The rabbis teach that the moment we celebrate on Shavuot—the receiving of Torah at Sinai—occurred in the wilderness for a very particular reason. The midrash describes the wilderness as “an ownerless place,” and, in receiving the Torah there, our tradition offers that Torah is therefore available to anyone who chooses to claim it as their own. As we read the book of Ruth, this message is made all the more profound: Ruth, whose great grandson would become King David, is considered the first convert to Judaism.
While many of us choose Judaism in our lives in so many different ways, during the weeks leading up to Shavuot, we invite you to explore the stories of those in our own community who have chosen to convert to Judaism.
With a new story shared each of these seven weeks, we offer these powerful reflections on the challenges, joys, possibilities, and all-encompassing experiences of those in our community who have journeyed to Jewish life, receiving Torah through the process of conversion.
In conversation recently, someone asked me, “what does Judaism mean to you?” I responded, “It is my home in this world.”
It came out so quickly, and with such certainty, that it surprised me, as I don’t think I’d ever consciously asked myself that question.
I wrote the following words more than three years ago; an excerpt from the D’var Torah at my Bat Mitzvah:
In Parashat Tetzaveh the Israelites are given instructions to construct the Tabernacle, or the makeshift worship area. They were commanded to make the Ner Tamid, the eternal light, and to fuel it with the purest olive oil. To show God’s presence, one must try to shed more light unto the world in any way that they can. Read more »
Prayer: I would start there. Heschel writes that prayer is a radical act; prayer demands we remove the blinders covering our eyes—and our souls—throw convention aside, and search at our core for a glimpse larger and more complete presence than our unitary selves. Understanding this radical act—experiencing it in moments of prayer—was the final “click.” These moments catch my breath, creating an internal quiet leading to wonder—an intersection with the divine. Finding these moments, accessing them, was the penultimate step to my conversion.
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My choice to convert seemed like an organic act. It felt like the path I was meant to take.
My parents were from Puerto Rico, and I grew up in a predominantly Latino and African American neighborhood in the Bronx. Though I grew up in a Catholic family, we didn’t go to church or observe any holidays. Christmas was a day of opening gifts, gathering with family and friends, and eating traditional Puerto Rican foods. Being a parent to my three sons has allowed me to vicariously have a Jewish childhood. Read more »
When I began seriously reading about Judaism in my early teens, I never felt like I was reading about a foreign group. Instead, the entire process of converting to Judaism, and my decade of Jewish life after the mikvah, has been one of profound homecoming. Jewish spirituality and living has been the compass of my adult life, tracing an arc that I have been traveling along as I have walked towards an increasingly fuller vision of who I am, and of who I could be. While learning Hebrew was never easy for me, I feel a deep sense of intellectual resonance learning Talmud and davenning the traditional liturgy.
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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. Read more »
Ever since I was a young girl, I felt a strong sense of relationship with God. I was raised Catholic and I was lucky that my Sunday school was led by a progressive-minded nun, who made sure to teach us Jesus was a Jew, and that the Old Testament was the foundation of Christianity. Around the time of my confirmation, I felt such a spiritual connection that I pondered the idea of devoting myself to the Church. These feelings would change, however, and I realized as I grew further from the church, that I would never be a practicing Catholic as an adult. Read more »