Join the club, we’ve got sweatshirts.

30 01 2007

So, there are (realistically speaking) very few benefits to converting rather than being born Jewish.  Most of the things I’ve mentioned before would be equally true for anyone becoming observant, not just someone who’s converting. 

I feel like I have a bit more freedom to find my own place in Judaism, with out feeling like I have to conform to my family’s standards.  I have  a few friends who have started to become more observant in college (in one case keeping kosher, and in the other Shabbat) and in both cases they feel like they can’t really hold to that observance at home, since their parents just act as if they are doing the same thing as always.  That’s not to say I havn’t had my own issues with my family, I have, but it’s a different sort of problem.

Also, there’s the whole “God loves converts better/special” idea (Basically, God loves us special, since we’re becoming Jewish of our own free will, rather than because we’ve just been rescued from slavery or because our family has always been Jewish) 

And really, that’s pretty much it.  However, because my friend and I felt like there wern’t enough upsides to converting, we decided we needed to make some upsides of our own.  So we designed sweatshirts that say:

Floor length denim skirt …..  $20

Books … Your entire bank account

Having your Jewish cultural knowledge trumped by a two year old … Your pride

Becoming one of the chosen people … Priceless



Wearing a Jewish Star

29 01 2007

My friend (who’s also converting) and I were recently asked why we don’t wear Magen David necklaces.  Apparently we both strike everyone as the sort of people who would wear them (which is true, both of us would, and plan to) but neither one of us even owns one at this point.  We had both independently come to the conclusion that it would be dishonest, and inappropriate in some way, although we couldn’t put a finger on why.  I think that by wearing a Star of David necklace, we would doing something that would cause everyone around us to assume we were Jewish, which is, strictly speaking, untrue; it feels like lying. 

Now, no one has said anything that makes us think that it would be seen as out of line; in fact, everyone we’ve asked has said they think there is nothing wrong with it, or even that we definitely should.  And it’s not as if we don’t do other things that make people think we’re already Jewish.  I recently found out that most of the people at both Chabad and Hillel thought I was already Jewish (Not the Rabbi, or people in charge, but the other students).  But somehow this feels different.  I guess the best thing to do would be to ask my Rabbi what he thinks and see if we’re just picking up on something real, or if we’re just imagining it. 

Part of it might also be that we want to do something that makes it clear(er) that we arn’t Jewish.  People at Hillel keep treating us like we ARE Jewish. I’ve been asked on several occasions to lead services, or read haftorah, or have an aliyah, or say kiddush.  The people who ask all know that I’m not Jewish, and don’t care.  They see no distinction between knowing a lot about Judaism, and being Jewish, and since we generally are one of if not the most knowledgeable people in a group and we clearly intend to be Jewish, they’re opinion is why bother making a fuss over a technicality.  Obviously this can be pretty awkward for us, since we do care about that technicality. 

Just one more of the awkward moments of the conversion process.

Choosing a Name

28 01 2007

I think one of the hardest things about converting is deciding what to do about names.  First off, I have to choose a hebrew name for myself.  Now, choosing a name for your child is one thing, you can just choose a name that sounds nice.  But choosing a name for yourself, that’s much harder.  Not only do you have to choose something you like the sound of, but everyone who meets you will ask why you chose it, and what it means. You need at least one reason for having chosen the name (If not more, since you’ll get sick of giving the same reason over and over again).  You can choose something that is phonetically similar to your given name, or something that has symbolic meaning.  I have some ideas so far, one is a name that’s common in my family, and a second is based on the middle name I share with my mother.  For me, choosing a name connected to my family is a way of reinforcing the fact that I want to remain a part of my family, that this is not my way of running away from them, or separating myself from what I grew up with.  I havn’t made a final decision yet, but I’m reasonably certain what I’ll do. 

In addition to choosing a hebrew name, I’ve been asked several times what name I’ll go by when I convert (My hebrew name, or my birth name).  At least one of the people who has asked this has informed me that I have to go by my hebrew name, but he was far over the line to say that.  Just because he has started to go by his hebrew name as he became more observant doesn’t mean that it’s the right decision for everyone.  I think it’s a very personal choice;  your name is who you are, it’s a part of your identity.  My name isn’t particularly Jewish, but it’s certainly not enough to make me stand out as a convert.  While not wearing a sign that says I’m a convert isn’t a big part of my decision because of that, I feel like to change my name is to try and cover up my history, to hide the fact that for 21 years of my life (at least) I wasn’t Jewish.  The fact that I found Judaism on my own, rather than being born into it, is important to me, it’s something that I want people to know, not something I’m ashamed of.  For all those reasons, I will continue to go by Emily, the name my parents (who I love) gave me.  (Again, I think it’s a very personal choice, and I have nothing but respect for someone in my position who makes the other decision.)

Shavua Tov!

27 01 2007

So, my Shabbat was excellent.  Dinner last night was amazing; We had salad with strawberries, AND my favorite pie. 

There was also a really great speaker who came to talk to us about Judaism and her faith/practice while she was in Iraq with the army.  Hearing her talk about all she went through to observe Shabbat and the holidays while she was there made me feel like I really have no excuse for complaining about how hard it is when I’m home with my family.  Also she had some great stories, and was a charismatic and articulate speaker.  

