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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

My first Shabbat

This afternoon I met with Rabbi Zedek to talk about learning about Judaism and conversion. It’s been a long time coming and finally seemed like the right time to do more than read books and internet sites. To talk to a living, breathing rabbi.

Yes. I’m thinking about converting and have been for quite some time. Lurking on jewish websites, hiding jewish books under my pillow, sneaking looks at my roommates menorah during Hanukkah. So earlier this week I made contact with a reform rabbi and made an appointment for an intake meeting.

First we chatted about ice cream (what else) and college major. Then the biggie–why am I thinking about being jewish? Lucky for me I told a few different people, family and friends, and have already explained it to them. But I was so nervous. Sweaty palms, racing heart, fidgeting. While I might talk about religion or philosophy with someone, I rarely speak about my own spirituality with anyone. It is something I barely verbalize to myself, let alone a Rabbi.

Some of the striking things he said included,

“Sounds like you are already doing jewish things.” This refered to my prayers–individual, one on one, no Jesus or Virgin Mary.

“We don’t need you. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform. It doesn’t matter, none of us need you.”

“You will be discouraged three times, it might be more subtle.” This is after talking about how Orthodox Rabbis turn away potential converts three times. If a person comes back a fourth time, the rabbi must take them as a student–even if they don’t want to.

“Just start living a jewish life.” Really? I don’t have to wait? Nope. Start going to Shabbat services, keeping kosher, keeping the sabbath, being in a community. This goes on while I’m studying the faith, culture, history, and language.

“If you want, the service it as 8:00 PM tonight.”

So I took him up on it and went to my first Shabbat service at a synogogue. I was very grateful that my roommate took me up on my invitation and went with me. I would have gone alone, but was certainly afraid of doing something wrong. I gave him a 30 minute warning and he never said yeah or nay, but when I put my shoes on–he turned off the TV and got his coat.

We arrived and fumbled our way into the sanctuary. Do we sign in? Where are the extra yamakas for him? Did we miss the coat room? Where should we sit? Can we sit next to each other?

We ran into the Rabbi in the hallway before the service and I introduced him to my roommate. I didn’t catch on to the proper reply to “Shabbat Shalom” or “Good Shabbat” too quickly and just mumbled a thank you and let Jon take care of the etiquette for the both of us. (Let me say that most people assumed we are married/engaged/almost engaged and I am there so we can get married. I don’t think people believed us when we said we were just roommates.)

The service was, of course, much different than any christian service I’ve ever attended. It was half in Hebrew and half in english. I followed along in the prayerbook and kept glancing over to see where Jon’s was pointing in his to try and keep up and at least read the translation along with the cantor and rabbi.

There were a couple things I wasn’t sure I was allowed or supposed to do–since at certain Christian churches, when you aren’t baptized you can’t/shouldn’t do things. Yep–I could touch the Torah with my prayer book, stand up, sing along if I got the tune.

Afterwards, Rabbi Zeddek introduced me to the Rabbi Emeritus and the Cantor, saying, “She is interested in joining the Jewish way of life.” A nice way to say CONVERT ALERT. Everyone was very friendly and open about it. He sent a woman who had converted over to chat, but I didn’t immediatly get that she was a jew by choice.

It was a great experience. I may not take the classes immediately–more due to transportation and not desire. So, yeah. I spent Christmas Eve at my first Shabbat.

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