Category Archives: Conversion Process

Posts about the process of my conversion to Judaism.

The Power of Doubt

One of the most powerful things for me during my conversion has been confronting doubt – not trying to stop doubting, but trying to learn to be okay with doubt, and to engage with doubt. It’s actually been one of the most freeing and the most frightening things I’ve ever done.

Doubt, in many of thquestion-mark-309085_1280e religious traditions I’ve been part of, is considered either sinful or the next thing to sin. It’s an indicator that you don’t have faith if you have doubt. For example, Thomas (one of Yeshua’s apostles) is vilified for his doubt – for saying “yeah, okay, you guys say he rose from the dead, but let me see the nail holes first before I believe that.” Being called a “Doubting Thomas” is an insult in Western society. We’re generally not good with doubt. Heck, just type “doubt” into a Google image search and you’ll find all kinds of images that put down, vilify, or reject doubt as a bad thing. It’s a hard habit to break – generally, Westerners (by which I mean Christians) aren’t good with ambiguity, which is where doubt resides. Let your yes be your yes and your no be your no. Let’s not have maybes, or possiblys – they make things more complicated and we don’t like complications.

Judaism, on the other hand, is pretty good with doubt. How do I know this? Because it’s good with debate, and debate doesn’t happen if the matter is settled, and the matter is only settled if nobody doubts the settlement. But look at the Talmud – the arguments of rabbis over the Law indicate that things are not, in fact, settled. They are up in the air!

In the same vein, today, a friend of a friend on Facebook shared this link:

Kids’ Questions are the Antidote to the Pew Study’s “Jewish No Religion” Category

One of the things that hit me hardest from this article was this part:

Once the conversation got underway, the campers’ questions came pouring forth. It was as if this were the first time they could ask these questions without feeling foolish (or worse). They asked questions like:

  • “If I’m not sure about God, should I still say the prayers?”
  • “If I don’t believe God takes care of the good and punishes the bad people, am I still a good Jew?”
  • “The Romans had
     so many gods, but Judaism teaches there is only one God. Why are we right and they are wrong?”
  • “My grandmother died too young but she was a really good person. Where was God?”

And I noticed that what was hitting me from these questions as a main theme was the doubt. The questions are all saying things about whether doubt is a valid thing for Jews to feel, to acknowledge, and – pardon me for saying so – to wrestle with. Is it okay for me to be unsure about God? Is it okay for me to feel like God isn’t doing the job that God is supposed to do? How do we know we’re right about God being One? And in the classic question Kushner addresses in When Bad Things Happen To Good People: My wonderful grandparent died too young – where was God when that happened? (That question is very close to one of my main reasons for exploring Judaism – where was God when my father died too young at 63?)

Fortunately, the campers were assured that yes, doubt is a perfectly valid thing to wrestle with and to feel, and it doesn’t make you less of a Jew, or a less-good Jew, to have doubts.

It is okay to doubt. That has been so very, very hard for me to wrap my mind around. More than a year ago now, I wrestled with this very thing in Doubt is the Handmaiden of Truth. I’ll just share the meditation from my best friend’s siddur that hit me so hard at that time.

MEDITATION

Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the handmaiden of truth. Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery. A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.

Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.

Let none fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief.

For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure. Those who would silence doubt are filled with fear; the house of their spirit is built on shifting sands.

But they that fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on a rock.

They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure.

Therefore, let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help: It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the handmaiden of truth.

The demand of “faith and no doubt” is inconsiderate, unrealistic, and unfair. But looking at this meditation again, I can see that in the year-plus since I last posted it, I’ve come to a détente with doubt. I’ve reached the point where I can now say, “I’m not sure about that – I don’t know the answer to that” and although it still makes me nervous, it doesn’t make me feel like the world is going to end if I don’t have an answer right this second.

And if doubt is okay, then by definition, disagreement is, too. I don’t have to be in lock-step with everyone else in order to be a good Jew. I don’t have to agree with anyone else’s perceptions or experiences of God to believe in God.

That is more freeing than I can ever say in words.

The power of doubt is that it allows us to question. The power of doubt is that it allows us to form our own bond with God, in whatever way that works for us – even if that way is sometimes doubting that God exists. The power of doubt is that it allows us to learn and grow and understand.