She did mention one person who she met over there who was a convert, and didn’t even know what a parsha or a chumash was.  This just baffels me, how can someone convert and not have at least that basic knowledge?  Even if he converted reform (which he did, that was his explanation for lighting candles late, not drinking kosher wine, and not using Hebrew in services) how did his rabbi let him convert without explaining about weekly Torah readings, or anything like that?  I know this is probably unaccepting and bigoted of me, but people like that really bother me.  They’re making my life that much harder, look at what’s going on with the treatment of converts by the Israeli Chief rabbi lately (Specifically his not accepting diaspora conversions over the summer, and his more recent move to remove converts from getting citizenship under Right of Return.)  Does that make me a bigot, or just practical? 

Anyway, it was a great talk, and a really fun dinner.  Hopefully it will be an equally good week. 🙂

Pre-Shabbos Playlist

26 01 2007

I have a tendency to have music stuck in my head for long periods of time, and one of the things that’s hardest for me is no music for all of Shabbat.  So, I have a habit of blasting loud happy music for the hour and a half or so before Shabbat starts.  My current play-list is almost all of the broadway version of The Wedding Singer (which is the musical equivalent of what I imagine crack must be like, it’s just impossible to be sad while listening to it.  It’s so poppy, and 80’s!) quite a lot of Disney, some pop stuff (Barenaked Ladies, etc) and Footloose for the last track.  🙂

Anyone else have traditions like that? 

Shabbat Shalom!

Converting (the highs)

25 01 2007

For all that I talk about converting being frustrating, there are some great benefits to it.  Mostly little things, but they’re still amazing when they happen.

Things that have been making me happy:

-I’m taking Hebrew for the second semester this year.  I’m nowhere near fluent, in fact, we havn’t even gotten past the present indicative tense (although we’re supposed to be getting to past tense this semester, and maybe future) but it’s still enough that I’m starting to understand phrases in prayers.  It’s rarely whole sentences, but it’s still exciting to be going along in text that I’ve been reading phonetically for almost a year now and to realize that I’m not sounding all of it out anymore, that some of it, little bits and pieces, I’m actually reading. 

– Maybe this is more of a linguistic thing than a Jewish thing, but I love making connections in Hebrew from the roots.  It’s just so cool how the whole language fits together.  Anyway, it makes me almost giddy every time I make some new connection.  (Ok, I’m a bit of a nerd)

– A few weeks ago on Shabbos, there were more people than expected at Chabad, and so we were sharing siddurim, and then later some people (including me!) were reading out of a different siddur than was being lead out of (meaning no page numbers, and slightly different order/selection of prayers).  After services, I was talking to one of the people there who was born Jewish, and has been reasonably involved in Judaism her whole life, and she said “I always wished I could just pick up a siddur and know what was going on rather than just following along. ” And I realized that I could pick up a siddur and understand where in the service we were, and remember what prayers we said, and which ones weren’t in the siddur that was being lead from.  I was no longer the person with the least idea what was going on, all my hard work studying, all of the time and effort I’m putting into this is paying off. 

– People who I had assumed were just sort of tolerating my presence, and who thought I was amusing at best, have actually been getting in touch with me.  I’ve wound up being a real part of the community here without even realizing it, and that’s a big deal for someone like me who has never made friends easily. 

– Nothing to do with Judaism, but this guy’s songs are excellent.  I havn’t listened to all of them but the ones I have (Mandelbrot set, Skullcrusher Mountain, I Feel Fantastic and Re your brains) are great, and I imagine the others are too.  All I have to say is “Isn’t enough that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?”.  Or perhaps “All we want to do is eat your brains.”  Seriously, these songs will be stuck in your head for days. 

Why I’m converting (take two)

24 01 2007

(Take one is here)

Last Shabbos, on the walk home from Chabad, someone asked me why I was converting.  We’d had a disscussion about it before, but it was in a larger group, and I always give a pat answer in those situations.  Big groups always make me feel like I’m being interrogated, and it’s just impossible to have a real disscussion in situations like that.  Generally I say something to the effect of “ask me later, and I’ll be happy to explain it to you”, but she’s the first one who’s ever taken me up on that, so I had never had to come up with a real answer. 

After telling her all the things I loved about Judaism, she agreed with me, and then  asked some good questions for which I had no real answer.  Why not just be a good person, since judaism doesn’t require you to be jewish?  Why go through all the bother of being Jewish (arguably difficult and frusterating)  when there’s no real need? 

I felt bad, since I couldn’t give her a good answer.  She started apologising and saying that she shouldn’t be prying like that, but it wasn’t really prying.  It’s something everyone asks, and everyone wants to know, and I should be able to answer that.  

After spending the rest of the evening thinking about it, I realized what the answer was.  Yes, I could be a good person without converting, and no one could fault me for doing that.  It would certainly be simpler, but in the end that’s not the sort of relationship I want to have with G-d.  I know that this is what He wants me to do, so taking the easy route isn’t a good option.  A Jewish relationship with G-d is catagorically different from a non-Jewish one.  In Judaism, that relationship touches on every aspect of your life. Everything I do, every moment of the day, my relationship  with G-d is a part of that.  Outside of Judaism, that’s not the case.  G-d is there, for sure, but He can be a side note.  That’s not how I want my faith to be,  and so I am choosing to convert. 

So now I have a better answer to that question, if not a perfect one.  And, of course, I figured this out on Shabbat, so I couldn’t just write it down, but I think I’ve mostly worked it out again.