Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's a new dawn. It's a new day. It's a new life. For me. And I'm feeling good.

Before I get into posts about our fabulous, unbelievably memorable, wish-I-could-do-it-again wedding I thought I'd share what I did BEFORE we got married. Yeah, I became a Jew. (You can read about my decision to convert to Judaism over on my old bliggity-blog <here>)

I have been going to classes almost every Thursday night since last January (with a summer break in between). I would regularly meet with my sponsor rabbi and our officiant (a friend of the Ross family) so that I could get my questions answered and stay on track to be able to convert before the wedding. We decided to take the trip to the mikveh on the Tuesday before. Yes, it was stressful but I think well worth it as I wanted to fully experience our Big Fat Jewish wedding as a Jew. I was asked to write a paper to allow the Beit Din to get to know me a little better and explain my reasoning for wanting to become a part of the Jewish community.

I'd like to share my paper with you... it took many days and hours to write, if you can believe it. I didn't want to go through such an amazing and meaningful process without giving it my all. So I hope you enjoy. (More on the actual conversion in a later post...) xo

My journey begins as a child, sitting next to my beloved grandpa. We sat there in church and I remember listening to the pastor preach, and the congregation singing hymns, all the while thinking to myself “this doesn’t feel quite right… do I really believe all of this?” I never spoke of these feelings until later in my adult life. But what I remember most about going to church with my grandparents was it “forced” us to be a family – to connect and spend time together – not only at services but every Sunday morning after church we’d have our mandatory “after-church” brunch. This was my favorite part of Sunday. It wasn’t only because I love brunch but more that I loved spending this time with my family. It was those talks with my grandparents and being ridiculously goofy with my sister that put a definite imprint on my life. Church equaled Family Time. We moved to Kansas City when I was in the 3rd grade and I continued my life as a Lutheran. I was communed, went through confirmation, and I didn’t hate going to church. (I did and still do wonder how Christians could believe that Jesus, a Jewish man, is the savior and yet the Jewish people do not believe the same?) After I was confirmed we stopped going to church… my social life had become riddled with extracurricular activities and spending time with my high school boyfriend, so I made the decision to stop going at all. Religion thereafter had come up briefly in conversations with friends, “I was raised Lutheran but I’m agnostic” I’d say. When I would go to church with my grandparents I’d sing the hymns because I liked hearing myself and I would keep my eyes open while I prayed so I could watch everyone else instead. That was the extent of religion in my later years.
If you had told me, pre-Nathan, that I’d marry someone I went to high school with, and that I’d convert to Judaism I’d think you were crazy. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and so 3 years ago from Halloween, I re-met Nathan who’d change my life forever. For the better…
On our first date, Nathan and I talked religion, not delving too deep but enough to learn that I grew up Lutheran (there is a G*d but I’m agnostic) and that he was born Jewish. Oh and I happened to mention that I always thought I’d marry a Jew growing up. I couldn’t tell you why I felt this way and it was especially weird as I’d never even dated someone Jewish before in my life, but I had that feeling like it was meant to be. Over the two years we dated I experienced Shabbat, Pesach, Yom Kippur and the other Jewish holidays and traditions; many with his family and friends. I loved everything about this special time I spent with them and it got me thinking more and more, “if we were to get engaged; would I convert?”
When Nathan and I did get engaged I told him almost immediately that my plan was to convert before our wedding. I knew that I wanted nothing more than to have – or should I say LIVE – a Jewish life and raise a Jewish family with him. And because I want our children to be Jewish, I know that conversion is the choice for me, so that I may be able to give them that matrilineally. I see how Judaism has made an incredible impact on Nathan’s life. He met some of his closest friends in Hebrew school, at Jewish summer camp, and traveling to Israel. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know many of them from all over and I’ve fallen in love with them as well. It’s pretty obvious to me that Judaism has helped mold him into the man I fell in love with and if our kids are half as great as Nathan then I’m set for life.
Celebrating Shabbat, holidays and togetherness all drew me to Judaism. Judaism is not only a religion but a way of life. We have shared Shabbats with many different people but it has always been a meaningful way “to cease”, refresh and renew ourselves. Also, resting from our weekday endeavors on the Sabbath, helps us to acknowledge G*d as the Creator of the Universe, and the oneness of G*d. Lighting the candles, blessing the family, and making sure to remember and observe, all make Shabbat special. Jewish holidays have become increasingly influential and significant to me. Having Pesach seder with Nathan’s family and getting everyone involved in reading the Haggadah has become very much a tradition that goes hand-in-hand with being an observant Jew. This time, remembering the Jews exodus from slavery, brings us together as a community as well. I had never experienced seder before Nathan and I must say it’s been life-changing. Performing the intricate practices of Kiddish, dipping parsley in salt water, eating bitter herbs, and consuming matzah and charoset (which I made last year and was very pleased when everyone devoured it) all have importance and hold great worth in my life now. I believe that living a Jewish life and raising children in the traditions and practices of the Jewish faith gives strength to the family. And family is very important to Nathan and me. I look forward to attending services, spending Shabbats and holidays together, raising a Jewish family, having our children bar/bat mitzvah’ed and hopefully, G*d willing, we get to see them have their own Jewish weddings.
With any big change there were a couple of obstacles. My family was for the most part supportive of my decision. They were worried that my choice was not my own and that they’d never get to see their future grandchildren on Christmas. After some conversations, we all agreed that I was converting on my own freewill and their grandchildren would be happy to spend Christmas with them if they didn’t make it Christ’s day. I know there will be some things we don’t agree on because that goes with any relationship, but our love and support of one another has proven very comforting and natural during this process. I don’t think I could have done it without them, Nathan, or Nathan’s family encouraging me the whole way. Surprisingly, I never questioned whether I would convert or not. It all seemed to fit and make sense for me from the very beginning.
As I prepare to meet with the Beit Din and complete my conversion, I have been thinking about how I was before I started the conversion process and who I have become today. I have become a better person. I do have to say, Nathan has been the biggest influence on this change. He’s helped balance and encourages me, and made me realize a lot about myself that I wasn’t letting fully shine. I couldn’t ask for a better partner to continue this journey with as a married Jewish couple. I am more conscious of how I will be present in the future and obey the Jewish laws like the obligation to perform Tzedakah. Charity is not only good for other people; it’s good for yourself and how you choose to live your life. In Judaism, actions tend to be more important than beliefs and my goal is to actively choose to live a life upstanding Jewish ethics and law.
Continuing to stay connected in the Jewish community is also very important to me. Knowing the struggles and history of Jews makes it even more clear how much we need each other as a community. I hope to be active with the synagogue we choose to belong, wherever we may be, and remember Israel because Israel is a central part of Judaism. I do not have a physical connection with Israel, living in the United States, but I personally feel connected spiritually. G*d set aside this land for all Jews and I hope someday to be able to experience it for myself.
I found this quote amongst my notes that I’d found in reading for conversion class:
“Seasons of joy, strong bonds of family, a sense that others care, a system of justice and law, and the hope that sustains people even on days of despair”
Though I can’t remember which book or who wrote it; I wrote it down for a reason. These words resonate with me and make up the core of Judaism to me. I look forward to continuing my Jewish education and living a Jewish life. This journey has been life-changing, amazing, and above-all well worth it. It has been a true blessing to meet such wonderful people. I could never thank them enough for helping guide and aide me through the conversion process. 

***The post title song always reminds me of Six Feet Under. I loved that show. I also highly recommend the CD compilation which features "Feeling Good" by Nina Simone... hence why the song reminds me of Six Feet Under. 

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