It’s a tool I was denied for many years. But I’m never giving it up again.

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I have this thing for counting days.

Both counting down and counting up. Heck, the little countdown widgets I had for graduating with my AA (in 2005), my BS (in 2007) and my MA (in 2008) are all still there on an ancient blog of mine, and they assure me that it’s been 10 years, 1 month, and 4 days since the AA; 8 years and 4 weeks since my BS; and 6 years and 7 months since my MA. (And, although I had no counter for it, the three-year anniversary of my dissertation defense – which I passed, thankyouverymuch – was just yesterday.

I’ve been counting up from my husband’s and my wedding day (255 days as of today!) as part of my daily gratitudes on my Facebook page.

And then, of course, there’s my beit din and mikveh date. The day I officially become a Jew.

Which, according to several online calculators, is 44 days from now. Or a month and 13 days, if you’d rather.

"MikvehAJU" by Valley2city - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

MikvehAJU” by Valley2cityOwn work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

So. What’s left to do in those 44 days, apart from working on my class preps and getting my classes ready to go on the Monday of that week?

I will be doing more Judaism-related reading than I have been able to do since the first few months I started keeping this blog. I still have books that I started but didn’t finish on my list of “books to read.” My beginning Hebrew group is meeting once a week on Wednesdays for a chavurah to keep ourselves in practice until our teacher gets back from her summer trip to Israel. My “second” class will be re-forming at the beginning of August when the rabbi gets back from his summer trip to Israel, too, and we’ll be done with that the day before I go to the mikveh.

I need to figure out what I’m comfortable with, in terms of what happens on The Day Itself. The mikveh couldn’t schedule me any earlier than four p.m. and my beit din is at 8:30 a.m. at our temple. The two places where these things are happening are about 40 miles or so apart. I am assuming that my husband, who is taking the day off from work (he’s a better driver than me, especially when it’s concerning Places I Don’t Know How To Get To), will drive me in the morning, and we will probably then go to lunch. I will shower and scrub down before we go to the mikveh, and then he will drive me there as well. My best friend will be with us for all of this.

I will also be having hatafat dam brit at a time close to the day, but not on the day, but that’s not something I’m going to write about further because that’s just a little too private for me. Sorry. If you want to know what that’s like, Michael at Chicago Carless should be able to settle your mind with this post. I feel it’s better to do it beforehand (even though it may be only a pinprick, I know how long it takes my fingers to stop bleeding when I jab them for my diabetes blood sugar tests, and I’d rather not take the risk of having that happen at the mikveh).

My rabbi will be my official mikveh witness. My husband and best friend will also be there, behind a screen, for my privacy. Nobody will see me naked; I will have a robe or sheet or something to cover myself between the prep room and the actual mikveh itself. I am trying to memorize the prayers, but I don’t know which one my rabbi will want me to say for immersion. There’s a specific one for converts to say, you see. I already know the Shema and the Shehecheyanu, so it’s only the one for immersion that I have to memorize before then. I’ll be emailing him as soon as he’s back from Israel.

I will not be having a simcha (party or celebration) as such, on the day – another Jewish friend of mine will be at a conference across the country at that time, and has asked me to delay it until he can get back. So we may combine a Labor Day picnic and my simcha, which is fine with me, frankly.

My best friend and her parents, whose Seder I’ve now attended twice with my husband, purchased the tallit I wanted. It’s at her house and waiting for me, but I won’t see it until the day of the beit din, and I’m okay with that. Our temple does not require the mikveh, but I want it, and I don’t know if I’ll really feel like a full Jew until I’ve done it, although I will probably put on my tallit at the temple after the beit din makes their decision. (I have heard a rumor that something more happens after the signing of all the papers.) I’ve memorized the blessing for putting on a tallit, too: Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav l’hitateif ba’tzitzit.

An Orthodox conversion is not in the cards for me, but after what I’ve gone through, this conversion should even be acceptable to a Conservative-stream synagogue. I hope. And frankly, today I realized that I don’t care what the Orthodox think. This article should explain why I think their claims to being the “original” stream of Judaism are pretty much bunkum: Orthodoxy’s Inconvenient Truths

In 44 days, I can say she’asani Israel and it will be not just spiritually accurate, but factually and legally accurate. I am looking forward to finally bringing my status as a Jew in line with my soul, which already is a Jew.

