I met with Rabbi H. this week. Most rabbis I’ve met with to discuss conversion start off by asking how I got to their office. He didn’t. He asked another open ended question, one that got straight to the point: why are you here? It’s always awkward when a conversation starts immediately with what one person needs from the other.
To be honest, his question startled me momentarily. Maybe he already knew of me, maybe he saw my initial email to the office, but whatever the case, he didn’t learn about Number the Stars or about interviewing Shoah survivors for the school newspaper.
Once I spoke a little bit my history, it came out that this would not be my first attempt, which I think set off a red flag in his mind. He asked me why I had stopped. I think he was afraid that whenever I hit a rough spot in the road that I gave up and tried to find something easier. Maybe that was my own insecurities coming out, but I tried to explain myself in such a way that would assuage his concerns. They simply weren’t good fits. I want things to feel right when I finally take the plunge.
In the course of our conversation, he made many reassuring statements—like he wasn’t the arbiter of my Jewish identity. I will have to mull over that statement a bit, because in fact, yes, he and the two other members of the beit din are the final judges. Perhaps he meant the manifestation(s) of my Jewish identity? Even that doesn’t seem right; this is the Conservative movement, hence the mitzvoth are supposed to be binding, and I don’t get to determine what that means like Reformers do.
His approach to the class sounds interesting. So many rabbis are spread thin with congregational demands that this class often turns into a lecture series. Which can be fine for those completely new to the material, or those who are deeply introverted and introspective. While I am decidedly the last two, it sounds like this will move beyond regurgitating the reading and require some deep thought and concrete action. I kinda like that.
Other cool things out of the rabbi’s mouth:
He encourages journaling. That’s good. I’m not sure whether to mention the blog to him or not though.
He does not sponsor hobby Judaists’ conversions. Pick a religion and stick with it; I agree.
He sends people raised in other faiths back to their own religion before sponsoring, to verify that this is what they want instead of being a temporary blip in the Strong Faith Highway.
Some not so cool things out of the rabbi’s mouth:
There’s not really a chance to learn Hebrew via a class at the synagogue—they recognize that the JCC does it better. Well that’s nice, but the class is quite expensive there, even with membership. So I guess I will continue with my self-study.
I left the office somewhat uneasy Tuesday night, but after a few days’ reflection, I don’t feel so unsettled about his approach. There’s a newfound respect for his conversion process, fully cognizant of his lingering novice-hood to the pulpit and open to modifying his process until finding the one that works for him and his candidates. Can’t ask for much more than that.