A Jew is a Jew is a Jew… Right?

I converted in Conservative Judaism, and while I am not ashamed, my first response to the question of my religion is just Jewish. I don’t say “a Jew by choice” or ” a Conservative Jew,” but  just that I am “a Jew.” I don’t do this because I am trying to hide who I am or because I want to trick someone into believing something else. I do it because in my mind a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

Earlier this week, a dear friend of mine finished his conversion to Orthodox Judaism. I have known him a year, and we have both been very supportive of each other throughout the process of the others conversion, even though we live on separate sides of the world and have chosen two different branches of Judaism. We have connected many times and shared stories and questions that were very similar.  We had very similar experiences despite being in different countries, of different genders and choosing different paths. Throughout our conversion processes, it was our interactions that further reinforced the idea that “a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.” Today, he sent me some pictures of the celebration he had with some close friends after his mikveh. Looking at the pictures made me feel like I was looking at a totally different world. The sight of the black hats and the absence of women in the pictures were both alienating images. I knew the pictures were of Jews and that they were beautiful images but it wasn’t a feeling of connection. I believe that his Judaism is also my Judaism. We share the same religion, but the images themselves were not a point of deep religious connection. My connection to the images did not come naturally, but only when I stopped and told myself that the pictures were of Jews celebrating a Jewish event and I also was Jewish.  As hard as I tried, I could not imagine myself in the room that was pictured. It was foreign.

Right now, I am attending an orientation for the program I will be doing next year in Israel, and everyone in my cohort is a Jew. We all practice differently and some would consider themselves more or less religious than others. I consider myself fairly religious. I am quick to say that my practices do not reflect Orthodox Judaism but none the less are pretty traditional in many ways. This week, both the pictures from my friend and the orientation taught me that maybe that isn’t as true as I thought.

In a room full of Jews (Orthodox, Conservadox, Conservative, Reform, secular, and other), I quickly found my niche in the group with the less religious Jews. Despite ordering the kosher meal and dressing tznius (I sometimes don’t cover my elbows, but did the entire orientation), my place of comfort and friendship in the group was not even among the other Conservative Jews.

This week is making me step back and start the process of thinking about where I really find comfort and connection to others in the larger Jewish picture. I am sure that my place will continue to be carved out when I move to Israel and am surround by even more Jews. I look forward to the process of staying true to what I have learned, who I am becoming and  finding my community within the community.

A Practical Question: To Wear a Kippah, Tallit and/or Tefillin or not?

With my conversion date approaching so quickly, I am facing practical questions I really hadn’t given much thought before.

Today, the question I have on my mind is trying to decide if I will wear tallit, tefillin and/or a kippah when I convert. Up until this point, I have never worn any of them, other than trying on a friend’s kippah once just to see how it would feel.

I don’t know how comfortable I feel with the idea, but it is also the custom in my Conservative community. I know when I move to Israel I will most likely not have to wear any of them, but I am trying to decide what to do while I still live here. I know I don’t have to do any of them, but I feel that it is something important to consider since it is so important to my community. The majority of women in my shul wear tallit and a kippah at least during Shabbat services and some wear tefillin during weekday services. My community also does require anyone going before the community in the service to wear both tallit and a kippah (or some sort of head covering).

The main thing I want is to be consistent in my practice. I want to believe in what I am doing to the point that I am not just sometimes praying with my tallit or only sometimes covering my head in the synagogue. But I know it will probably take some trial and error before I find out what I is comfortable and meaningful  for me.

I think I wouldn’t mind wearing tallit in private while I pray in the morning, but at this point couldn’t imagine myself doing it in public. Maybe just because I have never worn it. I think my biggest mental barrier is that I see all of these things as clearly masculine and  maybe that is why I don’t feel comfortable with them. If I don’t even wear pants, how can I wear tefillin? Also, a head covering doesn’t seem to give me the same uncomfortable feeling as wearing a kippah itself. A kippah is not a mitzvah, but a minhag (custom) that is traditionally for males. I see it as something that is a male symbol where as I see another head covering, like a scarf, as female. I would like to cover my head for the same reason that men wear a kippah, but then how do I justify only wearing it in the synagogue? And can I really cover my head in another manner, not a kippah? I think wearing a hat or scarf might be as equally uncomfortable because it is a symbol of a married Jewish woman, and I am not married.

At the same time, I do like the fact that tallit and tefillin are strictly Jewish and therefore outwardly represent a change in my identity. A man once converted can begin to wear tallit and tefillin that he was not able to before during prayer. I can’t really think of an equivalent for a female. I wish I had an outward symbol of my Jewishness. Something that is reserved for Jews. I mean, I will wear a Star of David, but that doesn’t feel quite the same.

I will keep thinking over the question of wearing a kippah, tallit and/ or tefillin. I will also try to think of other meaningful mitzvot or minhags that can be added when I become a Jewess.