Towards a Fuller Me

Today was Halloween. I usually don’t dress up, but one of my professors encouraged us to have a costume for class, specifically a Harry Potter costume. I have watched and enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, but I have never read the books and remain largely ignorant of the Harry Potter pop culture. To take the easy way out, I decided to just buy a Harry Potter house scarf and call myself a student at Hogwarts. A few days ago, my roommate and I visited the local Halloween store, and I was about to buy a Gryffindor scarf when she, being an avid Harry Potter fan, turned to me and asked if that was the house where I belong. I hadn’t even thought of buying a particular house scarf, I didn’t even know the name of all four houses, but she insisted that I could not just buy any house scarf. The house scarf I bought had to reflect the particular house where I belong.

An online test, of  over 100 questions, was what I used to place myself in a Hogwarts’ house. As I answered the questions, the majority related to moral character, I tried to really reflect on my answers. I found myself conflicted in answering questions based on who I am or who I try to be. Was I supposed to answer the questions based on my average response or on the ideal response I would hope for? I realized there is sometimes a disconnect between who I am in my day to day life and who I am when I put my best self forward. I told myself that I was going to make a conscience effort to give the world nothing less than my best self. After I took the test, I wrote in my journal how I see myself acting in the world and how I wish I was acting in the world. I made a list of things to work on daily, weekly, and monthly to help me make a conscience effort to provide the world with the whole person I was made to be.

I easily related the experience of identifying who I am on an average day compared to who I am on my best day to my conversion process. Right now, I am living my life and while things are going well, I know that I am not at my fullest, not yet. I am in the process of working towards being at my fullest. I pray from my siddur everyday, but these efforts, while bringing me closer to expressing myself more fully, are still limited. Right now, mitzvot for me are only actions that I am doing, they are not yet who I am. They are very much who I feel I am, my best self, but not yet my reality. As I continue through this process, I will continue to practice being a fuller, better person in the world through mitzvot, the 613 commandments and more generally good deeds.

Butterflies

Butterflies are something you feel on your first day of kindergarten, before you speak in front of a large group, or right before you walk down the aisle to get married. Today, I am feeling those butterflies.

I am attending my first class of a year long program at my local synagogue for those wishing to convert or just learn more about Judaism. I have been to the synagogue multiple times for special events and recently started attending more regularly. I also have taken multiple classes on Judaism in an academic setting at my university. And yet, I just feel that there is something special about today and what it signifies for the larger picture. With today’s class, I am moving forward, even if just a tiny step. I am entering further into the community. It is scary but exciting.

This entire process has been filled with moments of confronting the unknown, such as walking into a synagogue for the first time and  telling loved ones about my decision to convert. This is not the first time I am feeling butterflies during my process of conversion and I am sure it will not be my last. Nerves are usually seen as being a stressful, negative experience, but in this case I realize that butterflies are expected and they are there because I care about the journey. If I were apathetic about the conversion process, I would not be experiencing all of these overpowering and uncontrollable emotions. I need to embrace each emotion and experience them fully, the good and bad. I do not know what the class will be like, but I am ready!

“Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”

I was not lost, but I certainly found.

The famous author of The Lord of the Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote the words, “not all those who wander are lost.” This line has become a well-known quote because so many people can relate to the idea of wandering. Throughout our lives, we encounter many moments of wandering. We move from school to school, city to city, and job to job. Throughout the numerous processes of wandering, many of us are fortunate enough to stay rooted by family and friends. No matter how many times we move to a new city, we always have our “hometown.” In these instances, it is clear it see that those wandering are not necessarily lost and retain their roots.

On a deeper level, we wander in our minds, hearts, and souls as we explore ideas of why we are put on this earth and what direction our lives are headed. It seems like the deeper types of wandering happen when you don’t have a clear direction. Even if you are not lost, you are lacking clarity in a meaningful way. Some of us begin to learn more about different religious traditions as we wander through profound questions that either were previously unanswered or not sufficiently answered. With the majority of conversion stories I have encountered, from a variety of religious traditions, the converts describe their experiences as going from being lost to being home. They often begin in a state of little to no religious conviction and make a total transformation when they find their religious tradition and realize life now makes (more) sense. I can definitely relate to the end result feeling. I understand what it feels like to have this new found religion as the home you never knew existed but where you most certainly belong. But the first part, the experience of being lost or without a “home,” I have never felt.

