By Hannah, a female Reform convert
I’ve always felt a connection to Judaism ever since I was young. I remember telling my Mom when I was younger that I wish I was Jewish and that I wanted to marry a Jewish man. She would just look at me puzzled and ask me “why?”. I was never sure why…. and I still can’t explain it. I wanted to be part of that tradition. The history intrigued me and I loved Jewish humor. It never occurred to me that I could ever actually be Jewish. I thought the only way to be Jewish was by being born that way.
I started dating my fiancé in 2010. I didn’t seek him out because he was Jewish...that was just a happy coincidence. We had mutual friends and started playing music together and became best friends for 2 years before we started dating. After 5 years together he proposed and said that he hoped that I would convert to Judaism and that it was important to him. I always wanted to be Jewish, but somehow I didn't think converting would be what I wanted it to be. I had preconceived notions about it. I thought that I would have to believe in God or at least pretend to believe to convert. I thought I would have to practice the conservative version of the religion because that’s all I knew about. I thought I might have to believe every literal word of the Torah. I thought converting only meant that I practice the Jewish religion, but I could never really be considered a Jew. I thought I would feel like a fraud.
I was sour on the idea of “organized religion” even though I never really thought about what was meant by the term. I wasn't clear on my beliefs towards God. I was agnostic and didn't really take time to think about these questions or about spirituality. I was too busy with work and life.
Since it was important to my fiancé and I was still intrigued by Judaism, I thought I would look into what conversion really looks like. The first thing I did was Google Jewish conversion in the Bay Area and luckily I stumbled upon Dawn Kepler’s amazing website BecomingJewish.net. I read people’s conversion stories and started to realize that none of my previous judgments about converting were true. In fact, in some cases people had the same ideas that I did, yet found the opposite to be true and found a home and a community within Judaism. After reading these stories I started to get excited about this opportunity. I then set up an appointment with Rabbi Mates-Muchin. On our first appointment she completely laid to rest all of my concerns about having to believe in God and old school ideas about Judaism. So I decided to start my conversion process.
Over the 10 months or so of my conversion process I had talks with Rabbi Mates-Muchin, I took the Intro to Judaism class with Rabbi Adar, I sometimes read the weekly Torah portions, I went to some Shabbat services and holidays at Temple Sinai. The things that I learned over that span of time sparked a lot of thought within me about Judaism, God, spirituality and tradition. I didn’t expect how much this process would really make a difference in my life.
Many unexpected changes took place within me as a result of the conversion and learning process that I never could have imagined. Initially, I was very judgmental about religion and prejudged people in other religions for their beliefs. In learning about Judaism it has allowed me to be open to more things. I realized that “religion” isn’t just one thing represented by one collection of beliefs. There are many interpretations of what religion can be. I’ve stopped assuming that I know what religion means to everyone or that I know what their beliefs are just because they belong to a certain religion. I always considered myself to be the most accepting person, but for some reason that didn’t extend to “religious” people. I’ve even discovered that I was missing out on getting to know really great people since I had been writing them off because of their religiousness.
In studying Jewish beliefs and traditions, I feel like it makes me a better person who wants to make wise choices, be good to people and help others. Reading Torah, learning about mitzvot and being around others who are striving to be better people has helped me to take a look at myself. I now find myself looking for ways to perform mitzvot. Not that I was uncaring before, but I just never really thought about it day to day. Now I feel more compassionate, more at peace and thankful. I also know that I’m not perfect, yet this process of learning and improving has provided a framework that will always help me as I go through life.
I was encouraged to try “Jewish things” during this process and never thought they would be as meaningful as they are. Prayer, blessings, performing mitzvot, the act of learning and Shabbat dinner have become practices that I have come to cherish. These acts have put me in touch with a tradition that has been carefully held on to for thousands of years even when it’s beholders and the right to practice them has been threatened over and over again. These traditions have strengthened my faith and connection to something greater than myself.
Through this process, I have even come around to having a belief in some sort of God, not necessarily the old bearded man in the sky that I was so turned off by initially but some sort of higher being that is beyond our understanding; something else out there beyond just the humans on earth; something outside of us that ties us together. This newfound belief has enriched my life. I can’t fully articulate my beliefs in it yet, but I know I feel a shift and for the first time since I was a little girl, I’m excited about the idea of a higher being and I’m eager to keep exploring about what it means to me.
Another favorite part of this process has been learning about Jewish history. The origin of the Jewish people, the times of peace, the times of struggle, the changes, the discussions and the triumphs of the Jewish people fascinates me. Learning this history makes me appreciate Judaism and all the generations, families and people before me who preserved it. The perseverance and spirit of the Jewish people amazes and inspires me every day. It means so much to me to be part of this community and to carry on these beautiful traditions. Throughout its history, some preserved the traditions of Judaism openly with joy, some with obligation and some with fear. I know that for the rest of my life as a Jewish woman who carries on this tradition there will be days when I will experience each of those feelings: joy, obligation, and even fear. But through it all, I will feel proud to call myself a Jew.