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?
Actually, I just wrote a letter.
It’s considered a mitzvah (good deed) to write a Torah.
Recently, my fiance and I performed one of the 613 mitzvot – a commandment or “good deed” – that likely isn’t done by many Jews. That’s because it’s to write a Torah (the book of Jewish law otherwise known as the Old Testament). Now, we don’t have the time nor the knowledge to do such a thing (never mind not having access to the skin of a kosher animal to write on), so it was a symbolic gesture done by holding onto a quill (with a much more qualified person at the helm) while writing the Hebrew letter “hay.”
This Torah is being symbolically written by congregants at our synagogue to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
How it went down
We ascended the bimah at the front of the sanctuary, and joined the visiting rabbi/sofer (Torah writer) to write a letter as part of the last few lines of Genesis. The experience was intense, sitting under the chuppah with my fiance while the two synagogue rabbis looked on. The sofer gave us a pep talk of sorts to explain “our” passage – essentially to be kind and to remember that kindness starts at home. It’s only after you’ve looked after one another, that you can branch out and be kind to your extended family, friends, community and so on, is what he said. My fiance and I were so taken by the moment that on the car ride home we kept repeating the line we had helped write – “and they ascended” (which has multiple meanings).
I couldn’t help but get a little misty-eyed when our rabbi congratulated us and offered a blessing over the wine to commemorate this very special experience. With my conversion and Jewish wedding ceremony not too far off in the distance it was especially meaningful.
It’s one I made up so don’t hold your breath.
My Google search of “laughing rabbis” turned up nothing.
My father once told me if you can name three types of trees and birds in another language, you are pretty much fluent. Of course, this doesn’t work if you’re an ecologist or avid birder but I tried it out myself with Japanese, and the fact I could name at least one of each told me I probably have a good working knowledge of the language.
In a similar way, I think if you find certain cultural nuances funny and understand why they are funny, then you have a pretty good handle on that culture. Case in point: porn4jews.com. When a friend suggested I click, I was a little apprehensive about what I would find: naughty Orthodox women? Naked people rolling around on bagels and lox? Alas, it’s a blog that pokes fun at the random things only Jews might find really funny. And I now understand the things they’re making fun of! It’s a small, personal milestone for me. After two years with my partner, celebrating the holidays and now studying for my Jewish Information Class, I get it!
And with that, I present to you a little joke I made up in my head while we were studying blessings in class:
Did you hear the American president is a Jewish convert?
Yeah. His name is Baruch Obama.
(Baruch means “blessed.”)
Ok, so I’ve got a long way to go to catch up with other Jewish comedians, of which I have learned there are many, but I think this is a good sign I’m starting to get a handle on this whole Jewish thing.
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.