JapaJew: One Year Later

Reflecting on my Jewish life.

While we don’t consider ourselves to be religious Jews, my husband and I try to make it to shul (synagogue), every once in a while, because we believe it’s an important part in maintaining our Judaism (so to speak). There’s the community aspect, the ritual aspect, and most importantly for me, the learning aspect. After not having been at shul for quite a while (we’re busy people, ok?!), there we were last Saturday morning when I suddenly realized my mikvah was exactly one year ago today! One year a Jew. Quite a significant moment for me.

One year ago, I was a tentative Jew. It was all a bit abstract – what was it all going to mean for me? But I have realized that life, is just life. You live your life and things happen. There’s not too much thinking that goes into the day-to-day stuff. That has been a nice realization for me – that being Jewish just happens in the same way I make dinner every night or go to work every morning.

The year has flown by, as I expect future years to do too. There will come a time when I will have lived more years being Jewish than not. In the meantime, there is still so much more I want to do to honour the path I have chosen: re-learn how to read biblical Hebrew (to be able to follow along in shul), volunteer in the Jewish community and, yes, attend shul just a little more often.

The great thing about establishing myself as JapaJew from the very beginning (while also considering my Czech heritage) is that I made it clear to myself this was not an adoption of a new life, it was the combination of multiple parts of my life. For everything I’ve learned about being Jewish, my husband has learned something about what it means to be Japanese or Czech, and we’re richer in experience for this.

Wow. Jewish for one year already. Can’t wait for what the upcoming years will bring!

So You Wanna Convert? 8 Steps to Becoming Jewish

It’s as easy as one, two… eight!

I was gifted this beautiful challah cover upon my conversion.

As a new-ish JBC (Jew By Choice), my mikvah is still fresh in my mind. The warmth of the water as I walked the seven steps down. The accomplishment I felt after my final immersion. The excitement of everyone singing Siman Tov (it really gets going at 0:40) on the other side of the door…

I can say with 100% certainty I had a wonderful conversion experience. Although my parents seemed a little uncertain at times (due to this being a new experience for all of us), I had their support as well as the support of my now-husband, his family and my synagogue. But my experience is far from typical and it isn’t always a seamless experience. Conversion can be challenging for people who don’t have a lot of guidance, may still be tied to their former beliefs or feel pressured to convert.

There’s no cookie-cutter conversion journey but these steps might help you think about whether conversion is the next step in your life.

1. Make this decision for YOU. Don’t allow anyone to coerce you into conversion. It is extremely personal and has to come from deep within. Ask your yourself why you want to become Jewish. Is it only because you feel you have to do so to get married? Can you imagine a Jewish identity separate from your partner? No engaged woman wants to think about the end of her marriage, but I had to ask myself if I was prepared to continue living Jewishly should I ever separate from my husband.

2. Meet with rabbis in your community. If it’s not obvious which stream of Judaism you want to follow, meet with different rabbis. I treated it a little like a job interview in which they were not only checking me out but I was doing the same to them. Which rabbi excites you? Are they someone you trust and respect? The rabbi will likely play an important role in your family’s life cycle events so you want to make sure they’re someone you want to have around.

3. Choose your synagogue. This isn’t necessarily tied to the above step, especially if there are different options of the various streams in your area (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc.). You may be influenced by the stream your partner grew up with or by the values that are important to you. Though my husband grew up Conservative, we got a good feeling from the Reform rabbi after attending the synagogue’s A Taste of Judaism information session and decided to stay on with him. It was a new experience for the both of us to share.

4. Sign up for a Jewish Information Class (conversion course). This will likely be a requirement for conversion at your synagogue. The timeline may differ but fall to spring is typical. My class was once a week for two and a half hours. One hour was devoted to learning how to read biblical Hebrew (in order to follow along in the prayer book) and the rest was devoted to Jewish religion, history and everyday life. My husband was required to attend, which was helpful to me because I could ask him to expand on things we had learned, and it felt like we were doing this together.

5. Live Jewishly. This means observing Shabbat, attending services and taking part in holidays. I had my husband to guide me but there are a number of different resources including your rabbi, fellow congregants, books and Jewish websites. Start small and add to your Jewish way of living. Light Shabbat candles and nosh on some challah. Challenge yourself the next week to make a completely kosher meal.

6. Study, study, study. As part of my Jewish Information Class, I was required to read up on a variety of topics, practice reading Hebrew and write a weekly journal entry. It may be surprising how many people in your Jewish social circle don’t actually know too much about the history of the Jewish people or the stories in the Torah, so reading on your own or attending Torah study at your synagogue might be ways to fill in the blanks.

