Happy Chanukah to anyone celebrating!

It has been a long time since my last post, because I was busy finishing up the semester. Now that I am on break, I am free to write about the many ideas I jotted down but lacked time to write out.

This is my first Chanukah. In the years past, I have made latkes with friends and observed others lighting their Chanukiah. This year, I am preparing my own Chanukah food (for a friend’s dinner party) and lighting my very own Chanukiah. This is very exciting, but at the same time lonely compared to other years. Usually after my last final I head to my parent’s home right away for the break. This year, I wanted to be able to spend more time at the synagogue, spend time with Jewish friends for the holiday, and have my conversion class still. The extra time in my quiet apartment has provided a much needed break after the chaos of the final weeks of classes. I have also had the chance to clean and work on graduate school applications. At the same time, my family is beginning to gather in my hometown and I am not there to enjoy the family moments. Tonight, my family is gathered together making dinner, and I am cooking for one. I enjoy the solitude but miss my family. I will be going home in a few days for Christmas, not to celebrate but to be with family. When that time comes, I know I will miss the peace and quiet of my apartment, but right now I just wish I was with family. Friends are amazing, but family is something different all together.

Christmas has been a difficult issue and will only be more difficult when the day actually comes. My religious family goes to mass several time on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is definitely the biggest day of the year, as it should be for Christians. I am not saying I have made the best decisions, but I will share what I have decided to do for Christmas and give an update after the holiday about how it went.

I am attending all family functions outside of Church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, because this is important family time.

I will prepare kosher food to take to share with my family. This way, I can have kosher food and not upset anyone by having totally different food from everyone else.

I asked for all relatives and friends to not give me any gifts, because I not celebrating. If I do receive a gift, I will however be appreciative.

I am giving my family and friends Christmas gifts, because they are celebrating. Just because I no longer observe Christian holidays does not mean it isn’t very important for many people, including my family. I do not want to stop any of my family from enjoying what is their celebration.

I am taking my Chanukiah to my parent’s house when I visit for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I will hopefully light the candles in the living room, since it is suppose to be public.

I am not quite sure about attending Church. It largely depends on how my parents are taking the holidays. As much of a change the conversion process is for me, it is just as hard (if not more) for them. I need to give them time to adjust, and I do not want to hurt them. Also, I am hoping to move to Israel for graduate school so this is my last Christmas with them. If I do end up attending one service, I will sit with a relative who will hopefully be more tolerant of my non-participation in the service.

Happy Holidays to everyone. 🙂

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

[ ] 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 sufficent 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.

“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.