Anticipating My First Shabbat as a Jew!

Shabbat is my favorite Jewish thing. It beats Purim, kosher wine and even bagels. Shabbat is breath outside of time filled with songs, prayers, meals and Torah. Best of all, Shabbat involves moments within community. Shabbat being the same day for Jews around the world allows me to feel connected to those Jews even beyond my own shul.

This is my first Shabbat as a Jew. I now feel even more in connection with all the other Jews commanded to rest on Shabbat. I look forward to no longer being the ger (although I was always welcomed). I look forward to dwelling in Shabbat in a whole new way. Shabbat is no longer something I observe Jews keeping and try to participate in. This Shabbat is my first Shabbat that is me keeping a mitzvah. Shabbat is no longer something I do. Shabbat, along with the 612 other mitzvot, is who I am.

With the help of Hashem, I will dwell is Shabbat and allow Shabbat to fully dwell in me.

Shabbat Shalom.

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My Beit Din

The 4th of Sivan, right before Shabbat and Shavuot, I had my Beit Din. I am an anxious person by nature, so the day was one filled with so much anxiety and stress. I cried. I laughed. I threw up.

I arrived at the shul about 10 minutes early. I had spent the morning eating breakfast with a friend and then praying at a local park. The time with a friend and in reflection really helped me calm down, but I still had butterflies in my stomach. The stress related to the Beit Din was mostly about being in a situation where you have to be completely open and sincere to a group of men asking personal questions. I also knew that I had wanted this step to come for so long, but when I first got the news that the Beit Din was scheduled I panicked. I questioned more than ever if I was ready and making the right decision. I think this is similar to preparing for a wedding. You look forward to the day and spend months in preparation, but when the day gets close you remember that the decision is more than about that day, it is about a lifelong commitment. Luckily, I had some friends who calmed me down and reminded me that the whole point of the Beit Din is to make you prove you are ready and sincere. Honestly, that was one of the most amazing things to come out of the process. I proved to myself as much as I did to the Beit Din that I was ready.

In the room, I was asked to begin by telling my story of how I got to the point that I was sitting in front of the Beit Din. Based on my rather short description of my journey, they begin to ask me many more questions. I was asked about my relation to Israel, the Jewish people, the Shoah, my Christian family, holidays, kashrut and many other things. It never really felt like a conversation, but they were very nice the whole time and never made me feel overly uncomfortable. I did have trouble answering some questions, but for the most part they only asked things I have considered at least at some point throughout my journey. The questioning was tiring, and the hardest part was being open to being so vulnerable. I felt overly exposed as my personal journey was picked and probed in order to be judged.

When they finished asking me questions, I step out of the room. I began thinking of all the “right” and eloquent answers I should have given. I am thankful that the Rabbi’s assistant was in the waiting room also and talked to me casually to keep my mind from going crazy as I waited for them to call me back into the room. It was only a few minutes, and then I sat back down in front of them and received their “mazal tov”s. My rabbi said that he only wished I wasn’t moving so I could continue studying here. That was one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. All I could say was “thank you.” There are no words to describe the way my body, mind and soul felt in that moment. They asked me a series of questions along the lines of agreeing to raise my children as Jews and tying my destiny to the destiny of the Jewish people. I answered the first question “yes” and the rest “ken” (Hebrew for “yes”). It was probably just silly to them, but it was meaningful to me. I was so overcome by the joy of the moment. I really didn’t expect to feel that incredibly happy. I have never in my life felt so amazing. As I walked out of the room, I felt as if I could not speak, think, see or hear correctly. All my senses faded away as I floated off.

The moments after were filled with such relief. I had been incredibly nervous for the days leading up to the Beit Din, and now all of the stress dripped away. For a few moments, everything in my life felt shalom (whole) and b’seder (in order). It was only an instant, but it was reality. Then I began to feel joy and happiness and accomplishment. I really felt my heart “dance” inside of me. As I came back to earth, I remained in a state of joy and peace, but suddenly realized I was exhausted. I got home and immediately went to sleep in an unnatural state of security, love and joy. And when I woke up, it was time for my last Shabbat as a non-Jew and then Shavuot and my mikvah day quickly followed.

The whole day was amazing and like a dream. It was one of the best days of my life and the greatest I have ever felt. And yet, the memories and feelings are already so vague.

Shabbat (Conservative Style) x 4

The decision of which branch of Judaism to convert through has been a long, hard road. I feel like my theology and practices fit one branch on this issue and another branch on another issue. After much thought, I decided that the Conservative movement was right for me. Even after that decision, even after many months of living within the same Conservative synagogue and working with the same Conservative rabbi, I still go through bouts of doubt when I don’t exactly fit into the practices and beliefs of the community. One of the most frustrating instances I face, weekly, is that my way of “keeping” Shabbat is different from the majority of my community’s practices.

