Standing above the mikveh, I watched as my husband lowered our 4-year-old son into the water for his conversion.
“One. Two. Three. Go,” he whispers as my son’s eyes fix on his.
“That was fun, Mom,” he said, wet hair matted on his forehead, the mikveh’s waters dripping off his long, dark eyelashes.
My daughter, wrapped in a towel, squirms in my arms. She wants to go swimming again.
I pull her tight against me. The magnitude of this moment is lost on my children, but I will keep it for them. I will be the keeper of this memory.
So I close my eyes to concentrate on the words of the prayers. I soak in the experience, taking with me the sights and sounds and emotions of their conversion. Their first official day as Jews.
Fourteen years ago, during the first months of our relationship, my now husband and I had the difficult conversation about the future religion of our then hypothetical children. I was raised in an evangelical Christian home in the deep South. I had barely ventured outside the doors of my own small community church, much less learned about the details of other faiths.
At 19, I couldn’t have understood the commitment I was making by agreeing to raise children in the Jewish faith. In the years between then and now, through the days of growing our relationship, graduating college, our wedding day, our adventures in life, becoming parents, the difficult times, the happy milestones, I always kept that promise. I learned the beauty of Judaism and how it connected to my own faith. I learned how exploring another’s world can bring one closer to their own.
We built a Jewish home together. I learned how to bake challah and set the seder plate. I immersed myself in his culture and language during our year spent in Israel. I said the Hebrew prayers alongside him at synagogue and to our children before bedtime. We taught our children the meaning of their Judaism and celebrated it around every turn.
Today is the culmination of the promise I made 14 years ago as a teenager wildly in love and as a committed non-Jewish partner and mother during the years in between. Today is the culmination of our effort to build a Jewish home together, husband and wife, Jew and gentile. Today the community of Jewish and non-Jewish supporters we have surrounded ourselves with fill the sanctuary. Today I am ever more committed to that promise.
When we explained to our 4-year-old about the conversion process and what it meant for him and his baby sister, his mouth curled down in confusion.
“But I’m already Jewish. I guess this means I’ll be more Jewish then,” he concluded quite confidently. “Can I wear my swim goggles?” he asked next. He is still 4, after all.
That one statement sums up why I’ve grown to love his relationship with Judaism and trust God’ s plans for their lives. In the four and a half years I’ve been lucky enough to know this child he has proven over and over he truly does possess a Jewish soul.
He loves attending synagogue and asking our rabbi all the questions he has thought to ask since the last time we saw him. He takes pride in his Judaism, even though he knows it makes him different than most of his friends and family in our small Southern town. He politely (and sometimes quite unapologetically impolitely) refuses the pepperoni pizza offered at a friend’s birthday party. He shares his traditions with his preschool classmates with excited fervor. More often than I like to admit, he reminds us to help him say his blessings before meals and bedtime.
Today is just confirmation of his Jewishness, something he has known and felt all along. Something we couldn’t have denied even if we tried.
I will be the keeper of this memory. One of many more they will have growing in their Jewish identity during the years ahead.