My synagogue is having a late night discussion panel for the holiday of Shavuot on Saturday night. Traditionally, this is a holiday that's always had a lot of meaning for Marc and I (http://www.musingsofawritermom.blogspot.com/2010/03/ive-got-it-i-figured-out-her-name.html), because it's when the Book of Ruth is read. Ruth is one of the more famous converts to Judaism, and that's the topic of the discussion. So I've got the following questions to guide me in my talk, and figured I'd brainstorm here on the blog.
1. Did you grow up involved in religious tradition?
The short answer is yes - although my religious tradition was much more spiritual then religious. We were nominally Catholic, and I grew up in a small town where virtually everyone went to the same church. We were far from devout Catholics, my mother used joke that we were C&E Catholics, and that the only time we all went to church was for Christmas and Easter. What I did grow up with was a strong sense that there was a God, and that I was cherished and beloved. That my responsibility was to study and learn and question, and whatever path I took would be the right one. This led me from Catholicism to Wicca and then to a free form Church of Melissa, where I knew what I believed and was perfectly content with my spirituality.
2. How were you first introduced to Judaism?
Marc was my first introduction to it. I hadn't ever known anyone who was Jewish before. We met in February, and the first time I met his parents was on Passover.
3. What were some of your major influences in Judaism?
The first influence, obviously, is my husband Marc. The decision to convert wasn't one that I came to lightly, and it wasn't one that I came to quickly. But from the beginning, I was committed to raising our children as Jews, if for no other reason than because their father was Jewish. Half their family was Jewish. When I was pregnant with Jessica, I spent a lot of time debating and discussing and reading. Marc and I would talk for literally hours about spirituality and religion and it's role in our lives, and the role it was going to have in our childrens' lives. Marc is profoundly connected to his heritage, and very, very proud of his Judaism. I really struggled with balancing that with my own beliefs, which were just as strong, if not as clearly defined. Some of the books that made me see that I was actually a lot closer to Jewish theology than I thought I was - To Life by Harold Kushner, Jewish Literacy by Joseph Telushkin, Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.
4. What drew you to Judaism?
What drew me to Judaism, really, was the picture of the family that I wanted to create with my husband. I wanted my children to be a recognized and valued part of their community. The concept of repairing the world, the notion that we had a particular responsibility to make the world a better place really resonated with me, the concept of sanctification - of making the deliberate choice to think about keeping kosher, even if we don't always succeed, to be grateful for the daily miracles that surround us. These are values that I believed in, these are things I knew to be true for me, these are the things I wanted my children to know.
5. Can you describe the process you went thru to become Jewish?
I didn't formally convert to Judaism until the summer before I had my youngest child. June of 2009. But I had been working my way towards it ever since Marc and I met. It was critical to me that I understand Judaism - if this was the belief system I was going to raise my children with, I needed to know that it was true for me. So I read everything I could get my hands on. The more I read, the more I realized that it wasn't enough to want to raise the kids as Jewish, because I wasn't Jewish, they weren't Jewish. Meanwhile, they were growing up knowing that they were Jewish. Jessie, in particular, was profoundly spiritual. Like a lot of children, she loved talking about God, and really, really enjoyed learning as much as she could about Judaism. After Sam was born, we had a bris, in preparation for his conversion, and I talked with the rabbi at Temple Sinai, we met with the rabbi at the Yeshiva and the Chabad in Westboro. In the end, we decided to join the BI and we met with Rabbi Pitkowski to discuss the process of converting both our two older kids and myself. We met once a month for about eight months, and then I went to the mikvah with Jess and Sam.
6. What are some of the challenges and joys of converting?
Ahh - this is the big question. There are a lot of challenges to converting. I found it so easy to convert to the Jewish religion - the Jewish culture is another thing for me. Jewish theology just makes sense for me, it's incredibly easy for me to feel comfortable with Jewish values and beliefs. Jewish culture is still at times confusing to me, I don't understand keeping strict kosher at home and not caring if you have hamburger on your pizza in a restaurant. A huge challenge is trying to negotiate peace with my family - my family still really struggles with understand why I needed to convert, why I want to raise my children differently from the way that I was raised and the way that they are raising their own children. Making sure that my children don't feel conflicted, trying to have them be fully a part of my extended family. Because Judaism is such a huge part of our lives, trying to make sure that my kids don't lose that connection to the part of their family that is decidedly NOT Jewish is a struggle. Another challenge, that honestly took me by surprise, is raising children differently from the way I was.
But the joys - there's so much joy in this. There's joy in Sam putting on his yamulke that I crocheted for him, and Julie sitting still and waiting for Marc to bless her during Shabbat. There's joy in Jessie singing in Hebrew, and reciting the four questions in front of a huge crowd at Passover. There's joy in teaching my children about mitzvahs, and performing them with them. There's joy in watching my children question and learn and grow in a tradition that values education and gratitude. There's joy in raising a family with my husband, a family that based, in large part, on a shared faith and traditions.
7. What is your Hebrew name and why did you choose it?
My Hebrew Name is Chana, and I chose it because she was the mother of Samuel.