Celebrating and supporting people who choose to become Jewish. Sharing information, ideas, concerns of Jews by choice and those considering conversion. The page celebrates everyone who converts to Judaism through any of the streams of Judaism.
One of the difficulties that a Jew by choice may face AFTER conversion is not feeling truly connected to Judaism. Working with your rabbi, meeting regularly, having meaningful conversations, ends eventually. If you convert as a single person without any Jewish family you may feel bereft.
After the 2018 High Holy Days I was thrilled to receive an email from a single Jew by Choice, Miri, who shared this with me:
I really enjoyed singing in the choir this year for the High Holy Days and am still riding on the high of that. And Yom Kippur has become my FAVORITE Jewish Holiday. I love the self searching introspection and deep personal connections that I've come to experience on YK each year. While it's great that this holiday is a big-deal-once-a-year thing, I would like to have the same depth of experience on the other holidays.
To that end - the connection part - I've volunteered to chant Torah at the upcoming Nishma service. This will be the first time that I've chanted since my B'nai Mitzvah so I'm really looking forward to doing it.
My getting involved with my temple is a direct result of your guidance and coaching. Having grown up in Christianity where you are "saved" by someone else, I hadn't fully come to the realization that I and I alone am responsible for my connection with others. I had somehow expected people to do it for me, but that's not how we do it in Judaism. We need to reach out and when we do, we find support. This was the BEST piece of advice anyone ever gave me along my conversion path.
While I applaud this woman's spirit I believe that those of us who are already connected to a synagogue community need to make the effort to bring in the new people who appear in our midst. Don't hesitate to say hello to a new face at the oneg.
Growing up in a relatively non-religious household, I never seriously considered why spirituality and religion are so important to people. Growing up in a predominantly Christian town, I had always been more attracted to non-Christian religions. For a while, I fancied myself Buddhist and chanted Sanskrit mantras. (This phase took place from middle school into high school.) But my interest was more intellectual than personal and spiritual. At no point did I seriously explore Judaism though I had thought about it as an option. The only other time I delved into religion was when I went to a Church of Latter-Day Saints in my hometown. My sister and I were around six to eight-years-old when we attended Sunday school and services at the church. We went primarily because my dad’s side of the family were Mormons from Utah and I suppose my parents wanted my sister and me to have some exposure to religion to find out what we felt most connected to. Alas, Mormonism didn’t stick, partially because we were being pressured to get baptized when we had no desire to and felt we weren’t committed enough to do so. I remember my mother especially resenting this pressure because she wanted us to make the choice ourselves. I am beyond grateful to have been exposed to Mormonism, yet also glad I got out of it so that I didn’t feel obligated to do something I didn’t have to. I’d say religion didn’t come up again until my freshman and sophomore years of university because I had a couple of close Christian friends. One in particular being my friend Will with whom I had many conversations about faith. We once had a conversation in which he said, “I know you don’t believe, but….” That statement triggered a sincere reflection on what I do believe. At the time I was a struggling agnostic, rebelling against organized religion…mostly Christianity. The truth is I have never felt a connection to Christ as savior, nor have I ever enjoyed the preaching of Elders constantly at my door. I openly dislike the Christian emphasis on Hell and its use to inspire fear and motivate good deeds. But I have never strongly disparaged Christians for their beliefs. Just not for me. I asked myself whether I could go through life without spirituality. Is that what I was missing? One night, I visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum with Will where a Stanley Kubrick exhibit was going on. This was October of 2016. This was the first time that I had been in a Jewish space, so I thought of Judaism and Jewish culture. After the visit, I became very quiet and felt meditative. I then said, “I think I want to convert to Judaism.” It was so sudden, but I think I was finally voicing what had been going on in my subconscious. Subsequently, I did research on Jewish beliefs, the conversion process, and the different denominations. I then researched Reform synagogues in San Francisco because I identified with the liberalism of the Reform movement. My first time in a synagogue was daunting since it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I started out going to Kabbalat Shabbat services every Friday and sat in the rear-most pews due to my shyness. I didn’t want to be noticed fumbling over Hebrew. I didn’t want to make friends, really. It took me many months before I felt comfortable moving up the pews and bowing and talking to people at the oneg. I credit kind clergy and my mentor with my increasing comfort in the community. Books were also a source of comfort. Jewish history and life has inspired many a novel, and I wanted to read a lot of them. I learned about the openness of Judaism, how intellectual and academic Jewish religious life is, and how varied Jewish philosophy is. Each book brought me closer to why I wanted Judaism. I discovered that my sensibilities aligned with Jewish life. I enjoy study, I’m a skeptic, etc. Moreover, I began to view the Bible differently. What once had seemed like an inaccessible fable/self-help book became a literary adventure and spiritual guidebook…and still a fable. I appreciated the Reform view of the Bible as written by man with divine inspiration because it allows for freedom in study of the text. You can study it for morality lessons one day, then focus on literary interpretation the next, or even both at once. During the initial stages of my spiritual discovery, my sister showed interest. She constantly asked me questions, some which I couldn’t answer. Then we started studying Torah together weekly, and her interest inspired me. Sharing my journey with her made me happy and accepted. Nonetheless, I occasionally had difficulty when going home to visit my family for a weekend or during breaks from university. My mother has asked me more than once to run an errand for her on a Saturday and I have had to politely refuse due to my commitment to Shabbat rest. At first, she didn’t understand and thought Shabbat was just an excuse for me to sleep all day. Granted, I did