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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Becoming a Jew

Tonight is selichot, next week is my third Rosh Hashanah, after that my third Yom Kippur. I suppose there comes a time when I am no longer so aware of the number of years I’ve been Jewish or the number of times I’ve done this holiday or that holiday. I can finally say I no longer count shabbats or shabbats I didn’t go to shul. It took probably a year and a half or two years to get there, so I imagine it will be ages before High Holidays are second nature.

I thought that I’d do a massive round-up post of the favorite things I wrote about becoming a Jew. If you got to Accidentally Jewish because you are in the process of converting, feel free to stick around and read more. But I thought I’d pull this together. (okay, there is a lot more to add, I’ll be back. Until then, there is also the “jewish stuff” category that I used to use on this blog.

The Beginning

I don’t have any posts from when I was secretly studying Judaism. I was SECRETLY studying, see, so that meant no blogging. I had a Jewish roommate at the time and a crush on a Jewish guy (not my roommate, although he’s a great catch ladies). I hid my copy of The Idiots Guide to Understanding Judaism under my pillow and minimized the browser when he walked into the living room. God forbid anyone know…

And then my Grandmother passed away and suddenly I had to see a rabbi. No question about it, it was time. This post is about my first shabbat , meeting Rabbi Zedek for the first time and coming out to people about becoming a Jew. The next week New Year’s Eve was on Shabbat and I was trying to figure out keeping kosher-ish.

The other thing I did at the beginning was buy books. My roommate said to me after I’d converted, “You bought all these books like you could just read books and become a Jew!” (He also said that he was very proud of me for converting.) If you check this Flickr set you’ll see, I bought A LOT of books over the course of conversion.

The Conversion

Below you’ll find posts that are essays and speeches about my conversion. But what about the actual days leading up to it? First of all, I had a very Phoebe/Rachel moment when my beit din was rescheduled. A week or so later, I actually went to the beit din and mikvah. A few nights earlier, though, I tallied up the monetary cost of becoming a Jew. Finally in December, I had my Public Jew Debut.

Feeling like a Stranger, Feeling like a Jew

Fake it till you make it. Do that you might learn. Feel silly when you light shabbat candles or kiss your mezuzah? I did too, but here is the email exchange I had with my rabbi about it.

Before my first set of High Holidays, I went to Rosenblum’s bookstore for the second time. It’s never a great experience for me, I still feel out of place and it has been a couple years now… As a convert, there are times when you are certain you’ll never “feel Jewish” and this was one of those days. My first trip was similar, sigh, but I had a good Jewish feeling at the end of the day.

My participation in TelAviv1 and ROI120 really elevated my feelings of being Jewish or not feeling Jewish. I wasn’t accepted to the first ROI120 and I really felt like I was being judged as “not Jewish enough.” I know it wasn’t that, but at the time it felt that way. By the time the applications came around the second time, I felt much more secure in my Jewishness and in my relationships with other Jewish bloggers.

During TelAviv1, we went to Yad Vashem and I wrote a piece about being “Jewish Enough for Hitler.” I’ll admit, I had really raw nerves about people not accepting my conversion. CK and I had a fight that eventually lead to us becoming good friends and collaborators. (He won’t call it a fight, but I was pretty crass.)

Nuts & Bolts

Challah. That braided egg-bread that Jews eat on Shabbat v’Yom Tom, the sabbath and other holidays. It was the first thing I decided to learn how to do when I was becoming a Jew. I don’t know

why I picked this food item, but I thought, “If I can make this bread, then maybe I can be a Jew.” I learned to braid and bake challah before I learned any Hebrew, any prayers, any blessings… Jews and Food, right? But if you’ve never seen a challah before and never baked bread from scratch, what then? Here is my recipe for challah reinterpreted for shiksas. (Non-Jewish women.)

Mikvah. Or maybe you spell it mikveh or mikva. It is the ritual bath that is used to mark a conversion. The mikvah is the civil ceremony, the moment when you separate from your past and cleave unto the Jewish people. It is a beautiful, wonderful experience and I can only hope you have a place as welcoming as the Conservative Mikvah in Willmette to go. Carol, the mikvah lady, is so amazing. To have someone like her be a part of your conversion, you should be so lucky as we are. But what is it like? Here is an email exchange I had with a girlfriend before her first trip to mikvah and here are the blessings.

Mezuzah. Early, early on in the whole process, I bought a lot of Judaica wholesale. A lovely woman at the Merchandise Mart helped me pick all the items a new Jew needed for her house. I didn’t place the mezuzah when it arrived in the mail, because I knew I was moving. But as my movers went out the back door, my rabbi came in the front and helped me bless my new home.

A year later, my mezuzah was stolen. Want to feel like a Jew? Have your mezuzah stolen and you’ll find out how attached to it you really are. How to deal with the theft? Replace the mezuzah with an even more beautiful mezuzah. Take that Jew Hater!

Articles, Essays, Speeches

If your Rabbi is like mine, he assigned an essay or five. “Please answer the questions, ‘Why I want to be a Jew and what Judaism means to me,’ but no more than two pages. Gulp. Two pages to explain why I’m cleaving myself to 4000 years of traditio

n. Okay, I’ll try.

The first essay I wrote was in March of 2005, after having been studying officially since December 2004 and unofficially since July 2004. An Essay my Rabbi Assigned.

A few months later, in September 2005, my Rabbi and I went on a walk with his dog Jake along Sheridan Road. “What’s left?” he asked me. He said that I’d studied earnestly and was clearly making a serious decision, that I was ready. I said that I wanted to go to mikvah after High Holidays (my first set) and he agreed. He passed the scheduling of mikvah on to the female cantor, cause, um, talking to your rabbi about your period is awkward. I rewrote the essay, still answering, “What does Judaism mean to me?”

I had a public conversion ceremony during a shabbat service in December 2005. My family came and piles of friends who had supported me during my conversion. How had their cynical agnostic become a religious (by liberal standards) Jew? This is the speech I gave before the d’var torah.

Fast forward to March 2007. A week before my 30th birthday, I celebrated by bat mitzvah. I studied torah for six months, got up on the bimah, chanted two aliyot and gave the d’var. Here is the d’var I didn’t give and here is the audio file of the d’var I did give . (At one in the morning on Friday night, I rewrote the d’var.)

Since converting, I’ve written a few essays about conversion for online media.

  1. Accidentally Jewish for Euphorix Magazine

  2. Dating Jewish: Thoughts from a Jew By Choice for Shebrew

  3. And a lot of essays on just being Jewish , mainly for Shebrew.

  4. I also write for PresenTense, so keep an eye out for upcoming issues.

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