Omer Kavannot 5779: Darkeinu — Andres De La Pena

I was born in Mexico City, where it felt like being Mexican was synonymous with being Catholic. Growing up, I was never forced to participate in religious services but I did go to a Catholic private school, I volunteered to teach Sunday school, and participated in a young apostle group where I went on missions to help impoverished communities in rural Mexico. I was the poster child for what an engaged Catholic youth should be in the eyes of the church—so much so, that the nuns at my school often encouraged me to attend seminary to become a priest. So how does someone like that begin a journey to convert to Judaism? The answer is both extremely simple and extremely complex: I’ve always been Jewish, I just didn’t always know it.

Even though I was highly engaged with different religious activities in the Catholic church, I always felt like there was something missing and I just couldn’t define what it was. This feeling of an absence of something manifested in a search to learn spiritual practices from different faiths and raising questions about my own faith at the time. The more I learned, the more I experienced this feeling of absence. It was so strong that it drove me to have multiple sleepless nights looking for spiritual knowledge in chat rooms and online libraries. This was a very frustrating time for me; I felt that I was falling down a hole of knowledge with no end in sight. It was at this point in my journey, around 2010, that I decided to throw in the towel and limit my spiritual beliefs to the acknowledgment of the existence of a higher power without any prayer, rituals, or religious framework to support its existence.

The feeling of absence remained. But without a framework to limit my beliefs, I realized that I had missed an opportunity to explore a religion that—through various people—had been a somewhat constant presence throughout my life: Judaism. I didn’t realize it then, but looking back on it I believe that my sense that something had been missing disappeared once I began to learn about Judaism. I can only assume this, because my reason for yearning spirituality switched from absence to desire. It felt as though I was no longer lost, but was on a path to something greater.

In 2014, after a few years of practicing Judaism, I began taking classes to formally convert. Although technically my conversion process only took a couple of months, the truth is that it has been a lifelong journey. What I didn’t realize then, was that the objective of my spiritual search was not to find a destination, but to find a new beginning. I realized this after being immersed in the mikvah and reciting the Shema as member of the Jewish people for the first time. I felt like I had finally come home.

Written By Andres De La Pena

Andres De La Pena lives in Harlem with his husband, Ivan, and has been part of the BJ community since 2016. By day, he works as a risk and compliance officer at PayPal and enjoys hosting and cookin...