Training Wheels Off

I have this thing about selling back books. Some (admittedly ridiculous) part of me feels like selling them somehow removes the deposited knowledge from my brain. And yet, as an avid reader, I always forced myself to go through a biannual purge of my bookshelf. I don’t want to think about the results if I didn’t. The TV show Hoarders comes to mind.

As you might imagine, over the course of ten years, I have managed to acquire quite a few books about Judaism. I’d estimate around 100. Many of them were various authors’ attempts at a Judaism 101 text, and thus redundant after the second or third purchase. But there were also texts on Jewish prayers. Jewish history. Jewish philosophy. And even after my tenth Judaism 101 purchase, I was always amazed to see how this author’s presentation of the Jewish calendar, or this one’s explanation of a ritual object just made so much more sense.

These were always too precious for me to consider as candidates for the purge. They represented some sense of Jewish authenticity and Jewish identity for me, I suppose. I may not know an answer to a question, but chances are I could locate one shortly! I’m dedicated, can’t you see? I’m taking this process seriously! I love books!

I’m moving soon. In an effort to make that task as easy as possible, I’ve set myself tasks for each weekend. Today’s was one of many looming purges. When I looked at my bookcase though, I knew I felt differently about my Jewish library today.

I knew it was time to take off my training wheels. I’ve been coasting confidently for a year now. I am a Jew. I don’t need to prove that to anyone, but especially not to myself. I’ve marked Jewish time and kept Jewish space. It was a bittersweet realization and recognition of how far I’ve come.

I’ve culled my library. What remains are reference books, siddurim, and a few favorites I couldn’t bear to part with. The rest were toted off to Half-Priced books. And I didn’t even hesitate when dropping them off.

Today I learned that a decade of Jewish education is worth $42.

Please help me send one of my Birthright trip mates back to Israel.

I’m asking all of you for a big favor right now. There is a guy on my Birthright trip, let’s call him Moshe, that grew up a half-black/half-Ashkenazi Jew in LA. We’re talking teffillin-laying, Shabbes-keeping, kosher-eating Jew who has had his Judaism questioned every single day that he walked into a synagogue because of the color of his skin. He and his brother have a difficult relationship with Judaism as a result: how can they feel so drawn to HaShem and yet so rejected by their people, G-d’s people?

They apply to Birthright. Moshe gets to go. His brother does not.

Mikvah Bound meets Moshe on their Birthright trip. Though they come from wildly different social circles, being the only two “non-Ashkenazi” on the trip, there is a mutual understanding that cannot be denied. Jews of Color do not experience the same things that converts do, but let’s face it, we’re both outside of the norm of “typical Ashkenazi American Jew”.

Let’s say that during this 10 day trip, Moshe took more than 5,000 pictures and more than 15 hours of video footage. That he then assembled, thanks to his Hollywood industry skills, into a 90 second clip that is entered into a contest promoting our Birthright trip organizer, Israel Free Spirit. This contest has a cash prize that could send Moshe and his brother, let’s say Aaron, back to Israel, together, to study and to rock the Jews that they are.

So, once again, I pester my readers. PLEASE go here. Please vote once a day, on multiple devices if possible, for the next 10 days. Please send them back to the Holy Land. Please acknowledge that this video looks amazingly professional and manages to capture the beauty of Israel and the deep connection between Israelis and Americans.


EDIT TO ADD: I am clearly brain dead. He is number 9. Thanks for bringing this to my attention kind reader!

The Day

I had planned for this day for years.  But the specifics of the day were only planned a week in advance.  I was supposed to be off work at 5:30.  I was supposed to get on BART’s 5:56 train and be home by 7:00.  I was supposed to scrub the bathroom sparkly clean and then begin the checklist process of scrubbing from head to toe, with the new loofah and nail scrubbing brush I had purchased specifically for all future mikvah dunks.

But, Man plans and G-d laughs.  I had to stay late at work.  I didn’t get home until close to 9.  When I got home, I was touched to see that my mom had cleaned the bathroom for me, so I could get straight into the cleaning process.  I had found an OCD checklist (literally) for preparation and followed it to a T.

I bathe every day; my morning shower helps wake me up.  I’ve been doing this for 20 something years on my own now.  But this one just felt… SO different. It really does help put you in the right frame of mind, to set apart this bath from all others.  I’d never really understood the appeal of bubble baths either, but this may have been the closest I got to understanding the ability to de-stress, to concentrate on just the physical, to relax, to reclaim.  An hour later, I was ready for the mikvah. Continue reading

Signs of Life

I am still alive, though you wouldn’t be able to tell from this blog.

We had our last class session, which I started to write a blog post on before erasing. That session was deeply personal and I do not wish to betray any of my classmates’ trust in relaying what are not my stories to tell. To summarize, it was wonderful to learn where they were coming from, and to gain greater context for many of their comments throughout the year.

I also am struggling to write a post about my conversion the day of–what it was like, what was asked, what I felt and saw. It always helped me the years leading up to my conversion to know what it was like.

And I’ve been asked to write a piece on developing my Jewish identity for a Jewish publication, which I have not forgotten about should the editor be reading this post.

But I’ve found it really, really hard to sit down and write. Falling in love will do that to you, I guess. The Boy is perfect (for/to me) and every second of down time is a second I’d rather spend with him. He is amazing. And so is G-d for making him.

I love my Rabbi

Yesterday morning, the rain kept many people home from Shabbat services.  At nine o’clock, as scheduled, services started.  Our leader did not see me wearing a tallit and as a result, did not think to count me in the ten.  I realize this now, after he reached the part where we needed ten adults, and stopped, saying he would go down and find the additional people.  My rabbi said, “Leader’s name, no, it’s okay, let’s go on.”  Leader started counting again, and I started getting self conscious.  Should I out myself? Should I say I’m official now, in front of 7 other adults who do not know me and to whom I don’t really feel like explaining myself or saying “no, I’m not married, nor am I engaged”.

