Ten years ago this weekend, I converted to Judaism. When I started the year-long series of conversion classes back in 2000, I realized that what the religion taught was what I’d believed my entire life. Among the highlights for me: there is not concept of original sin (that came from the Greeks), and for forgiveness, only the wronged party can give that.
I moved to England at the point where I would have undergone the conversion had I stayed. When I returned to the US two years later, I made an appointment with the rabbi to talk about taking the final step. This was the first rabbi I ever met, part of my first synagogue experience. She was incredibly supportive of my decision and thought I was ready. I told her I was disappointed not to be turned away a few times, as is tradition. She said that maintaining my practice without a community while in England showed that I’d had plenty of forces figuratively turning me away.
The final steps of my conversion involved a trip to LA for a meeting with a rabbinical panel and, if I passed, the ritual bath. I was told I could bring a friend for support, and there was only one person that it dawned on me to take. While not Jewish, he is incredibly familiar with the faith. He immediately accepted.
On the trip up, I was nervous, not because I questioned my decision, but because there was going to be a test! To be accepted into the faith, I had to pass a beit din: a panel of three rabbis, referred to by my conversion class (not loud enough for the rabbi to hear) as the “rabbinical inquisition.” What if I hadn’t studied enough? What if they said no?
Despite my nerves, I still remember the experience well, albeit surreal and incredible. My first answer to many questions seemed to be “I don’t know,” but then I talked it out. They seemed impressed overall. The rabbis were all retired and in their 70s and 80s. One slept on and off throughout the panel.
There was one poignant point when I was asked if I had ever met a Holocaust survivor. I explained that there was a survivor as a member of my congregation, but I’d never actually met her. One of the rabbis informed me that I had met a survivor, and one of the member of my panel rolled up his shirt sleeve to show the tattoo.
Towards the end of our time together, one rabbi said, “For three years you have been following the Jewish teachings. Why not keep doing that instead of converting?” I immediately volunteered the answer: Part of what drew me to the faith was the community. Following the Jewish teachings is not the same as being Jewish. I didn’t want it to do it part way.
I was laughing to myself as they kept asking me questions while not so secretly signing off on my paperwork. That piece of paper and the ritual bath I then took (another blog post) were the official certification of my acceptance into the faith.
While the way I practice now is different from then, I have never once regretted my choice. I think the wait helped to better prepare.
Have you ever been more secure in a decision after having to wait? or What have you been introduced to later in life that felt immediately like a perfect fit?
2 thoughts on “Jewish Conversion Story”
Congratulations on your anniversary. Is that the right word, I wonder. Congratulations? Blessings? Hugs? In faith? In spirit? In any event, I was so interested in this post and saw a side to you I didn’t know about. I’ve gone from being raised a Catholic in a very devout Catholic family, going to Catholic schools and Mass twice a week, to converting to Mormonism when I was 19 and living that faith for 25 years, to now being more Eastern in thought and spirit but appreciating the alchemy of all of my spiritual journey and questions and strivings coming together into its own peaceful mix. I respect very many tenets of the Jewish faith and applaud your courage and tenacity in that change.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Barbara. As you have seen on here, I’ve always been interested in the Mormon faith – I took a vacation to Salt Lake City! Although the belief system is not my own, I’ve always been impressed by the community they have created.
You have had an interesting spiritual path. May wherever it leads bring you happiness and contentment.