Saturday, January 19, 2013

Taglit Birthright Day 9: Shabbat in Jerusalem

This is the transcription of my Birthright journal, where I chronicled my day by day activities and thoughts in Israel. To start at the beginning, click here!

January 5, 2013

Berel's conversion comments yesterday have continued to bother me all night and day. As a rabbi, Berel is an authority figure (whether or not he wants to be) and for him to have portrayed such a negative image of non-Orthodox converts is damaging. The fact that there are people who convert for the wrong reasons and that there are rabbis who perform insincere conversions makes it hard enough for me to be a Jew by Choice without Berel perpetuating these negative stereotypes. I regret not speaking up last night.

We went out to Ben Yehuda Street after Havdallah and I told our tour guide, Ariel, about my conversion. We talked about my conversion process and about why I was offended and upset by Berel's comments yesterday. I did not have a "quickie" conversion. After a childhood of dissatisfaction with religion and an agnostic adolescence, I was ready to find God again in a way that would make me happy. After a lot of soul searching and research (and on the advice of an internet quiz), I decided to try Judaism with my now-husband. Judaism is hard - the language barrier, the cultural differences, the concept of peoplehood, and so many more obstacles make it hard to break into. Looking back on it, I still can't figure out why I stuck with it through feeling like an outsider and tripping over Hebrew words. I have given up on things for much less. I think it was Lecha Dodi; I left services every week with the tune to Lecha Dodi stuck in my head. I hummed it without knowing the words. It was like that one tune wormed its way into my soul and hooked me. I started going to synagogue on a weekly basis just to hear it and then I started reading books and blogs on Jewish theology and watching Woody Allen and Marx Brothers movies. I immersed myself in Judaism for over a year before starting the official conversion process with my Reform rabbi. That process took another seven months and in that time I became more observant - starting with weekly Torah study, then keeping kosher style, and (as much as possible) not spending money on Shabbat. On April 8, 2011, I met with my bet din and went to the mikveh. I did it all for myself with the sincerest goal of igniting my Jewish soul for all eternity. Now I am somewhere on the more traditional end of the Conservative movement and my time in Israel has only strengthened my Judaism. Telling Ariel about my conversion and my frustration made me feel better and I was able to enjoy the rest of our night out.
Ben Yehuda Street

Ben Yehuda Street was excellent, even in the rain. This was also the first place we have seen bagels in Israel in the entire time we've been here. There was a lot of shopping and food and I managed to get most of the gifts I was looking for, including one for our own home - a hand washing bowl. I'm excited to use it before our next Shabbat dinner!

Read more stories from the Western Wall.