Converting To Judaism- One Woman’s Story
Written By: Jennifer Stallman
I have always wondered what makes someone decide to convert to another religion. Often it is done for the purpose of marriage in attempt to raise children with one religion. What you will find unique about this article, is that the Woman I have interviewed, converted because she genuinely liked the religion. This you will rarely ever hear.
In order to protect the interviewer and her family, she will remain anonymous. We will call her Candace.
This is what she had to say.
Me: What was your religion at birth?
Candace: I was baptized Anglican, but had zero religious education and holidays involved Santa and chocolate eggs rather than religion.
Me: What was the reason you chose to convert?
Candace: That’s a huge question. It started at a young age, when I went to a religious based camp and learned of the requirements of Christian belief. It never sat well with me the “one path” theory and the dichotomy of heaven/hell. I have a deep respect for all people and all religions, so the notion that everyone who isn’t Christian is going to hell was unacceptable. I began studying all religions in high school, and Judaism resonated with me. The more I learned, the more I liked. The theology made sense, the rituals were meaningful, and the morality was in line with my own. Having grown up in a small town, I had zero exposure to the Jewish community, so I watched movies and took in what I could (in the days before the Internet!). The culture, the loudness, the big families, the expressiveness, the emphasis on community and tradition – loved it all.
When I went to University, it just kind of happened that most of my close friends were Jewish. I started doing things at Hillel. Socially I was kind of already there, and my friends thought it funny that I usually knew more than they did about their religion. I managed to convince a friend to take me to synagogue in my 3rd year. I knew after all this, it was who I am, what I feel and where I belong. I converted after University.
Me: Did you convert as Orthodox, Conservative or Reform?
Me: What was your conversion process like?
Candace: It was odd. My entire class was 60 couples and me. It’s quite rare for someone to convert on their own, most do for marriage. The class is a year long and is quite intense. I already knew a lot, having studied on my own and with a minor in Jewish studies, but if you were new to it, it’s a lot. 3 hour classes once a week for a year. Regular tests. The class is centralized, but you also meet with your sponsoring rabbi at your synagogue regularly too. The curriculum is organized around the holidays so the idea is that once you learn what to do, you do it from then on.
My Beit Din was very easy, although they tend to grill people converting for marriage. The Mikveh was a beautiful experience.
Me: Have you faced any negative challenges in the Jewish Community?
Candace: Yes. I have faced some ignorance. For some people being Jewish isn’t something you do, it’s something in your blood. I have been told off at Synagogue a few times, that I had no place being there. It was challenging in dating as well. I wasn’t Jewish enough for orthodox men, but conservative/reform men didn’t know what they thought either – I was either too observant or it put them off that I knew more than they did. I had 2 relationships end because the families wouldn’t accept me.
I think it’s a tough position for converts because we always have to prove our Jewishness. When you are born Jewish, it’s never of question, no matter what you do. But converts are held to a different standard. For example, I got divorced a few years ago. The Beit Din to get my Get would not use my Hebrew name, only referring to me as “Candace The Convert”. My ex, despite being a cruel was “awarded” back his Kohain status by divorcing me, the convert. They wanted me to do an orthodox conversion for my children, so they would be “recognized”. There are a lot of sectarian politics that go into conversion.
Me: If you did not convert, how do you think your Children’s cultures and beliefs would be?
Candace: My children are comfortable with and proud of their Judaism. My older went to Hebrew day school until the divorce and now attends Sunday school. We go to services when we can, do Shabbat every week, etc. Our community is wonderful and we have great friends who welcome us for holidays. It’s a bit confusing with my family, but my parents are accepting – they buy Chanukah gifts instead of Christmas ones for example. We go to their house for Christmas and the draw of that holiday is appealing to them. I teach them that’s it’s a great holiday, and we can enjoy it, it’s just not our holiday, and I make a big deal out of Chanukah!
My children are still young the big questions have not arisen yet. But we regularly talk about morality, g-d, being grateful, etc. They love Shabbat and already have wonderful memories and associations with holidays.
Me: What does being Jewish mean to you?
Candace: Another big question. The answer has changed over time. Ultimately it’s who I am. I kind of take that for granted sometimes as it feels like I was never not Jewish. It forms a major component of who I am, it grounds me, it gives me hope, it brings perspective. Everyone needs something to anchor them – for some it’s religion, for others various pursuits. I feel anchored being Jewish. I feel humbled believing in and performing rituals in accordance with a higher power. I feel peace in that. I love being part of a community, for better or worse, that I can support, turn to and feel belonging. It means passing lessons to my children through a dialogue, giving them a compass, having them feel like they belong in a community and that someone is there for them when I’m not. It means being thankful, gaining perspective, taking time for what matters.
Me: Thank you so much for sharing your personal story with us!