Monthly Archives: July 2013

Am I Ready?

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A few months ago my rabbi uttered the words I’d been longing to hear, she asked if I wanted to keep reading and thinking and working or if I wanted to convert.  I told her I wanted to, but I asked for her opinion.  She smiled and answered “I think you’re ready,” (I may be paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it) I felt absolutely elated.  Finally, the moment I had be waiting for, the moment I had been preparing for had arrived.  She then said we would probably be done by the end of the summer, and that my conversion twin was also going to be officially Jewish by then.

I have chosen to call her my conversion twin because we are very similar women.  We both felt the inexplicable connection to Judaism for years and we both took an affirmative step towards conversion at about the same time (she contacted our rabbi about a month before I did and she successfully converted earlier this summer).  We also both come from very similar backgrounds and we both fell for nice Jewish boys during this process.  So I adore her and I hated having to miss her moment (scheduled the same weekend as my best friend’s wedding), because I knew it would be amazing.

Since then every time I have met with my rabbi she has given me more specific bits and pieces.  First she told me I’d be Jewish by the High Holidays, then she told me sometime in August and this week we have been trying to set a date.  Although she wanted to schedule it August 9th, my boyfriend is probably going to be out of town visiting his family in New York and I’d really like him to be there.  Her birthday is on the 16th so that left us with the 23rd. August 23rd, 2013 would be my official date of conversion.  I was in disbelief last night when I read the email, “Let’s do the 23rd.” she wrote. I couldn’t believe I had a date, “23rd for sure then?” I asked in my swift reply.  “Yes ma’am!” she replied thirteen hours ago.  So when I woke up this morning I knew the date I’d finally be Jewish, then I wondered: Am I ready?

I have been preparing for this very moment for years, I have struggled and questioned and broken down in front of my rabbi more times that I can count on my fingers (and toes).  Although the fit was easy, the process has not always been.  I’ve had a million questions, and the answer to those questions only lead to a million more.  It’s a big, significant step and I am proud to say I have not taken it lightly.  Choosing Judaism was probably one of the biggest commitments I had made up until that point, it was one of the most significant choices I have made.  Very few things in my life feel as permanent as this choice.  Choosing a major in undergrad was not a major commitment, although I worked hard and I loved and enjoyed every second of it.  Choosing law school was a big step, but not irreversible.  The only commitment that feels as strong is the bond with my family, and that wasn’t a choice it was a gift.  I have committed myself to friendships, but those also came into my life like blessings.  And I chose to commit to Judaism before I even met my boyfriend, who I definitely choose to commit to every day of my life and it has definitely been a pretty major commitment for me.  Thus sitting here, thinking, wondering, I am fairly certain Judaism was the first permanent commitment I chose.

I can often be a brash person.  I can get carried away by passions and excited by new ideas, but I don’t make significant choices easily and I do not take them lightly; I didn’t do so in my educational choices or my professional choices or even my romantic choices.  I try to be conscious of the deep and long-lasting effect of those choices and try to be careful and thoughtful.  Sometimes it is stressful to have to so carefully deliberate.  Sometimes thinking about the same thing for an extended period of time is scary, there are dozens of questions and possibilities and consequences.

I have thought about becoming Jewish for years, I have tried to learn about its traditions and its values, I have made them my traditions and my values.  I feel Jewish and I cannot wait to be able to say I am Jewish.  I am ready.

Shabbat Shalom.

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do or do not, there is no try.

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Try

Yesterday we (the boyfriend and I, although I hate using ‘boyfriend’ as the descriptor because it sounds so trite and insufficient) went ring shopping.  I guess it was more like ring browsing and learning, but that’s less pithy.  It was surprisingly amazing.

For those of you who don’t know me well I should explain that I am not, or I guess I was not, the marrying kind.  I am not sure how it happened, but marriage never became a necessity or desire in my adult life.  I always figured if I met someone we’d shack up and just live.  I imagined that as long as we were happy we would be and when we weren’t we wouldn’t be, no complications and no paperwork.  I know, that certainly does not sound like a statement made by a lawyer, but being a lawyer came later and my preconceived notions were pretty set.  I can credit this aversion to the concept of marriage to a lot of things, but those are less relevant now.

I met my boyfriend (my co-workers often remind me that when we first started dating I couldn’t even use that word and now it is not enough) about three years ago and after some time we started dating.  I knew from the start that something was different from my (few, very few) romantic relationships of the past.  We loved spending time together, even when it was just studying a few feet from each other, or watching C-SPAN, or wandering around Miami without purpose.  Dating in law school and while studying for the bar wasn’t easy, at times the uncertainty in our futures was paralyzing, the thought of going our separate ways was more painful that I could have ever imagined.  As time and our relationship progressed I knew he was it. I was definitely not thinking wedding, but I was thinking partnership, dogs, kids, an inevitable mortgage.

