How I became a Jew on Wednesday morning.
It has been hard to stop talking about the actual conversion long enough to write about it. So here it goes….
It started at an unfamiliar shul in the suburbs. Barbara and I made good time and got there right after all of my rabbis & my cantor. They took some time to get settled into the room for the beit din and I paced in the hallway and tried to have a normal conversation, but just felt my heart pounding. “Give us two minutes, then you can come up.”
Now it isn’t like I was sitting across the table from strangers, from people who haven’t had conversations with me, from people who didn’t teach me about judaism. But anytime I sit across the table from three people, I feel like I’m being judged. And I was–although they don’t let you get to the beit din if you aren’t actually ready for the beit din.
They asked me questions that I’d heard them mention in other places before. Who might have a problem with this? Do you have any misgivings? And then they explained that Rabbi Z forgot the Rabbi’s manual and they were trying to come up with the six questions. They remembered four and I remembered a fifth, but the sixth escaped all of us momentarily.
Then we signed a certificate and they all teased each other about their hebrew handwriting. “You call that a heh?” It was a little surreal.
Then it was off to the mikvah. I should mention that in addition to the beit din, I was with two friends who are also Jews By Choice. We all crammed into the waiting room at the mikvah and Carol, the administrator, explained everything. What I most appreciated was her distinction that the mikvah is not about purity or cleanliness, but a separation in time. It is a legal ceremony, a civil ceremony, making the separation between my life as a gentile and my life as a jew.
Then I took a shower, washed my hair, scrubbed up good, brushed and flossed my teeth. And then I did not dry off. This was a fascinating part to me. You don’t dry off, because you want to take some of your life before (represented by the droplets of water) into your new life (represented by the mikvah waters). You can’t tell what water is from the past and what is from your new life–just like you can’t separate the last 28 years from the next 28 years.
Then there are the three immersions and the three blessings. I have to say, I completely forgot that I was naked in front of a stranger. It never crossed my mind. She was so good about protecting my modesty and it was such a sacred time, that being naked wasn’t even a thing.
WHen I got into the water I noticed and said, “Oooh, this water is extra boyant.” But I was thinking today–maybe all water feels that way, but I’m never naked in a still, warm, deep pool of water. I’m naked in showers or in too small bathtubs (and once in Lake Michigan), but I’m never naked in lovely, warm, still water. Maybe all water is extra boyant when you are naked.
Then I was given the option of saying the Shema after the second immersion, which is typically a time for silent reflection. I went with it–the shema I know, silent prayer doesn’t always come to me. The first blessing I don’t remember–it was something about mitzvah and causing us to something, be jews maybe? Then the second was the shema and the third was the Shehechyanu–a blessing for new things.
Then I was a jew. Simple as that. I was shaking, I was on a natural high, I was buzzed, but I didn’t cry. I expected to, but I didn’t. I got out and got dry quickly and joined all my friends in the waiting room. Carol told me that I could come back if I had reason to–a special occasion, a moment to mark.
Then we went and ate falafels. Just the three of us, the jews by choice. Talking about a lot of things and our conversions. Sitting in the middle of the Pita Inn with a mezuzah on the table, Brad in a kippah, my hair wet from the mikvah, talking about being jews.
There you go, the short of it. How I became a Jew on Wednesday morning.