The dreams that were never meant to be

Life in Israel has been filled with unexpected ups and downs, but even on the most frustrating days, I am still amazed that I am here. I am freshly out of undergrad and in my early 20s. There are various points throughout one’s life that reflection on where one has been and questioning what is ahead is practically built in, and this point in my life is one of them. It is a moment of great transition, which is fragile but full of possibility.

At this moment, I look at where I am and can’t help but be kind of baffled about how I got here. Ten years ago, I would have thought that a Christian girl who converted to Judaism moved to Israel and had a BA in Religious Studies was just not possible, not just for me but for anyone! I was unaware that Judaism was a religion. I didn’t know that people live across the world from their family. I had no clue that someone could have a degree in something that wasn’t a job (e.g. teacher, doctor, lawyer, and engineer).

I love my life now. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. This is the life I was created to live. And yet, I think of the life I dreamed of growing up and living when I was young(er).

There are so many dreams that changed. One of the first things I mourned the loss of when I knew Christianity was no longer mine was the wedding day I always thought I would have. I think I first planned my wedding when I was six. I had colors for bridesmaid dresses, drew pictures of what my dress would look like and had a church picked out. I now know how different my wedding will look from the one I imagined when I was six and from the one my parents, sister and rest of my family had and imagined for me. Now, even when I try really hard, I can’t imagine myself walking down a church aisle. It is almost like my dreams were just that, fuzzy dreams in the middle of the night that were just a distant, fragmented memory by morning. Now, I couldn’t be happier to dream of my Jewish wedding.

I have had time to adjust to the dramatic changes in my dreams, and they were a slow evolution for me. I slowly gained clarity on who I was and the next baby step in my life after each move. My parents (and the rest of my family) didn’t have that benefit. They just had the image of their daughter’s baptismal gown, which they kept safely tucked away, being passed on to her children for their Baptisms. In what felt like overnight, that dream was gone, and the image is getting fuzzy.  It is hard for them. I know that and pray for our patience.

I know that my life and future are radically different from where I thought they would be, but I know that I couldn’t possibly live it differently.  At each step, it was hard to leave the path that was already beaten and had been imagined, but each time there came a point where staying on the path, untrue to who I was, become a more painful thought than the fear of stepping onto my own, destined path.

Those dreams from my childhood were also of a great life but were not meant to be live out, not by me. I don’t know what is next, but I know that this other, unexpected path is my path.

Stay the Same

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.

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.