One phrase is more prominent than any other when reading through the signatures of my junior high and high school yearbooks- “stay the same.” Usually this phrase is paired with the idea that I am “cool” or “fun” to be around.
Obviously, we don’t really want people to stay the same in every aspect. We want people to grow past the immaturities of high school and think beyond the concerns of a teenager. At the same time, we cling to our idea of who those close to us are and crave their consistency for our own sake of retaining a “cool” friend.
I never thought I would be confronted with the suggestion to “stay the same” again, but now as I tell those closest to me about my decision to convert, most have the same response: I will always love you as long as you “stay the same.” Or, if they don’t want to make their love seem so conditional, they find another way of saying that all they are concerned about is that I am happy and will “stay the same” person they have come to know and love.
While I understand that the care and concern of my loved ones for me to “stay the same” is genuinely connected to their idea of my well-being, I feel uncomfortable addressing their concern to “stay the same.” Part of me addresses their concern sensitively and answers that Judaism is not something new in my life and has been forming who I am gradually for the past few years. This answer expresses my idea that Judaism does change me, but it has already begun and they still love me now so they should not think they cannot love my change in the future. The fact that I will continue to change is more implicit, because I do not want to cause worry.
My other response is not as gentle but is how I really feel. Judaism does change me. It has begun changing me and will continue to change me for the rest of my life, but the day I step out of the mikvah (ritual bath) and become a Jew will be the most transformative moment of my life. If becoming a Jew was not fundamentally transformative, why would I convert? If I was going to remain the exact same person, there would be no reason to convert. The beauty of any ritual, especially a conversion ritual, is that the person is changed in a very profound way. I know that this is harder for loved ones to hear, so I will continue to try and give the more gentle description of how I see Judaism shaping my life.
Judaism has changed what and how I eat, pray, dress, think, and approach God and others. I will continue to change and grow throughout my life with Judaism as my guide.