Jewish Conversion

For several reasons the subject of Judaism and conversion (specifically mine) has come up a lot lately. I’ve been grilled by people of all creeds about why I converted. The questions from agnostics/atheists/any non-Jewish religion are usually much less aggressive, if you will. The questions from Jewish people are more… pushy, I guess, but the sentiment behind it is, as far as I can tell, more shock than anything: “Why would you want to convert?” And I can understand that. I think a lot of people look back on their religious education/life from childhood and are glad they are now grownups.

Anyway, one question from someone at a party went this way: “I’m really curious; why were you inspired to change your religion?” And we had a nice discussion. Another conversation was among friends I’ve known a long time, so it was an easy one to have.
Yet another conversation went this way: “Why did you convert? People don’t just convert to Judaism. Were you getting married?” Aside from the fact that I HATE when people ask me that, this was particularly awkward because I had just met the person asking me this question, at a communal dining table, and my date also happened to be black. So when I decided to appease her and say, “Well… yes. I was getting married to a Jewish person,” all the eyes at the table swiveled to my dinner companion… who said, “I’m not Jewish!”
Thankfully both he and I have a good sense of humor.
But all this has me thinking about how much work I had to do to convert. I found myself trying to explain it to people, like I’m justifying my Judaism. I know I don’t NEED to justify it, but I would venture to guess that not even many Jews know what kind of work goes into conversion.
Notes/transliteration from prayers
Notes/transliteration from prayers

I enrolled in a course through a consortium of synagogues in DC. There was a curriculum and I had to purchase a mountain of books (and read them). Even enrolling in the class was a feat in itself because I had to find a rabbi who had time to meet with me as my sponsor, and it took some time for me to find one. There was a list of “activities” outside of class that I was required to do (like visit the Holocaust Museum and go to a Jewish bookstore). I attended a year of  weekly classes where I learned about Jewish history, prayer, family life, life cycle events, holidays. We also had Hebrew lessons every week. Then at the end of it I had to go in front of the Beit Din – a panel of rabbis – for an oral exam and then I dunked in the mikveh.

Books and notes from conversion class
Books and notes from conversion class

I’m not trying to prove anything here… I just wanted to show those of you who may be interested what it entailed. It was a major accomplishment that I am still proud of. I still have a whole shelf dedicated to all my books. And here are a couple of pictures of the books and my notebook from the class.


2 thoughts on “Jewish Conversion”

  1. The big question is when you read, do you read the actual hebrew or the transliteration? What I also find interesting is if you asked 10 people who were Jews from birth if they’ve ever been in a Mikveh, you’d probably get only about 20% that say yes…

  2. I used to be able to read the Hebrew. It was like a badge of honor. I even took another Hebrew class at the reform synagogue in Malvern back in 2009, I think, and that sort of got me back on the horse, but I have to read the transliteration now. Boo.

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