God as…my Father

The predominate image of God that I grew up with was God the Father. God the Father was such an important metaphor in my religious education, because it allowed me to learn about God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Even before I began to explore Judaism, I was drawn most strongly to a relationship with God the Father. I knew it is all the same God in Christian theology, but that was the imagery/terminology I found most helpful. I was about 15 years old when I stopped praying using the terms Jesus, Son, or Holy Spirit. I would instead substitute all instances with “God,” because it was the unity of God I wanted to emphasis and for me that was most fully expressed in the Father.

When I came to college, I was introduced to biblical scholarship. Both in current scholarship and in the Conservative movement, which is the movement I am currently learning within, the use of gendered language for God is to be avoided. Both in papers and in prayers, I am told to not refer to God as He or Father. I understand the danger in using gendered language; it can be used oppressively and can limit our understanding of God as Transcendent. Even understanding the limitations with the metaphor God is Father, I have to say this is one of my most treasured images of God, especially now as I am in the process of conversion.

In the process of conversion, relationships in your life get turned upside down and inside out. My relationship with my parents, sister, aunts,uncles, cousins, and friends will never be the same. I will lose some relationships and I will gain some relationships. Like all other chaotic, unstable times in life, it is comforting to have God as a constant.  God is not my Parent the same way that my parents are, but God as my Father is still a very intimate, special relationship.  I am at a point where my tradition, beliefs, and holidays are different than all of my family, and often cause tension. I am the only one resting on Shabbat. I am the only one lighting a Hanukiah. I am the only one not celebrating Christmas. At a time when I feel utterly alone and sometimes at odds with my family, it is comforting to know I have always had and will always have my Father.

I am leaving my family’s ground that is familiar and am on a journey on less familiar ground so that one day I may be a Jew. I am leaving the role as a daughter of the Church for the role as a daughter of Israel. With the change of my role in religion and family, it is comforting to know I will always be my Father’s daughter.

“Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you;” Genesis 12:1

Being Jewish is Expensive

I am not Jewish yet, but I hope to be one day. The process of converting to Judaism has entailed many unforeseeable aspects, one of which is how expensive it is to convert. It is all the little things along the way in the conversion process that really start to add up.

As a college student, money is always an issue, namely not having enough of it. I work part time on campus and my parents help me with books and groceries, but I rarely have extra money to spend. Converting has taken all of my extra money plus some money that should have been spent elsewhere.

Here are some of my conversion expenses:

-Switching my diet to only kosher food: My diet is now vegetarian kosher. This limits my dining out, which saves me money, but has also forced me to switch brands on many of my groceries. I can no longer buy the same milk or eggs as before, and many of the tried and true generic brands are no longer available to me. While the price difference is usually not too much, in the long run I have noticed an increase in my monthly grocery bill. There was also the one time cost of getting kosher cookware for my kitchen. I donated all my old pots, pans, and plates and started over with new utensils, plates, bowls, pots and pans. I know it seems extravagant to start all over instead of going through the process of making my cookware kosher, but once again, I am a college student so I didn’t have too many dishes living in a dorm/small apartment.

-Books: Starting a Jewish library is a necessity for those interested in conversion. This has been my biggest expenditure for conversion. Part of the reason is I just love to read so it is hard to restrain myself from some new books, but the other part of it is that books are an essential part of the learning process in conversion. I visit amazon.com almost everyday looking for new books and buy at least one about every week. They have been wonderful to learn from and to study on Shabbat, but even buying books online becomes expensive. I look at the books as investments into my future Jewish library that will fill my home with commentaries of all sorts. I am trying to build up a collection of Jewish books, including Rashi’s commentaries on Torah and the Bavli, but I also know I will be moving in a few months for graduate school and will more than likely not be able to take all these books with me.

-Hanukkah: Hannukah is coming up, and for the holiday I bought my first hanukiah and set of candles today. As per tradition, I bought the most beautiful one I could afford. I am very excited to celebrate the holiday with my own hanukiah for the first time, but it is a lot of money to spend for eight days. Of course, I will have the hanukiah for years to come and will only need to buy new candles in the future.

-Shabbat: Shabbat itself doesn’t require money. You can’t even spend money on Shabbat, but all the preparation requires some money. I bought a slow cooker, so I would be able to prepare food for Shabbat, and timers for my lights, so I wouldn’t need to turn them on or off during Shabbat. I also have to buy candles to light before Shabbat starts on Friday and a special candle for the Havdalah service when Shabbat ends Saturday night. I have not invested in beautiful sets of candle holders or Havdalah sets, but I want to and will need to have something more permanent than a bottle of cinnamon and cheap candle holders at some point.

-Gas: When I was a practicing Christian, I attended Church nearby and never had to drive to services. Now that I attend synagogue regularly, I have to drive across town to get to services and classes. I spend about an hour in traffic one way, during rush hour, and attend about three or four times a week. The money spent on gas really adds up.

These are just some ideas of the expenses I have encountered during my conversion process. I am sure there will be more, and while my bank account cringes, I smile because all of the expenses are helping to construct my new identity within the Jewish community.

Spiritual Will

I love writing. Writing is truly a cathartic practice for me. I feel the emotions pouring out of my heart and dripping onto the page with each stroke of the pen. I keep multiple journals and usually write about anything that I feel at that moment, but sometimes I find certain exercises help me work creatively through my feelings and uncover ideas I would not have otherwise thought. Today, in one of the many blogs I read, I found a writing exercise that inspired me- writing a spiritual will. The idea is just as it sounds. You write out a will in any form you are comfortable with, for example the author of the blog wrote her will in the form of a letter to her son, and you describe the spiritual, or non-tangible, gifts you want to leave with people who are important to you, such as your family, friends, and community.  I thought this was an amazing idea and had to share it. I cannot wait to start working on my own spiritual will.