As for the husband, he has said he wants to go through HHDs once before converting, but he is going to talk to the rabbi about possibly going during the five days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. I am quite good with this, and I look forward to it. But I know that it’s up to him, and I’m not going to push.

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So, not that I’m counting or anything…

… but I’ll be a full-fledged Jew in 56 days and 3 hours. More or less.

Yeah. Words. I wish I had them, but I don’t. Not right now, anyway.

It’s been a long road to get here, but it’s my road.

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Hey, Pop Chassid – it’s not a “paradox.”

Today, I had to make a painful decision.

I stopped following Pop Chassid, who I’ve followed pretty much since I started this journey, and Hevria, the Jewish artistic magazine he started sometime this past year, because apparently Elad Nehorai can’t be bothered to consider me Jewish unless I convert Orthodox (which will happen around the same time the sun freezes over).

Oh, he tries. He says. He tries to understand that a person can be Jewish and yet not be Jewish all at the same time. He calls this a “paradox,” that non-Jews (by his estimation) can somehow have Jewish souls. He says he can’t call people like me non-Jewish anymore, but he can’t call us Jewish either. And that somehow he has to do both.

He recognizes that he can’t call people like me non-Jewish. And yet even after that he still retreats back to the same old, same old Orthodox claptrap and says “but I still wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.”

Despite his attempts to think it through, he still falls back on “My feelings about this haven’t changed.”

So at the end of it he says he will both consider people like me non-Jewish and Jewish at the same time.

Not good enough, Elad. Not good enough.

I’ll just quote Jonathan Byrd: “Admit that your perspective might feel right and be wrong.” Because it is.

It’s not a paradox. It’s a decision Elad has to make, and doesn’t want to, because no matter which way he goes he’s going to hurt someone’s feelings and/or offend someone.

But regardless of his struggle, I’m still Jewish, and I’m still a Jew. Either accept that or don’t, Elad, but don’t twist yourself into a pretzel saying that I both am, and am not, Jewish. Either be honest that you’re accepting a bigoted, closedminded, narrowminded definition of Jewish (“Orthodox only”), or open your mind and accept that I’m a Jew too.

(Oh, and by the way – the Reform movement of Judaism predates Orthodoxy.)

You can call it a paradox, but what it is, is justifying a bigoted mindset. It’s the same thing as the people saying “heritage not hate” about the Confederate flag. That heritage is hate. It’s the same thing as why Christianity has fractured into thousands of different sects – because of this “you have to be exactly like us or you’re not part of us” mindset.

Demanding that Jews must be Orthodox or else not be considered Jewish is no different.

Now, I shouldn’t care what one Orthodox blogger thinks of my Yiddishkeit. And mostly, I don’t care, any more than I care what fundamentalist Christians think of my gayness or atheists think of my religiosity. But when someone says that who I am is not real, because it makes them uncomfortable? Because it creates a “paradox” for them?

Then yes, I’m offended.

She’asani Israel, Elad, even if you don’t like it. She’asani Israel, even if you can’t handle it.

Pop Chassid has been, and is, a popular Judaism blog. He has a lot of followers. But his popularity does not make him right. So:

I categorically reject his questioning of my Jewish authenticity.

I categorically reject his defense of his decision not to consider me a Jew unless I’m Orthodox.

And I categorically reject his blog, his magazine, and his attitude, until he shows some evolution in this mindset and realizes that it’s not a paradox but only an attempt to protect his prejudices.

I have friends who are Orthodox who consider me Jewish. I have corresponded with an Orthodox person on Quora who told me that Orthodoxy isn’t for everyone, and he doesn’t consider me any less Jewish just because I’m Reform.

If they can do it, Elad Nehorai can do it too.

And until he does, I’m not reading his blog or his magazine any more, and I’m going to encourage others not to, either.

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That Family Question…

“How does your family feel about your conversion?”

I know it will get asked, but I’m going to have to answer the question with another question: what do you mean by “family”?

