I grew up in a devout Catholic family, so, as a child, religion was a very big part of my life. I went to church every Sunday, attended a Catholic school, and even volunteered as an altar boy. My home life was often chaotic, so I took comfort in a faith that had all the answers, a faith that promised a reward for one’s earthly suffering.
Despite my strong convictions, I was also a curious child, and always wanted to know why we believed the things that we believed. I was never happy with the answers. When I got to college, I was suddenly exposed to people of different religions, ethnicities, and social backgrounds. I started to question all of the things I had been taught as a child and struggled to decide if my beliefs made sense any more.
After I came out of the closet, I knew that the Catholic Church was no longer a welcome place for me. I felt angry and hurt by all the years I’d wasted feeling sinful and unworthy. I was so disillusioned that I decided religion didn’t have a place in my life any more.
For most of my adult life, I said that I was “spiritual, but not religious.” Basically, that meant I didn’t really do anything at all. Left to my own devices, I never thought much about spirituality or where it fit into my life. Most of my friends and family also felt
alienated from the churches they had grown up in, so no one challenged me to think about my faith.
While working as an intern in Washington DC, I got a job working the reception desk at the DC Jewish Community Center (DCJCC). I was surrounded by new words, concepts, and holidays that I wasn’t familiar with. When things were slow at the front desk, I grabbed children’s books from the library and learned as much as I could. I also made a lot of Jewish friends who welcomed me into their lives. For the first time, in a long time, I got to see people my own age with a strong religious identity.
As time went on, I got more and more wrapped up in my career. A lot of my self-worth and self-identity came from the size of my paycheck, the prestige of my job title, and the list of my work accomplishments. I sacrificed a lot for, what I perceived to be, my job success. Over time, my job became less and less fulfilling and, five years ago, I decided to change careers. After so many years of choosing my job over family and friends, I suddenly found myself with no one to turn to, no support.
I knew that I needed to make some major changes in my life; tearing it all down to built it up again better and stronger. I had to accept that my new job wasn’t as impressive or exciting as my old career, but I also accepted that my self-worth didn’t have anything to do with my job title. As part of this “stem to stern” reevaluation of my life, I felt like something was missing. As much as I wanted to believe that I was “spiritual, but not religious”, I realized that I really was religious. I also realized that I had been missing a strong spiritual community of like-minded people, where I felt welcome.
While exploring different faith traditions in the Bay Area, of which there are many, I kept thinking back to my time at the DCJCC. There were so many things about Judaism that matched my own personal beliefs. I started to read about Judaism and the conversion process, learning as much as I could. My first time at Temple Sinai was for an “Out and About” Shabbat dinner. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraged me to join them for the Mizmor Shir service. I was hooked. Through my classes with Rabbi Adar and my meetings with Rabbi Mates-Muchin, I began to see how Judaism could fit into my every day life and make it better.
In my family, we have a birthday tradition of asking, “What did you learn in the past year that you didn’t know before.” Looking back over the last 12 months, I’ve learned so much about Judaism; the history, traditions, holidays, and theology. But through this process of conversion, I’ve learned even more about myself, growing as a person of faith and a member of the Jewish community.