Usually, I observe Shabbat in ways that would be associated with Orthodox practice. I do drive to shul, because there is no synagogue in walking distance, but I also make sure to prepare my food ahead time, not to write, and stay away from my phone, t.v. and computer.  While I enjoy observing Shabbat with these practices, it feels very isolating at times to be separated from the normative practices of my community, like eating out after Kabbalat Shabbat. I have not found anyone in the community to share my Shabbat practices with, so it often becomes a lonely experience to come home and eat and read in silence. In order to avoid the feeling of isolation, I would usually try my best to stay up late on Thursday night and wake up early Friday so I would be tired Friday night and not have to spend too much time alone after services. As it is getting closer to the summer, I know that Shabbat will only begin to feel like it is lasting longer and longer with late sunsets on Saturday. And as things stand now, this only means I will be spending more time feeling isolated than before.

After months of frustration over Shabbat, I finally realized I am approaching this wrong. Yes, I love a more Orthodox approach to Shabbat, but that is not the right approach for everyone and my community finds value and meaning in another approach. Instead of being frustrated by the disconnect between my practices and my community’s practices, I need to push myself see things in a new perspective and try to better understand how my community finds wholeness in Shabbat.

For that reason, I decided to dedicate at least 4 weeks to Conservative style Shabbats. I began last Shabbat, Adar 16, and plan on continuing until the Shabbat before Pesach. Last week, I attended Kabbalat Shabbat service and then joined a few friends from shul for a dinner at a local restaurant. On Saturday, after services, a friend and I drove to a conference I had to attend on Sunday a few hours away. Normally, I would have waited until after Shabbat to make the drive, but decided that spending the five hours in conversation was a better use of Shabbat than my usual reading alone. We even stopped at a restaurant on the way for some food. I have still kept some earlier practices that keeps Shabbat sacred for me personally while blending in with the community better and not having the same isolating effect. For example, I still do not use my phone, watch t.v, or use my computer. My outlook on Shabbat for these four weeks is to build relationships and seek the “spirit” of Shabbat in new ways. This primarily calls for me to be in community and learn from others. Whether I end up keeping Conservative style Shabbats or returning to my previous practices is still to be determined, but either way, I certainly know that this is an opportunity to learn and grow.

 

Quote Expressing My Gratitude and Suprise

“I may have not gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.”– Douglas Adams

I am blessed to have the opportunity to keep and remember Shabbat within my community this week, and past and future weeks. I knew this is what I had wanted for so long, but never saw myself as actually being within the Jewish community. As I continue to learn and live Jewishly, I always remember that I did not know I would end up here and I don’t know the exact future events of my life, but Hashem will continually provide me with the resources to be where I need to be and where Hashem need’s me to be. And in a few hours, that will be dwelling deep within Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

(Not) Keeping Shabbat

As a non-Jew, I am suppose to do some small, private act of “work” in order to not keep Shabbat. An example of this would be carrying something in your pocket from private to public domain without anyone knowing. But this past Shabbat I went beyond this small requirement and drove 4 hours out of town to visit family on Saturday afternoon.

I can’t justify my decision to drive on Shabbat using halahkah, but I did obviously believe in my decision enough to choose to drive. My mother’s birthday was this weekend, and to celebrate my family was having a nice dinner Saturday night. Spending time with my family is really important right now because in a few months I am moving for school and won’t be able to share any holidays or special occasions. The dinner itself in no way distrupts Shabbat, but yet I still didn’t keep Shabbat. In my mind, the options were as follow. I could drive to my parent’s house on Friday, before Shabbat, and keep Shabbat there. I would be able to keep Shabbat and go to the dinner after Shabbat. The problem with this solution is that there are no synagogues or Jews even remotely close to my their home. I would be all alone for Shabbat. The other option, which I chose, was to attend my shul Friday night and Saturday morning and leave right after Musaf service to drive in order to make the trip in time for dinner at night.

I understand I made the “wrong” decision according to Jewish law, but in the process of conversion, it seems like the right decision. I look forward to Shabbat services each week. It is really the only time each week when I get to be in community with Jews. It is a chance to learn and grow in ways that a guide or conversion book just can’t provide. I love to pray alone, but there is a new dimension gained when I am in shul praying and singing along with others.

Laws are always important, especially when you are learning in order to convert, but I do feel like in some of these instances community is even more important. Shabbat is beautiful even when I sit in a room alone eating salad, praying and studying, but when I do the same things in the context of a Jewish community, Shabbat becomes even more magical. Community plays a very special role in Judaism and is extremely important when trying to enter the larger Jewish community. At this point, I  feel it is important for me to do anything I can to spend time within my Jewish community.

Ready or Not, Shabbat is Coming

Shabbat is only a few hours away, and I do not feel ready. I am axiously trying to prepare meals, send out emails and run last minute errands before I step outside time to breathe, pause and enter the transcendent.  It is stressful to feel my control over the work week slowly slipping away as we approach the sacred time of Shabbat.

At the same time I appreciate the reality check. Shabbat comes every week, whether we are ready or not, to show us that the world can get along without us for a day. I feel like I have control over things, but Shabbat reminds me that things are ultimately out of my hands, not only on Shabbat when I can not answer emails or do work but everyday of life. For that reason, I will take a deep breath, let go of any control I feel I have, and embrace Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom.