.I have lived a fairly unrooted life in which I have limited attachment to place. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, back to Wisconsin, and now back to Minnesota, that is the story of my wandering adult life. I suppose this constant change might explain my attraction to the idea of rootedness and community. Though I do know that my voluntary and self-inflicted “homelessness” over the past 14 years does not compare to the thousands of years of persecution and homelessness experienced by the Jewish people, the rituals and traditions that have grown out of the Jewish experience and the connection that Jews feel to each other is a thing that I find quite comforting. Judaism is something that makes me feel as if I have “come home” after years of wandering.
I come from a family where on my biological dad’s side, it is a big group of non-observant Lutherans, though my biological dad was an atheist, who my mother divorced when I was a small toddler. She married my step dad, who hails from a large Irish Catholic family, when I was 3. I took his last name at age 22, after years of wanting to do so. I didn’t really have much of a religious education as a child. We’d go to church around Christmas and on the occasion that the step grandparents were in town. I enjoyed shaking people’s hands during that part of the service, but other than that I was just there. It never really moved me at all. My sisters all went to Catholic school, and I was the public school educated one, though when my grades would falter, my mom and step dad would “threaten” to pull me out and into Catholic school. I was raised in a moderate household where I formed quite liberal beliefs and was raised to be open minded about everything and everyone. I got out on my own and began a journey to find what exactly fit me spiritually.
As my parents views became less open minded and along with my younger sisters ended up becoming lock-step, by the book Catholics over the past decade or so, I repeatedly found myself searching for what is truth to me? What makes sense to me? Do I pretend to believe something I don’t to make my parents happy, or do I follow my heart and mind wherever it takes me? I would ask myself what I identify with? What beliefs and values? I found myself repeatedly flirting with Judaism, and especially the values and beliefs of Reform Judaism.
As time went on I decided to make a move toward investigating conversion. I began to peek my head into Shabbat services in Madison, where I was living, and discovered from the first Shabbat I attended that maybe I was on to something. I felt welcomed. I enjoyed the service and the Dvar Torah every week. I ended up buying my own Torah with commentary to help me get as much insight into what I was hearing and reading as I could. I began to work with Rabbi Biatch at Temple Beth El in Madison and enrolled in an Intro to Judaism class. I moved as the class was ending up here to Minneapolis and was lucky enough to find Shir Tikvah and Rabbi Latz, who has made the process all the more enjoyable.
Many people identify with Jewish values and beliefs, appreciate Jewish culture, and admire Jewish stories of survival. I always felt a special connection to Jewish friends that I made. I had always been intrigued by Israel, so as I began to take the “conversion ball” and run with it after many years of dragging my feet for no good reason, I booked a trip toIsrael and went there in February 2014. From the moment I stepped off the plane I was in love. The people, the energy, the scenery, the history. It was the most amazing trip. When I saw the Western Wall in person, I had a feeling of spiritual completeness that I had never felt before. That was probably the moment that I knew that I was on the right path toward becoming a Jewish person. The feeling I felt was so strong. I felt like I was “home”. I can’t wait to go back.
On my journey to becoming Jewish, I’ve come to see that a religious community is a specific and special kind of community. Unlike a sports league, a religious community expects that its members hold to a certain set of beliefs and values. I’ve found that the Jewish community embraces every member as “one” while representing the plural “one”. Everyone is respected and seen as a unique individual while being a part of this “one” people, the Jews. Many differences may exist between the members of our Jewish faith, but the Jewish community is a collective community bound by history, tradition, and practice. By choosing to become a member of the Jewish people, I am staking a claim in it’s future while doing my part to connect to its past and observe it’s rituals and customs as best that I can, because it is important to me and to all of us as a whole.
As a convert to this beautiful religion, I am voluntarily making an exceptional commitment to living a Jewish life, which I am not taking for granted, and Judaism requires that we truly love the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. In the Torah, there are many references to “the strangers who dwell among you” or “righteous proselytes” or “righteous strangers.” These are various classifications of non-Jews who lived among Jews, adopting some or all of the beliefs and practices of Judaism without going through the formal process of conversion and becoming Jews. Once a person has converted to Judaism, however, he is not referred to by any special term, he is as much a Jew as anyone born Jewish, so I have committed myself to doing my part to keep the history of the Jewish people going by living as a Jewish person. I can’t wait to keep building my Jewish faith and pass it on to my children.
My own process of conversion has not changed me. This process has done something that I have been waiting my whole life to happen. It has revealed who I always was and validated my Jewish heart. I am Jewish.