I read with interest your article in J., “I can’t finish my conversion because of Covid-19,” and wanted to offer another perspective.
I am a member of the mentor cohort at Congregation Sherith Israel. As a mentor, my responsibilities include working one-to-one with a conversion student, teaching, guiding, modeling, and supporting in whatever ways I can. CSI’s mentoring program includes a 3-month Introduction to Judaism class, student meetings with clergy, encouragement for students to be actively attending services and/or Torah Study on a regular basis, involvement in synagogue activities, an Introduction to Hebrew course, written essays summarizing the conversion experience, and of course ongoing meetings and communication with the student’s mentor.
Certainly Covid-19 has challenged everything we know about business as usual. My student had finished all required coursework, and had been actively involved in synagogue life for over a year. Perhaps motivated by the fact that our cantor would be leaving the area this month, my student and I worked with two members of our clergy to complete the conversion process. Do we have exceptional clergy? I happen to think so. Working with Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf and Cantor David Frommer, my student completed her essays, leaving only the Beit Din, Mikvah, and blessings in front of the congregation. Cantor Frommer led the Beit Din via Zoom, with my student, Rabbi Graf, and I present and participating. Two days later, my student, accompanied by Rabbi Graf and I, met in the San Francisco Marina. It was a typical San Francisco morning, foggy and drizzling. At the beach, my student removed her sweat pants and tee-shirt, and wearing only a swimsuit, bravely made her way into the San Francisco Bay. The rabbi had instructed my student in the proper blessings, and procedures for submersion. Once deep enough into the water, my almost Jewish student removed her bathing suit, and held it above her head as she immersed herself three times. Both the Beit Din and Mikvah were completely kosher. Finally, my student, now a Jew By Choice was blessed in front of the congregation at our weekly Shabbat service via Zoom. As an active synagogue member and conversion mentor, I am certain my experience in the entire process with my student, particularly the Beit Din and Mikvah will remain a highlight of my synagogue life.
I so appreciate the creativity of Susan and her student. I posed this idea to the writer of the original letter. Although she is a swimmer she opted for an indoor mikvah. But a natural body of water is always an option!