For more information on the idea of a spiritual will and an example, check out the blog that inspired me: Velveteen Rabbi. http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2011/11/writing-a-spiritual-will.html

[ ] Catholic [ ] Jewish [x] other

If you have ever been in a “complicated” relationship with your religion you understand my frustration when I receive the dreaded request to identify my faith.  For better or worse, I come across this question often.

I am confronted with this question in many different ways. The two most prevalent ways are checking off the appropriate box on a survey and during the normal discourse of small talk (since I study religion). In both of these instances, the question is not meant to invoke profound thought or discussion. The one asking the question wants a simple, and in most cases one word, answer. I used to be able to give a one word answer, and I took that for granted. 

A year ago, despite already knowing I would one day convert to Judaism, when I was asked what religion I was I would quickly and clearly answer Catholic. I already knew I wanted to be Jewish, but I understood the facts- I was not Jewish, and I was baptized Catholic. Therefore, with little to no hesitation, I understood myself as Catholic, albeit no longer theologically in agreement with my Catholic identity.

This past summer, while taking religious studies classes in Israel, students in my program began to bring up the question of what religion we each were as part of the small talk. By this point, I no longer felt comfortable responding Catholic, but knew I could not rightfully say I was Jewish. For the first time, I stepped outside my one word identity that I had clung to for the past 21 years and answered, “It is complicated.” While most people shrugged off my answer and continued on with their conversations, I had one friend who would not let me off the hook so easily. I stepped outside my comfort zone, after much probing, and began to explain my situation of being in-between religious identities.

At that time, the explanation of being in-between religious identities was sufficient for me, but in the past few months I have realized I am not really in-between religious identities either. I mean, technically yes, I am moving from identifying myself as Catholic to identifying myself as Jewish, but theologically, I am not between identities. I have clear beliefs and practices that I ascribe to despite the fact that I do not Jewish. For some people, it is enough to be spiritually secure in your beliefs, but I do not feel comforted by this alone. It is wonderful to have faith and beliefs in certain things, but I need the construction of a community and a formal religion that reflect my beliefs and practices. It frustrates me that I have been lacking a clear religious classification that reflects my lived theology for years now.

The most frustrating part of the conversion process has been this feeling of not belonging anywhere. Religion has always been an important, if not the most important, way for me to identify myself, so it really upsets me that I don’t have a clear, defined religious identity at the moment.  There is a division between what I believe and practice and what I am. Right now, I am outside of organized religion altogether. I go to shul and believe in the Jewish ideas of G-d, but Judaism involves more than ascribing to certain precepts. To be Jewish, I need to join the people of Israel. I hate the question right now, because I don’t have an easy answer. I am doomed to the one word answer of “other.” “Other” becomes a very lonely identity, especially when all of your family is “Catholic” and all of your religious community is “Jewish.” It feels as if you do not belong anywhere. I am trying my best to realize that the ambiguity does not have to be only frustrating and lonely, but can also be empowering and beautiful. Recognizing myself as “other,” while I do not like it, allows me to  look closer about what makes my identity unique.

While I still hate the complicated story that accompanies someone asking me what religion I am, I want to challenge the form of one word answers to that question. Everyone has a complex understanding of where they stand in the world and their religious identity. Even people who are secure in their one word answer, like I will be when I am able to answer “Jewish,” have a complicated understanding of what it means to be that religious identity. The security in knowing your place among a larger community and the ability to answer the question with one word is amazing, and I cannot wait to get there again, but we need to be challenged to go deeper than that one word identity. Our relationships with G-d, others, and the world deserves more reflection than one word allows. I am in the process of  exploring my honest answer to the question, “which religion are you?” The ability to think deeper about what is valuable to me in my relationships to the world, others and Holy Other is a very positive experience in getting to know myself better, beyond a label .

I look forward to the day I can answer “Jewish,” but I recognize that no matter where I am in my life, the honest answer will remain more complex and dynamic.

Looking Towards Shabbat

There are still many hours until we enter into Shabbat, but I am already full of anticipation. I spent today, Thursday, busy with preparations for Shabbat. I bought groceries, set up fresh candles, prepared the slow cooker for a meal, set the light timer, and ironed my clothes for services. All this preparation, in addition to my classwork and normal responsibilities, is a lot to get done in one evening. Although I have to go through a long list of duties, it is exciting because it is part of the overall experience of meeting Shabbat. In the past weeks, since I have been attending Shul regularly and implementing more Jewish practices into my life, it is these moments of stress, and sometimes even chaos, where I find joy. I always looked forward to dressing in my “Sunday best,” but now I have a whole new way of greeting the holiest day of the week, where I find G-d, community, and shalom (wholeness). The preparations remind me of the importance of Shabbat and helps me to reflect as the work week comes to an end. I thank G-d not only for the grandeur and holiness that is Shabbat, but for the opportunity find meaning in the juxtaposition of the holy with the mundane in the moments that precede Shabbat.

I wish everyone a safe journey for Shabbat as we move from the realm of space into the realm of time for Shabbat and then back. May your soul(s) find comfort, joy and rest on the day that G-d made distinct and holier than any other day. I hope that we all find some way to  live so that Shabbat is clearly unique and meaningful to each of us in our own way. Shabbat Shalom.