The word “family” is fraught, for me. It’s actually a negative word, for the most part. I’m the oldest of three boys. I rarely met any of my extended family when I was a kid. Basically, I knew my grandparents, my father’s sister, and my mother’s youngest aunt (my great-aunt) and her youngest brother. The rest of the family was theoretical. I knew they existed, but I didn’t know them. They were just names.

My father was the older of two kids. He and his sister were about two years apart. He was raised Methodist, and converted to Catholicism to marry my mother. His sister has no children (she’s been openly lesbian since before I was born).

My mother was the fourth of six kids. All of them grew up in an abusive home. My grandfather was an equal-opportunity pedophile, and we know for a fact that he abused all three of his daughters and at least one of his sons (and me, when I was a toddler and a preschooler). My grandmother divorced him as soon as my mother and father got married, and her youngest son lived with her while their other younger son lived with my grandfather.

My mother’s oldest sister died when my mother was thirteen. The next sister got married to a fundamentalist Christian man, moved to the Midwest with him, had ten children, and was clinically insane for most of her life. We met her and one of her daughters once when I was about sixteen or seventeen, and they were just very strange to everyone in our home. She’s since passed away.

Her older brother stayed with me and my two younger brothers as a house-sitter/babysitter once, when I was in my early teens. It was in the summer, while my parents went to a liturgical music conference in another state. He abused us all, physically and emotionally, during those three weeks. I think the last time I saw him was at a wedding twenty-some years ago.

I’ve met my mother’s younger brother once or twice, and her youngest brother was in the area but not usually around when I was growing up. He came to the occasional birthday party or Christmas dinner. I was part of his first wedding when I was eight or so, and I met his kids from that marriage, but they were ten to fifteen years younger than I was – not exactly playmates, if you get my drift.

So just starting with that, you can see I have a complicated relationship with the idea of “family.” Sure, I have cousins, but the word doesn’t really mean much to me. For the most part, family was where I got hurt a lot, and I left as soon as I could.

As for my family now, well…

My father is deceased, and has been for nearly six years. I know he would have approved of my conversion, but I have no way of proving that.

My mother and I have not spoken in probably three years, and I doubt we’ll ever speak again. She was seriously emotionally abusive to me when I was younger (and I’ve talked about that in these pages, more than once), so once I finally got strong enough to say “no more,” that meant no more.

I know for a fact she wouldn’t approve. First, she never approved of anything that made me happy, because it meant I wasn’t working on making her happy. Second, my mother is a woman of large hatreds. She was racist and sexist while I was growing up; I have no doubt that anti-Semitism is lurking in there somewhere too. (And yet, ironically, if I have Jewish ancestry, it’s probably through her father’s mother, who was Hungarian with the right kind of last name at the right time period. I haven’t been able to dig more out of ancestry.com anytime recently, though, and I’m considering 23andme just to see what they can find.)

So when it comes to my mother, she is bad for me, and I can’t risk contact with her, but I don’t know if the beit din will understand that. This is my big worry.

My next-younger brother and I have a similar problem as I have with my mother: we’ve been at odds for most of our lives, and if we were not blood-related, we’d probably never speak to each other. I see him post on Facebook occasionally, but he lives across the country and we don’t interact much. If you had to ask me what he thought of this, my answer would be “I don’t know.”

My uncle (my mother’s younger brother) is all for it. My youngest brother and his wife are all for it. My dad’s sister says that she knows my dad would have approved. My kids think it’s great (my younger daughter even said “If I was going to be a different religion, I’d probably be Jewish”). But that’s all the blood family I can account for, and that does make me sad.

If you want to talk about chosen family, that’s different. My husband will be going through the same thing a few months from when I do (and maybe sooner; he said “when I have more understanding,” and now he’s thinking October instead of next February), and he is totally supportive. His parents are, too, which shocked us both. Likewise my best friend and her husband. Likewise her parents and all the people who are part of their regular Pesach seder group. Likewise just about every friend I have, even my atheist friends. Even my ex-husband is on board with it.

But I don’t know – will the beit din count that as “family”?