I looked across the way to my rabbi, who was looking straight at me.  And then my rabbi’s mouth opened, and in a stern tone of voice, “Leader’s name, start” came out.

I love that my rabbi is so protective of us gerim, and understands our psychological states as we struggle to own our identities and our community membership.  That he stood up for me, anonymously, sternly, so I didn’t have to out myself… meant a lot.

He Gets It

I hung out with The Boy last Friday.  We made dinner and played a game and out of nowhere, he looked at me and said in a voice barely above a whisper, “Now it’s just like you were born Jewish.”

I don’t think he knew what that meant to me.  I had to look away to not become overcome with emotion.

Not every Jew I’ve encountered on this path has reacted negatively, but the negative responses far outweigh the positives.  Some are out-and-out negative reactions—looks of horrors and scoffs of “Psh, you’ll never be really Jewish.”  But some are more subtle, hidden in jest, “Why on EARTH would you do that?”  Both place the convert-to-be in a defensive position, of explaining ourselves and our life choices.  Yes, we eventually manage to form an elevator response to deliver, along with a thick skin, but we shouldn’t have to.

On the flip side, I’ve also been at services or holiday events where someone’s reaction is really positive, and a good percentage of the time, they will start to explain Shabbat or the chag to me, as though I have no idea what these concepts are and just decided to plow ahead with the conversion process anyway.  How do you stop someone short in a mini-lecture without sounding rude?  Would you lecture a baal teshuva in the Conservative or Reform movements about what the holidays mean?  Do they not know we have, in most cases, spent months and even years studying on our own before working up the nerve to approach the rabbi?  The answer is obviously not. (I have an idea running around in my head that I’d like to approach the rabbi with: offering training sessions to the congregation about how to interact with converts and a mentorship program to next year’s conversion class.  Much still needs to be fleshed out, but I’m working on it; that’s for another post though.)

The Boy didn’t do either.  The Boy just accepted me as I was. As though I were like him: knowledgeable enough to make his own choices about his own Judaism.  An equal.

The world’s horrors are merely opportunities to make it right

I stumbled upon Velveteen Rabbi’s blog so many years ago that I don’t even remember what search led me there. All I know is that I love the haggadah she lets the world use for free each Pesach, and that I’ve enjoyed reading her journey into motherhood documented via her poetry.

Last week, after I got home from shul, I wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep. So I started checking around my weekly reading sites and read about her act of kindness. It touched me so much that I immediately reposted on facebook, despite it being Shabbat (sorry G-d, promise, it was for a good reason!). She launched a campaign to accept donations to replace prayer rugs a drunk bigot ruined with his urine in a New York masjid.

What blows me away is the quantity of donations over 48 hours, in $5, $10 and $20 dollar increments: $1,180 dollars.

Via twitter, facebook and blogs. In 48 hours. $1180.

I don’t know if this is a mitzvah, or if it’s tzedakah, or if it’s tikkun olam, or all three wrapped together. All I know is that this is a powerful reminder of the ability to do good in the world, the agency of one individual changing the world for the better, and an encouraging demonstration of humanity at a height of ignorance and hatred.

And It Begins…

Rabbi H. sent out the welcome email letter yesterday during lunch. I read it and could not help but smile. This is my fourth attempt to convert. My fourth rabbi. My fourth approach. If I can steal the idea of “beshert” from Jewish marriage for a second, I’d like to apply it to the conversion process and say I have found my beshert uh… shel giyur.

I have so much respect for Rabbi H. as a teacher and guide, and for the process he has crafted in his short time as a pulpit rabbi. It will require more of me than absorption from text and discussion, and yet he has realistic guidelines from the beginning:

The syllabus is not a road map to Judaism, it is a resource guide to compliment your journey. Like graduate school, it is impossible to read and know all that is suggested in these pages. …What must come from you are questions and reactions that these texts inspire.

The simile he employed encourages me to think that he has referenced material beyond a Judaism 101 level; might there be some 200 – 300, or even 500, level texts? Will I be able to explore what confounds me, what angers me, what moves me in greater depth? I’d love the opportunity, absolutely love it.

He also mentioned the role of discussion in the class:

I will also lead each class with a text of reflection. This text will be studied in tandem, known as hevruta, with another classmate who you do not know. This is how we will begin our class time together.

So many other classes feel lecture oriented, with the converts employing the passive recipient role in the class. And just like class, there are always the people who are too afraid to look stupid, and thus never open their mouths. There are the people that hog the lecture time with their obvious and/or incredibly personal questions. There are those who compare Judaism to their faith/the faith of their childhood (usually these have been the members of the public or partners of Jews about to get married and thus taking the class so that rabbi would agree to marry them). We might actually get to know one another. To build a bond as a cohort. To learn from one another, and to push one another. That excites me. A lot.

There have been so many times where I wished it had worked out, that I could be a Jew by now. And while I’ve always found the clichéd “things always work out” comment to be overly simplistic and even down right insensitive, I’m beginning to agree with its wisdom in this particular case. I love Rabbi H. I love Rabbi P. I love CBS and its community. So excited for next week!

CBS. I love CBS!

I went to Young Adult Shabbat. We didn’t have a minyan, even if you counted the non-Jews. And I loved it. The rabbi was great. The people were great. I didn’t feel out of place. I didn’t feel like they looked down on me for being a convert, as I’ve often felt in the past. I didn’t feel like it was a wild hookup/dating scene. It was great, so great that I’m going to the planning committee event on Wednesday to plan the next one! I love it. I love this community. I will shut up now. That is all.