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On Being Jewish

If you ask any convert to Judaism, they will likely tell you that as daunting as the conversion process can sometimes be, actually being a Jew can be harder that becoming one.

Picking a rabbi and a community to anchor my conversion was the first step. After several months of shul shopping and ongoing conversations with rabbis about conversion, I settled on the rabbi that made me cry when I left her office. She posed hard questions about my commitment to Judaism, and challenged me to think long and hard about how my relationship with my partner might change after my conversion. After I attended my first conversion class, I knew that I’d made the right decision.

On August 17th, 2012 at around ten o’clock in the morning on the upper west side of Manhattan, I became a Jew.  After years of spiritual searching followed by a year of Jewish study, the work of becoming Jewish was finally complete. I destinctly remember laughing while in the warm waters of the Upper West Side Mikvah. It was amusing to be bouncing up and down naked in the mikvah water before a woman I’d never met. It was invigorating to hear the shouts of my rabbis and friends outside the doors of the mikvah room everytime the mikvah lady, Gita, shouted, “kasher!” As the days after my conversion melted away into weeks and months and finally years, the routines of being Jewish and actually considering what that means in my life took hold. I felt restless and unmotivated and sometimes a spiritual void in a place I once found so much connection.

I’ve related the transition of becoming Jewish to being Jewish as a sort of free-fall. It is like that stomach in your chest sensation you get when cresting the first hill of an amazing roller coaster. However, unlike a roller coaster, the ride doesn’t end and you’re not always aware of the hills, twists and turns that lie ahead.

The process of becoming Jewish was filled with handholding, assurance, love, and support, while the act of being Jewish and deciding what kind of Jew I want to be has been much more difficult. The lessons we learned around the large table of my conversion class as concepts are now realities that I continue to struggle with today.

I’m currently in a Jewish existential place where I’m again trying to redefine who I am as a Jew, and to identify which mitzvot I am able to reasonably incorporate into my life, which I am not, and how they feed my Jewish journey.

I think I want to cover my hair when I marry my fiance, but do non-Orthodox lesbian Jews do that?

I am drawn  to fully observing the mitzvot of Shabbat, but how can I do that with my retail management career?

What is a Jewish home and how do we continue to make one?

As my partner and I plan the next stages of our lives; children and marriage, there is a greater urgency to clearly identify what kind of Jew I am, what kind of Jews we are as a couple, and what kind of Jewish home we create as wives and, B”H, as mothers.

The process of being Jewish is just that—a process. It’s a process that requires daily fine-tuning and honest re-examination of values and ideals. It’s a process that requires me to sift through mitzvot and bits of Judaism that speak the most deeply to me and mold them into nice Erika-sized portions. 

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