I’m honestly not sure how to talk about this question when they inevitably ask it. Every convert who’s posted their beit din story has mentioned it, so I know it’s coming and I’m really anxious.

Suggestions are welcome.

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We have an official date

(And by “we,” I mean me, my rabbi, the beit din, and the mikveh folks.)

On August 27 2015 (12 Elul 5775), eleven weeks from today and the day after our final conversion class is over, I will meet with the beit din in my rabbi’s office and then go to the mikveh in Los Angeles.

I am shaking and excited. The rabbi called this morning to confirm the date that the mikveh folks had already set for me. The beit din will be at his office in the morning, and the mikveh sometime in the afternoon (I’m trying to get the time moved up so that they’re not quite so far apart; right now it’s scheduled for 4 pm, which is a little late considering Los Angeles traffic patterns).

My rabbi will be my witness. My best friend and my husband can be there behind the screen to be witnesses as well. I’m not going to go into other details like hatafat dam brit (it will happen, but I won’t be writing about it – too personal for me for a public blog).

But it’s settled. I will be a full, official, authenticated Jew before the High Holy Days. Before the New Year.

I guess I’d better look at tallitot again.

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Snapshots of my Jewish Journey

– Tikkun Leil Shavuot was amazing. The husband and I went to it together. There was song, a Kabbalah class (we were part of a living representation of the Tree of Life, which was really neat), some videos that Rabbi felt we should watch on how big the universe really is (which he then related to Torah teachings) and a small service in the sanctuary to close things up.

– My husband and I went to lunch yesterday and admired a very cute baby at the next table. The baby’s father smiled and said “He actually has a Hebrew name.” (For the life of me, I can’t remember it – I know it started with “N” and had a “ry” sound in there somewhere, but that’s all.) So we said “Well, shalom, little guy!” I was wearing my kippah and we both had our Mogen Davids on, so I don’t know if the father was Jewish or not, but he felt the need to tell us that his son had a Hebrew name, which I thought was kind of cool.

– My best friend, my husband, and I went to a used bookstore next door to the local Jewish deli a few weeks ago, and she found this amazing siddur and bought it for me as a gift. It has a metal cover, and inside the siddur itself covers most of the holidays and the Shabbat service.

siddur-avodat-metal-turquoise

– My husband and I are going to start a Beginning Hebrew class in July, and our second conversion class starts on the first Wednesday in June. I’m excited and nervous about both of those things, and I wish Duolingo would get their Hebrew class up and running already (but hey, at least it’s in development).


I realized the other day that it’s been more than a year since I started this blog, and I’ve learned a lot since I started it. At the same time, I’ve also settled down. I will be officially a Jew before the High Holy Days – in fact, I need to contact the mikveh folks to see if they’re open on the morning I want to go there, because it’s a Friday – and it seems like the most natural thing in the world to me. Occasionally I’ve felt a twinge of “am I being presumptuous?” but that, I’ve found, is more about past abuse and not about whether this is right for me or not.

It is right for me. It is me. She’asani Israel.

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(Jewish) Life, in a Nutshell

My semester is pretty much done. I filed my grades on Thursday and Friday, and hopefully I can plan better for the next semester. This semester was insane – I overloaded myself with grading, and because I was sick early in the semester, I was running behind right up through the last week of classes. That wasn’t fair to me or to my students. I have resolved to do better in the coming semesters.


Before our last Intro class on Wednesday, the husband and I also had to go to the make-up class on Yom Kippur, which we missed because we were both sick with the flu in the fourth week of the class. That was interesting as it was just 45 minutes in the rabbi’s office with two other people who were also taking the make-up. There was no Mr. C. We had a good class, and part of me feels that it was because he was not there.

My husband made an observation that “Yom haKipurim” had “Purim” in it, which floored Rabbi. He said “You’ve gone about six levels deeper than I’d planned to!” Then he told us how the Kabbalists feel that “kipur” – the root of “kipurim” – can be read either as “kipur,” or “to afflict,” or it could be read as “ki” – “like, or similar to” and “purim” – the celebration of Purim. Some Kabbalists apparently feel that in the World to Come there will only be two holidays observed – Yom Kippur, and Purim. They are balances to one another; Yom Kippur is about repairing our over-indulgence, while Purim is about repairing our under-indulgence.