I have to admit that initially the idea of a life together was scary. I don’t know a lot of happily married couples.  I always thought somewhere down the line relationships fell apart, that people outgrew one another and a piece of paper kept them unhappily coupled.  As our relationship got more serious I started to worry about its inevitable demise and dreading the heartbreak of losing what we had.  It was crazy, I know, but I didn’t understand how we could live happily ever after.

I suppose I had some growing up to do.  I have learned that relationships take work, and feelings change, and life gets busy, but I can’t just give up on something because the future is uncertain.  So I was ready to give a life together a try, but he wanted more.  After a lot of debate, an actual wedding became an inescapable reality and preparing for it seemed like the smartest thing to do.

Rings

Thankfully, everything about our relationships has been anything but traditional.  I think this has allowed for a lot of healthy discussion about our future, and very few unknowns.  This also meant that when he felt he was ready to propose that we get married, officially, it was easy for us to visit a few jewelry stores together in order to educate ourselves on the symbol of this imminent lifelong commitment.

The first place we visited was Jared’s (he went to Jared’s?!).  Everyone was lovely and accommodating, but the second I tried the first ring on it was as if we were the only ones in the room.  My boyfriend smiled holding up my bejeweled hand as if he could see our very happy and long future right before his eyes.  It moved me in a way I never expected.  I cuddled up close to him feeling joyful, feeling hopeful.  The ring faded into the background and it’s distant sparkle perfectly reflected our not so distant future.  Our future looks bright, no fluorescent blue light required.

A quick visit to Macy’s followed, where we met a very nice woman who told us to wait and she would call us for the big diamond sale.  There my other half tried on his first wedding band.  His smile was wider than I’d seen all day, which I didn’t even think possible.  His eyes wrinkled at the corners as he grinned and he kissed me.

MACYSMy sparkly hand in Hearts & Arrows

Upon his mother’s surprisingly (because she lives relatively far away, although I am not actually surprised by it anymore, that adorable woman knows her stuff) well-informed suggestion we visited ALO diamonds.  We were handed two glasses of champagne as the store manager excitedly explained their provenance.  The pieces he showed us definitely reflected a lot of what he was saying, and I quickly fell in love (I was not allowed to photograph it and it is not on their website so you will have to take my word for it, it was stunning).

We then visited Mayor’s (great service, but overpriced) and Zales (great service, pretty good quality, pretty good deals).  The last visit was to the store with the perfect color palette and the sparkliest jewelry: Tiffany & Co.  The gentleman behind the counter was very attentive and showed us everything we wanted to look at, even offering to have a ring I’d seen before brought back in.  My boyfriend was pretty amazed by the sparkle, under any light the quality was undeniable.  The last ring we saw, the round Tiffany Soleste, was an exceedingly strong competitor of the ALO piece. It was flawless, the pave was seamless, and it was perfectly understated.

RING TWO

What followed was a very reasonable discussion and the decision is his to make.  I will be happy with pretty much anything.  This weekend was a great reminder of how lucky I am and it made me look forward to our life together.  The ring will be a symbol of our commitment and whatever it is I will wear it very happily for the rest of my life.  I will look down and remember this weekend.  I will be reminded that what really matters is our life together, our happiness, our commitment to one another and that regardless of difficulties we will try to work together towards our happily ever after.

Jewish Soul, Jewish Choice, Jewish DNA?

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This week something unexpectedly hit me like a ton of bricks… like a falling piano… like an angry rushing bull.  I was at work, doing some completely unrelated research, when I wondered what role my conversion would play on my progeny.  I honestly don’t know what brought it on, but it totally freaked me out.  So I emailed my rabbi, but was quickly reminded she was out of town when I got the not so helpful auto-reply.

I know, or maybe I hope, that my future children will be considered Jewish by those who matter in my life.  Still, I want for at least 2/3 of the largest movements within Judaism to recognize my children as Jewish.  After all I have chosen to go through I want my choice to be recognized and I want my bloodline to be accepted.  I know the Reform movement will generally accept my children without a second thought, especially because their presumptive future father is Jewish, but what about the Conservative movement?  Will my boyfriend’s family, friends, and fellow members of his congregation accept our children? Accept my choice? My rebirth?  I know I can’t actually change my DNA, I can’t make it Jewish, but I have made a choice and part of that choice was due to my future family. I wanted a Jewish home.  I don’t want to make this choice, raise my family Jewish, and then have my children learn they are not really Jewish enough for some Jews.