7. Prepare your family. “Becoming Jewish” may be very abstract to your family. They hear you saying it and they know you are taking classes but it still might not feel real to them. Tell them why you’ve made this decision and why it’s important to you. Invite them to ask questions about your decision and what it means to be Jewish. Invite them to have Shabbat dinner with you or take part in your mikvah (ritual bath) celebration.

8. Set a date for your mikvah. This is the last step in your conversion. Before you do the mikvah you will be required to sit in front of a beit din, a which is a panel of rabbis (usually three) that will ask you questions about your conversion journey. Don’t be concerned about trick questions. They want to see you succeed in becoming Jewish. They only want to make sure you have come to this important decision on your own and that you have every intention of living a Jewish life.

Everyone’s conversion journey is different. As long as you believe in what you’re doing, you are making the best decision for you.

While I like to jokingly remind my husband that my life was perfectly fine before I became Jewish, the journey to conversion (and beyond) has brought us closer together. It has also made me part of an active community and allowed me to tap into a spiritual side that I never knew I had before. In Judaism, I have found love on so many levels.

What do you remember most about your conversion journey? Please post below!

Story published on Kveller.com!

JapaJew reaches a wider audience.

ICYMI – I had an essay about being Japanese, Czech and now Jewish published the other day on Kveller.com. It was exciting to see my experience being shared with a much wider audience, and I loved hearing from people who reached out just to say the piece had resonated with them.

Have a read and let me know what you think in the comments section!

And Then I was Jewish

Just like that (no, not really).

As you can imagine, cameras were not allowed in the mikvah.

There I was, standing naked in the mikvah, having a life-changing spiritual moment, yet the man I was thinking about wasn’t my now-husband. It was Jonny. My husband’s friend.

Jonny had told me, just days before, not to screw up my mikvah by floating away like a pufferfish (my words, not his). He said to fully exhale so I would sink and remain curled like a ball without unfolding like an accordion.

After each of the three blessings, which I had spent all week memorizing, I thought of his stern but caring advice. I had done my best all year to be a model student.

I couldn’t all of a sudden have a less than perfect mikvah experience!

After each blessing, I inhaled deeply before slowly exhaling and sinking into the warm water.

In just a few minutes it was over. With the last “Kasher!” from the female rabbi who was making sure all my dunks were kosher, everyone waiting for me broke out into a hearty rendition of Siman Tov to celebrate. Overwhelmed, I took a moment to bury my face in my wet hands to collect myself.

I slowly made my way up the seven stairs, wrapped myself up in a towel and, as the door swung open into the foyer, introduced myself as a Jew.

Mo Mikvah Mo Problems

The biggest one being getting naked in front of the rabbi.

Not the mikvah that I’ll be going in but you get the idea. Photo: rose770, Flickr

Ok, so I’m not actually anticipating any major problems but there are some questions on my mind regarding the mikvah (ritual bath), which is the last step in my Jewish conversion.

How closely will I be looked over before my spiritual dip? (I’m not supposed to wear any makeup, nail polish, have contact lenses in and, oh yeah, I’m going to be buck naked.)

How will I feel being naked in front of the female rabbi? (I’m a bit of a prude.)

Will I be able to remember and recite the blessings?

And if not, will I be able to see them printed on the wall without my glasses?

While I think about these questions often – especially with my mikvah looming – I don’t let them cloud what I believe will be a beautiful, spiritual moment and an important life milestone. I’ve studied hard, embraced Judaism and am ready for this. My Jewish Information Class took a field trip to the mikvah the other day so now I know what to expect when it’s my turn.

The mikvah, locally shared by a number of Jewish congregations, is quite small so I only plan to have my fiance, his parents and my family there. Though I may be a little cold as I come out of the water, I know I’ll be radiating heat from a place deep within when it’s all over.

What was your mikvah experience like?

I’m Becoming Jewish

And it’s possibly the biggest decision of my life, so far.

Conversion ain’t all eating challah and drinking wine; I have readings to do each week.

Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I would become Jewish. But here I am, recently engaged and ready to embark on a life adventure that will shape my future.

Over my two years with my partner, I have learned about the many cultural aspects of Judaism and have fallen in love with the traditions and the holidays, especially Shabbat and Passover. As a person whose hobby is “learning” (yes, nerdy, I know), the conversion process will allow me to explore Judaism both as a culture and religion in a more formal context.

When I was a child, my sister and I would ask my dad why we weren’t baptized as he had been. He would say, “So you can choose what you want to be when you grow up.” I don’t think my dad could have ever guessed that one day I would choose to be Jewish. Nevertheless, his open attitude is a gift to me and has made it easier to make this huge life decision.

I invite you to follow me on my conversion journey, experience Judaism through my eyes and share your thoughts with me.