My husband is going to be a Kabbalist. I can see this happening.


Our Intro class finished up on Wednesday. The class was about Shavuot, but most of the class time was taken up with Mr. Christian once again trying to hijack the discussion. By this point, my husband and I knew that everyone in the class finds Mr. C irritating, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been otherwise, but I did finally have to get up and leave for a few minutes (ostensibly for the bathroom) when Mr. C. got into it with one of the other group members, who had finally called him out on something he said. Later, I told her that I hadn’t left because of what she said, but because I wanted to brain Mr. C with my laptop. (Her comment: “That’d be a waste of a good laptop.”)

Thankfully, Mr. C. won’t be in the later class for those who will be converting. Rabbi sent out an email saying that for those who are formally embracing Judaism, the new class will start in June. Since Mr. C. is only interested in “learning” (read here: telling us all about how HIS religion does what we’re talking about, even though none of us could care less), he isn’t part of that group.

Rabbi also took Mr. C. aside during the break of the last class and informed him that it would not be appropriate for him to be part of the new class. Apparently Mr. C. got upset (his back was to me, and it was loud, so I couldn’t hear his reaction – but those who could hear confirmed he was upset) but oh well for him. I have so little sympathy for him at this point that it’s sad.

Another class member said to me, “Now he’ll say that the Jews hate him, too.” (He’s already said the Episcopalians hate him. Gee. I WONDER WHY. Christians, if you want people to take you seriously, trying to hijack a class that’s about a different religion so you can talk about your religion is not the way to go about it. I know that 99% of you don’t do this, but the 1% that do make all of you look bad, just as the behavior of the haredim at the Kotel makes all Jews look bad to the rest of the world.) As an autistic man, I know I’m socially clueless, but this guy makes me look like a social virtuoso by comparison.

I’ve friended almost all the other class members on Facebook, and most of them are going on to the formal class. I’ve sent in my final exam, so I should be getting a shiny certificate saying that I completed the class. Whee!

One of the things that came up when we finally did get into the Shavuot lesson was how Shavuot was a move from just celebrating the harvest to celebrating the receipt of Torah, and the argument about how to measure the calendar days to it. The Sadducees (who were the urban, upper-class, priestly class, who rejected the Oral Torah) wanted to measure it in a way where it would not be the same date every year; the Pharisees (predecessors of the Rabbis, who were the regular Joes who argued for the Oral Torah, among other things – the liberal group) wanted it measured so it would always fall on the same date every year. The Pharisees won that argument.

I find it somewhat amusing that so many Christians lack the context of rabbinic argument, so they read the Christian Bible and see its stories of the Pharisees and the Sadducees challenging Yeshua ben Yosef on points of Torah interpretation as “they’re trying to trip him up and make him look stupid!” when that isn’t the case at all. It was, frankly, description of a discussion between rabbis of different branches, and in many ways similar to what we see in the Talmud of descriptions of rabbis arguing fine points of Torah law and interpretation. There is some evidence that Yeshua was an Essene (another, smaller sect of Jews at the time of the Second Temple’s destruction). In that case, the “challenges” from the Pharisees and the Sadducees were simply rabbis arguing points of Torah interpretation. That sort of knocks the props out from under Christianity for me (again).

One other thing that came up just in passing during that last class: the Mishnah is the Law, and the Talmud is the interpretations of that Law. Good to know! If the beit din asks me that in September, I won’t look like a fool when I answer them.


In other news, the husband and I are planning to go to the Tikkun Leil Shavuot at our shul later this month. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s different from the one I went to last year at the Shul Down the Street.

My husband has told me he’s not ready to go to the beit din and the mikveh yet, and he’s planning on spring for that. I’m fine with that; it’s totally his decision, of course. But the other day he said “We’re Jewish,” for the first time. Up until now he’s avoided saying it because he hasn’t been to the beit din or the mikveh, but I think something clicked for him that becoming Jewish isn’t something that just happens when you go into the mikveh. It happens along the way.