I have read a lot of complex articles about this topic, and the general advice is go the Orthodox conversion route.  I can’t do that, it’s not for me.  I can go to the next logical step, a Conservative conversion.  My boyfriend generally feels he is more connected to the Conservative movement.  His family is generally Conservative (although some are Orthodox) and back home he attends a Conservative synagogue.  I have actually gone to his synagogue and it’s very nice; I know what’s going on, I enjoy my time there, I really enjoy sharing the experience with his family.  Still,  that’s not where I feel most at home, most alive, most complete.  I want to be Reform.

Sure, at first it was sort of a merely logical choice.  The Reform movement seemed to me to be the most welcoming to converts, most fair to women, and most importantly the rabbi I gravitated to (and feel a strong connection with) is Reform.  So I began to attend a Reform temple, spend time with Reform Jews, read URJ articles, take a URJ class, and feel a kinship with Reform Judaism and its members.

I love Reform Judaism, I love the principles that led to its establishment. Reform Judaism values tradition and community, but does not seclude itself.  It is an inclusive group with a strong belief in equality.  Perhaps it is too easy that Reform Judaism fits me and my ideas, but I could never be part of a group that excludes, that judges, that treats some better than others.  I could never feel any affinity towards a group that believes that G-d plays favorites.  I strongly believe in women’s rights, I strongly believe in gay rights, I strongly believe in acceptance and empathy and I feel like Judaism aligns with those ideals.

I have met numerous converts on my journey and not all feel as if they fit into the Reform movement.  Many have fallen in love with the close observance of the Orthodox, others feel connected to the respect for tradition of the Conservative, while  I have fallen deeply and madly in love with the openness of Reform Judaism.  At the end of the day the members of all of these movements are all Jewish, they are Jews who make different choices as to how they practice their faith.

So sure, I could convert into a movement that would cover all of my bases, but I don’t think it would be sincere.  Or I could try to feel more connected to Conservative Judaism, which is not too different from Reform, and convert under their guidelines, but why should I when I have found such a loving and diverse community I deeply love?  Perhaps I can’t have it both ways.  Perhaps I will be forced to choose between my children’s identity and my own, but I don’t know how I would ever explain to them that I did something so that they could be accepted by a group whose ideas I disagree with.  But what if my children and my children’s children feel more connected to Conservative Judaism?  It is my intention to raise my children in an open, accepting, welcoming household.  I don’t want them to feel like they are stuck with my choices, I don’t want to limit who they are or who they want to become.  I am continuously thankful that my parents gave me almost absolute freedom to become whatever I felt was right.  I got to choose my career, my faith, my partner without question or judgment, they trusted they’d given me the tools to make wise choices.

I don’t take my struggle lightly, much like I don’t take my choice to convert lightly.   I like to consider these issues, I like to make sure I know as much as possible.  Perhaps I can ask my rabbi to perform my conversion more closely following halakhah (something I think I would like anyway, as I should be observant of Jewish law) and hope that this way it is accepted by the Conservative movement, for the sake of not limiting or denying my boyfriend and our future children something they may want.  I eagerly look forward to the return of my rabbi, so I can once again bombard her with questions, she must be used to it by now.

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I hope this blog is not offensive to anyone, it is not in any way my intention, I am merely expressing my feelings.  There’s a saying in Spanish para los gustos se inventaron los colores y para escoger, las flores (very roughly translated: colors were invented to meet tastes and to choose, flowers) and it refers to the idea that variety was created because there are so many varying opinions.   My feelings are mine, my soul connects to one thing, my mind has opinions about others, but I don’t think my opinion is superior to that of anyone else.  I hate to post a sort of disclaimer, but upon reading what I had written I felt as if it could be misconstrued, hurtful, ignorant.  I want this space to be a place where I share my thoughts, my feelings, my opinions, my struggles, my triumphs.  I don’t want to edit myself, but I don’t want to hurt anyone.

My Best Friend’s Wedding (finding challah in Montreal)

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It has been kind of a hectic month.   The second weekend of June I found myself in Detroit for a Bat Mitzvah with my boyfriend’s family and the following weekend one of my oldest friends got married in Montreal after about two years of wedding planning. Both experiences were thought provoking and surprisingly helped my boyfriend and I come to a healthy middle ground.  Kind of.  At least it got us talking.  A lot.

