Religion & Beliefs

Becoming Jewish: Orthodox It Is

It looks like our convert has chosen which path she wants to go down. Read More

By / July 13, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

Since my last column, which was about how disconnected I was feeling from Judaism, I’ve done a whole 360. Currently, I live, eat, and breathe Jewish study, challah, and Babaganoush. Mmmm, mmm, mmm. Aside from those very necessary dietary mentions, I’ve made an important decision: to convert through an Orthodox rabbi.

For a while, I was convinced I would choose a Conservative rabbi to help me with the process. Then, I fell in love with my neighborhood shul.

Before I found out about the nearby congregation, I “shul-hopped,” per a Conservative rabbi’s advice, to a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan I’d heard great things about. I don’t know if it was the magnitude of the shul, the ritzy neighborhood, the huge amount of people attending, or the race to the kiddush after services, but I couldn’t see myself fitting in there. It was overwhelming to say the least. I went to a small high school and college. I live in a city of eight million people. When I go to shul, I don’t want to feel like I can’t breathe because of the number of members there. Also, I could never walk to shul. I’d always have to take the train (or maybe swim across the river. Is swimming forbidden?), which would mean I’d be breaking Shabbat.

I live in an area that is known for being Hassidic. Of course, I assumed that all the shuls would be the same. While I like and respect the Hassidic community, I obviously wouldn’t fit in there either. Turns out, there was a hidden gem of a shul in my neighborhood. My boyfriend Danny and I woke up early one morning in June and ventured over there. As soon as I walked in, I had that wonderful warm feeling and knew that this was where I belonged.

It’s small, the people are extremely welcoming, and I am taking conversion classes and Hebrew lessons with the rabbi. Yes, I’m learning Hebrew! I can’t say it with enough excitement. I’M LEARNING HEBREW! HOW DO YOU SAY THAT IN HEBREW?!? Along with my other course, I’m now taking three classes in Jewish study, and I’m not even getting a degree in it. I’m a little bit insane, I think.

Deciding to convert through an Orthodox rabbi was no easy decision. In the back of my head, I knew I wanted to one day at least try my best to follow Orthodox(y? ism?), but as I’ve said before, I don’t want to set myself up for failure. My rabbi asked that I just keep an open mind about it and basically go through the process one baby step at a time. I don’t have to be fully Orthodox now because that would be too overwhelming. But if I gave up pork, and I can slowly give up shellfish, and walk to Shul on Shabbat, then I will surely be able to sacrifice much more in the future. I shouldn’t even use that word because the “sacrifice” is very little for what you get in return: a beautiful religion, a wonderful community, and never-ending insight into the human condition.

It’s going to be very hard to follow all the kosher rules, but I will try my best. I also don’t have to believe everything that the Orthodox movement teaches. I will never ever believe that homosexuality is wrong and I won’t be pro-life. Even though Orthodox people overall would disagree with me on these matters, I think there are a million different ways you can look at the Torah. I will interpret it according to my life and my values.

Because of these issues, I’ve heard friends and peers say that they don’t like the Orthodox community. Since “coming out” to people that I want to live my life this way, I’ve heard my fair share of negative feedback. And that’s fine- I understand why people wouldn’t like a community that may be seen as anti-gay or sexist. I’ve also just been told by friends that they have Orthodox people in their family that they don’t like, or know Orthodox people in their neighborhood they aren’t too fond of. How I respond is this: Don’t take that out on Orthodox Judaism or Judaism in general. Just because someone you don’t like or someone who isn’t the best person (in your eyes) happens to be Orthodox, they are completely separate from each other.

In my experiences, the Orthodox have been nothing but kind, welcoming, and dedicated to their religion. That kind of dedication to something other than yourself is highly admirable. It really bothers me when my friends say these things, just like it bothers me when people are racist. Just because somebody harmed you, or you don’t like somebody, don’t take it out on the whole race or religion. However, we’ve all felt this way one time or another. It’s only human.

Torah stories are fascinating, and, if you couldn’t tell, I love learning Hebrew. The more I learn about Judaism, the better and more whole I feel. Even though it’s a very hard journey and takes a lot of self-discipline, I know that I need Judaism to be a central part of my life. As for not working on Shabbat, ah heck, if the folks over at B&H can do it and be successful, well so can I.