I read an article a few months ago about the mikveh (I wish I could find it, but a Google search hasn’t helped me). I liked the idea behind it – it was a convert saying that going to the mikveh does not wash away his past. Rather, it adds a layer of Judaism to what’s already there. The mikveh as an additive process, rather than a subtractive one, is a powerful idea for me.

So that’s what’s going on in Shocheradam land. How about you?

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A visit to the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles

Peter Krasnow. The Wanderers. 1927.

Peter Krasnow. The Wanderers. 1927.

Today my husband and I took a tour of the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles with our Intro to Judaism group.

It was surreal. For one thing, Mr. Christian was there when we walked in. I knew he was going to be, and yet I’d hoped that something might keep him away. But my husband and my best friend were both there with me and he didn’t approach me except the once, and then he left when he saw he wasn’t welcome. Which was fortunate.

Most of the Skirball tour was artifacts showing Jewish history from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the beginning of the Diaspora through the modern day. I was intrigued by the 19th-century artifacts they had from people who had come here with nothing and then begun new trades to support themselves (a woman lawyer’s diploma and a woman doctor’s diploma were both prominently displayed – and dated 1934 and 1925, respectively). I was also fascinated by the different Torah dressings from different Diasporic nations (Italian Torah crowns are impossibly detailed, with tons of filigree; German ones almost impossibly plain by comparison). But then we got into the room that was a duplicate of a big synagogue in Berlin… and it included a display of some pieces of the synagogue from its destruction during the Second World War. Seeing pieces of marble with burn marks still on them made my stomach do a backflip.

That hit me pretty hard. It was hard to follow the docent’s lecture because a) I was in some pain as my arthritis was acting up in my knees – never fun and b) there was music or narrations playing on various displays in each room which made it hard to hear her. But I was able to look at things nonetheless.

I mentioned to my rabbi there that I don’t know if I have any Jewish ancestry. If I do, it’ll be from my mother’s father’s people from Hungary, but the only records I have of them are from the mid-1830s with the last name Horvath. Horvath was a name EVERYONE Jewish took in Hungary. It basically means “not Croatian.” Think “Smith” for how common a last name it is. But the only records are from the Catholic Church (baptisms) and I don’t know if there were conversos in Hungary too, or only in the Iberian Peninsula. The names are all suspiciously Jewish though, apart from the surname. But there’s no way to know for sure.

Anyway.

This museum has actual copies of the Nuremberg Law declarations with Hitler’s signature on them (spit). It was chilling to look at them. Right after that we had to go through a fairly narrow (and darkened almost to black) passage that was called “Six of Six Million,” which showed the photographs (eerily made 3D in the wall) and histories of six Holocaust victims ranging in age from five years old to elderly (age unknown). I was weeping when we left that room. It was like going through a haunted house. Then we came out into an area which had video screens showing Holocaust survivors talking about their experiences. Here’s the one I remember (I saw the captions, but I couldn’t catch the man’s name):

“It was 1944 when the Allied tanks rolled into France. I remember one of the tanks coming up to the camp, and the captain who put his head out of the tank was wearing a star – a Mogen David. And I just stared at him. And he looked at me, saw me, and said in Yiddish, “Du bist Yid?” (Are you Jewish?) and I said “Yes!” and he took me up onto the top of the tank and I was saved.”

I wept, then. I was already crying when I got out of the tunnel but now I was full-on weeping. My friend got me over to one side to sit down, and my husband was also crying – for him, it’s because he has German heritage and he felt deep shame even though none of his family were in Germany at the time. That’s when Mr. Christian tried to approach. My friend glared at him and he apparently thought better of it and backed away, which was a good thing because I was not ready to talk to him then.

My husband said on the way home that there were several places where he felt like he’d been there, or been through it – a display of a 1930s-1940s kitchen set for Shabbat, and when he was walking through the Holocaust tunnel. He felt like he connected to each of the people who were shown in that tunnel. He was also crying a little bit.

It was powerful. It was moving. It was… something I still can’t quite wrap my head around.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you should make a point of visiting the Skirball.

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Filed under Conversion Process, Identities

It’s going to happen.

I just had an email exchange with my rabbi.

It looks like my mikveh date will be in September before the High Holy Days if all goes well.

Let us hold firmly to all going well.

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Filed under Conversion Process