I grew up in a very stable and loving two parent household. My parents, like their parents and their grandparents, created a nurturing, Roman Catholic household.  I had church every Sunday and catechism classes every Wednesday. I participated in many Church activities, like Vacation Bible School, youth days, and Christmas’ pageants. Besides a brief rebellious streak when I hit thirteen, I loved going to church, catechism classes, and all other things Christian. I had a clear religion with clear beliefs in a clear community. I never felt lost. I never had profound moments of doubt or skepticism. I never felt like my needs were not being met. I had the Church and never expected to want anything else.

When I began learning about other religious traditions, in junior high and high school, my study was based on interest of cultural diversity and had little, if anything, to do with theology. I began wandering even though I had a firm conviction in what I believed. I cannot easily relate to the story of other converts who were not spiritually fulfilled before they found their religion, but I can relate to their feeling of finding home, finding more fulfillment then you ever imagined possible, and finding a relationship with God and a community. I have never had a child, but I imagine that my experience is similar to the feeling of a parent. You led a fulfilling life before your child, but then you have your child and realize your life takes on new meaning, experiences, and fulfillment that you never knew you were missing. I never knew I was missing Judaism until I found it, and now I cannot let go. I did not wander because I was lost, but I can not deny that I found significant meaning I never knew I lacked.

Bereishit (“In the beginning…”)

I am on an extraordinary journey, that will never end, but is just beginning.

In the beginning, I was skeptical about beginning a blog that deals with the very personal journey of converting to Judaism. To be honest, I am still nervous about this process, but after many months of consideration I am taking the plunge and beginning to share my thoughts and experiences.

For the past year, I have documenting my thoughts and prayers in a journal. Recently, I began a digital journal on my computer specifically for archiving my experiences with Judaism, recalling my first memories of interacting with Judaism to the present days.  Today, I begin this blog with the intent to extend my writings into a new medium, become more aware of my journey (past, present, future), and just maybe provide interesting reading for someone else.

When I began to seriously seek out information on conversion, I looked for personal accounts and experiences. Unfortunately, I was largely left unsatisfied with the gap of information with personal experiences. I dug deep into books on halacha (Jewish law), Torah, and the logistics of the conversion process. These books were invaluable to my study and decision to convert, but without hearing more stories of converts I was left confused about the practical and emotional issues I was going through. I have a friend who converted to Judaism, but we are coming from such different places in our quest that she left me with more confusion than strength.  I read and heard multiple stories of Jewish converts, but it wasn’t enough. Conversion, and the reason for conversion, is very personal and different for everyone. For every story I read that spoke to me and I related to, I would have twenty more I just did not understand. I began to branch out my search for personal accounts of people converting to any religion. These were some of the most helpful stories, but at the end of the day we were still facing unique issues because of the difference in religion. When thinking about how to tell my parents about wanting to convert, I even consulted stories about gays coming “out” to their parents. There just is not enough personal, anecdotal information out there for those interested in converting to Judaism.

A very good friend is in a very similar place as I am, on the journey to join Israel. He has provided more help than any book or other resource in understanding my journey. He lives in a different country than I do, so the internet is the only way we communicate. Still, the ability to share our experiences with each other has made the world make just a little more sense. We are able to share practical issues, such as how to observe mitzvot (commandments) as a person converting, and emotional issues, such as dealing with family issues related to our conversion. Even though these are very personal issues, I see it as necessary to share my experiences so someone else will have them as a resource, not at all as a guide but as a friend’s story. I can not provide this experience for everyone, but I hope by sharing my story I am doing the little bit I can to fill the gap, provide someone else with some things to think about, and maybe help someone find their own words to describe their journey.

Speaking of words, they often fail, especially when trying to describe religious experiences. Not only will I be unable to find the perfect words to explain my experiences, but I can do nothing more than describe my unique experiences.  I encourage anyone reading to ask questions and comment on their journey with Judaism or their own faith, even if not a convert. We are all on our own journey.

And for that journey, a prayer:

“May it be Your will, Adonai, God of our ancestors, to lead us in peace and guide our steps in safety so that we may arrive at our destination, alive, happy and in peace.”