I arrived to Montreal on Thursday morning (although my friend was suffering from bride-brain and totally forgot) and quickly realized I’d be observing Shabbat in foreign surroundings.  I may have previously mentioned that Shabbat is my absolute favorite.  Generally we have a bottle of wine (or grape juice) at home and pick up a delicious challah from Publix just down the street, light candles, say the blessings over bread and wine, and enjoy the moment after what usually feels like an exceedingly long week.  However, I knew there was no Publix in Canada, let alone in downtown Montreal.  After brunch, my accommodating Catholic friends happily offered to walk with me to the nearest supermarket.  We walked to the bakery aisle, everything was in French, nothing looked like delicious, braided, eggy goodness.  I walked over to an employee, smiled, and asked in English if they had challah.  He looked at me for a second, processing my request, then walked away.  I was slightly puzzled, but followed.  He repeated the word challah under his breath as he looked through the mountains of bread. Challah, challah, challah. Then he turned to me and whispered “no” before he departed.  The three of us stood in slight confusion.  The bride asked the status of the search.  I wasn’t sure, but told her it didn’t look good.  Still, I was in Montreal, they have more bread than I know what to do with.  So I went on my own search and very quickly I found what looked like mini sesame seed challah in bags of eight.  I read the label, my French is nonexistent but it essentially read “egg bread,” much like in Publix.  I felt triumphant, and taught the groom the blessing over bread.  We shared the mini challahs throughout the wedding weekend and it gave a delicious sense of comfort.  It’s also great to get to share something that’s become so significant to me.

BRIDE

Now, to the emotionally  heavy part of the weekend(s).  The pinnacle was my friend’s wedding.  And the weekend in Detroit.  It is hard to explain.  The weekend in Detroit led to a lot of discussion about our future.  It was probably because we were amidst family and the daughter of a good friend of the family had just gotten engaged.  I, being somewhat of a gamophobiac (I kid), was pleasantly surprised at how my boyfriend so calmly and reasonably approached the topic.

Sometimes I am taken aback by the maturity of the relationship I have with my boyfriend.  Although we are both relatively young and have only been dating for about two years we are serious about ourselves, our lives, and each other.  Although it took some time we talk about absolutely everything.  Although it once was scary, and sometimes hurtful, we are honest and vulnerable with one another.  Although life is not always easy we are learning and growing together.  For some of this I can take credit, but for a lot of it I must give credit where it is due. My boyfriend is amazing.

Sure, he may leave socks on the floor, forget to do dishes, or never notice when things need cleaning (and I may sometimes remind him in not the nicest of ways), but I am thankful for having him in my life.  I never thought I’d have what we have. I don’t think I ever wanted it or thought it possible, but our relationship feels like a daily blessing.  Even on the hard days, days that he is inexplicably cranky or days I am hung up on something relatively irrelevant,  I feel blessed.  As we grow together there are kinks to work out, but he is exceptionally good at understanding, communicating and compromising.  I have a relatively volatile Cuban temper, I am often set in my ways, but the combination of the love we have for each other and his exceedingly rational nature helps us to always find a solution we are both happy with.

Take for example the topic of the last two weekends: Marriage.  For a while now I have seen my life tied to his, but for me that didn’t mean marriage.  He, on the other hand, has on numerous occasions asserted the importance of that vow before “God, the State, and our families.”  I know, I am a very lucky woman.  He has the values and morals of a man you only read about.  So when I playfully vowed to go with him to City Hall, he was not amused.    I retorted that City Hall was a fair compromise, we could even have our families there.  However, despite his nature, he was not compromising on two of three.  I offered a beach option and he snickered.  To him we have to get married in “shul,” there is no other option.  Marriage is the one subject, so far, my boyfriend is surprisingly unwilling to compromise on.

Attending my friend’s wedding was surprisingly significant for my relationship.  I expected to be moved by the fact that I was attending the wedding of the tiny girl in glasses who saved my life in the first grade.  And I was moved.  I was moved to share the experience with her family and loved ones,  I was moved to tears when her husband to be saw her walking down the aisle and cried,  I was moved to see them before me as I read from Song of Songs awaiting the start of their new lives together.  I had no idea my boyfriend was also moved to tears.  When we met back up at the reception we were on the same page, we wanted what they had just experienced.  He told perfect strangers that he couldn’t wait to marry me and the truth is neither can I.

So we are not even engaged, but almost daily we plan some aspect of our inevitable wedding.   His lack of flexibility on this matter has forced me to understand his (and his mother’s) stance on the matter and has pushed me to compromise.  My friend’s wedding showed me the beauty in sharing that moment with loved ones.  How can I not relent when all he wants is to spend his life with me?  When he wants to make this very serious vow before our loved ones?

LOVE

photo credit to a fellow bridesmaid