exist.
It is a journey that we as a family are happy to be on together. We will explore the various facets of Judaism and find what works for us. I think it will be a lot of fun.