occasionally take the opportunity to nap, but I mostly read books and prayed when I wanted to. My dad, on the other hand, a man who had sworn off Mormonism in his teen years and has since turned to Norse paganism as a faith, has teased me about my chosen monotheism. Initially, this made me uncomfortable, but now I enjoy having banter. We also have a sort of joke that whenever we drink alcohol together and I say “L’chaim”, he deliberately mispronounces the toast or says, “Skaal” in response. (Skaal is Norwegian for “Cheers”.) Generally, he and my mother are supportive of my decision to convert. However, I don’t envision my parents ever joining me at synagogue. Although my sister has attended services in Davis with me. I realize I have yet to mention God. When I was younger, I fantasized about an old white dude with a booming voice like in The Prince of Egypt giving me advice and granting me wishes. Now I wrestle with God because God is no longer some fantasy in my mind. God is not a man in the sky. God doesn’t get angry when I swear. Exploring Judaism has helped me gain confidence in questioning God and discovering what I do believe God to be. I’ve found I connect most to the concept of the Shechinah, the maternal Presence of God. I think I felt it after attending the Second Night Seder during Pesach. I felt transcendent once I left the space. I was overcome with the joy of being with community. Was all of this truly the Shechinah? Perhaps. It’s what I attributed my feelings to. God being a comforting Presence gives me peace, especially during Shabbat after a busy week operating in the “tyranny of space” as Heschel puts it. I like the idea of God as a unifying energy or force that gives meaning to the universe and purpose to our human lives. I am comforted by God as eternity. I also look forward to endlessly contemplating God as I age. Judaism has granted me a gift in that respect. On the other hand, I am also comforted by the fact that one doesn’t have to believe in God to be Jewish, which allows for diversity of thought in the community and very interesting Torah study contributions. Being a part of the Tribe, as it were, and now having a partner who is Jewish imbues me with a strong sense of pride and optimism for my (Jewish) life. Conversion is the most transformative decision I have made so far. I feel welcomed and loved.
(Image: A view from the balcony by photographer Joel Bischoff.)
A friend of mine longed to be Jewish, but everyone communicated that that was impossible. So she and her husband, who also wanted to be Jewish, gave up that dream. Then one day in a public library she came upon a book ABOUT conversion to Judaism! She was thrilled. She went home, told her husband and phoned the local synagogue. Soon they were in the rabbi's office. As they worked with the rabbi on their conversions their children were enrolled in Hebrew school so that they could know enough about Judaism to determine for themselves whether they wanted to be Jewish. In the end, two of her three children converted with their parents. Their oldest says, she's fine as a non-Jew and loves practicing Judaism with her Jewish family.
Too many people get the idea that there is no such thing as conversion to Judaism. What about YOU? When did you know that conversion was possible? What did you believe the barriers to be? What barriers did you encounter? Who helped you along the way?
Tell us in the comments or email me at email@example.com and I would be happy to share your story anonymously if you would prefer.
Did you ever feel coerced? Did you wish you had more support? If you have a born Jewish partner, did/does it matter whether they "want" you to be Jewish or not? If you have a non-Jewish partner, how has your becoming Jewish impacted him or her?
Most important, if you were asked this question, what advice would YOU give?
When you convert to Judaism with a Jewish partner you have an automatic "in". You have someone knows something about Judaism. You may get a regular invitation to Jewish holidays. But when you are single you have to work harder to create your "Jewish family" unit.
You may have other differences that make you feel out of step with your congregation. Perhaps you are older (over 50), are gay or lesbian, don't have children. Maybe you don't have the money for Jewish events. Bottom line, you need a circle of friends that function like family; a place where everybody knows your name and expects you to show up.
One person expressed it this way, "I was wondering if you knew of any resources or articles or books about being single and observing Judaism? I’ve been really struggling lately. Being gay is also part of that. My shul isn’t homophobic at all, but programming is for sure for straight people. Anyway, any thoughts about single Jewish observance and life would be appreciated."
This is a reoccurring issue for single Jews by choice, so we asked everyone on the email list: If you are single, can you share some of your solutions & ideas? If you are not single, do you have a suggestion that might help?
(1) I’m single and understand the challenge of ‘feeling Jewish’ without a Jewish partner. Ways that I continue to express my Jewish identity are by attending services, celebrating the holidays, watching YouTube videos, reading Torah and staying up to date on the Parsha readings, and having Judaica around the home. I don’t “keep kosher," but I do try to buy kosher meat as much as possible. It’s important to set goals (e.g. learn Hebrew, keep mitzvot, donate to a charity, etc.) too.
I understand how lonely it can be without a Jewish partner as I went from being in a relationship with a Jewish person to being single. It’s really not the same without that social element.
The only advice I have for this for people who have converted, like myself, is to concentrate on what in particular makes that individual feel Jewish on a personal level. Then one’s Jewish identity will shine even more. Hannah
(2) Thank you for recognizing that being Single is a challenge regarding connecting to Judaism. Especially important is around the holidays, such as the upcoming Passover.
Here's what I've done to increase my connection: 1. Participated on a committee 2. Helped with planning the update of the temple website 3. Went through a B'nai Mitzvah (by far the most connection was felt here, learned Hebrew and to chant Torah and haftarah) 4. Joining the temple choir 5. Volunteering at the temple or for special events in any small way that I could.
Overall, I've found it helpful to get involved with ongoing activities. And if the activity involves getting through struggles together (like learning Hebrew or chanting Torah and haftarah) the better for deepening the connection. After all, when becoming Jewish, it's not just converting to a belief system, but its about becoming part of a people. So becoming integrated with the people is key. Miri More replies will be coming so stay tuned!