With everything going on in the world, I hesitated to write on my journey to becoming a Jew. Not only are hate and bigotry present in full force, but they seem to be accepted by our President. However, I realized this is exactly why I should share. I won’t let other’s hate silence me.
I regularly hear, “Are you Jewish? You don’t look Jewish?” This is usually in response to my Star of David swag or hearing my Hebrew greetings. What does that mean, “look?” Jews don’t all look the same, especially here in Los Angeles. Truth be told I wasn’t born Jewish. I converted three years ago. I touched on my journey here, but figured it was time to elaborate on my experience and just in time for #fbf.
It started ten and a half years ago when I moved to LA, home to over 600,000 Jews. I dated several by coincidence until I dated one on and off for three years. His father happily welcomed me into their lives. Because of this I observed Shabbat (learning the candle blessings), attended Seder dinners, fasted on Yom Kippur and quickly learned ‘Lila Tov’ means good night in Hebrew. Being surrounded by his family and friends I decided to take a History of Judaism class at CSUN. I didn’t want to be ignorant to their religion, plus I needed the credits to graduate. After we broke up, I found myself longing for Shabbats, wanting to learn more, and be a part of the community.
I became known as the honorary Jew amongst my friends; showing up for Shabbat dinners and other holidays, and fasting on Yom Kippur for the next five or six years. Until four(ish) years ago when I decided I didn’t want to say honorary anymore. In my soul I felt connect to Judaism. I wanted this for me; create my own identity before I shared my life with someone else.
A girlfriend of mine had a rabbi friend and offered to introduce us. We talked about my past, conversion, and what that meant. At his recommendation I visited my first synagogue for Yom Kippur services and then promptly signed up for conversion classes.
During this time I started dating a guy whose family didn’t approve that I wasn’t Jewish. Their story changed to wasn’t “born” Jewish after I began classes. I battled for months to be accepted by them. He went on several family trips where his siblings brought their significant others, but I was never invited. His sister personally asked me to her wedding, but his parents said I wasn’t allowed. They sent a Kiddush cup and siddur, but didn’t acknowledge that it was at my request. They weren’t grateful that their son did Shabbat every week because of me.
One day I finally had enough. Given my past abuse and abandonment, I couldn’t be with someone whose family treated me like that; excluding me from everything, refusing to meet me, and disliking who I was as a person. He even slipped once that they didn’t like that I was a foster child…this still baffles me.
I ended the relationship and completed my classes, but didn’t actually convert. Once you finish classes there is a beit din (“Jewish court” to see if you are ready and committed) followed by a mikvah (cleansing and starting new). After the breakup I sought the advice from another rabbi I met through friends. This rabbi said that my conversion was not going to be “good enough” and many people would not accept me as Jewish. I felt completely discouraged.
The classes I took were conservative, but not orthodox. There are things I struggle with orthodox beliefs; keeping kosher (though I am to an extent now), shomer Shabbat, or shomer negiah, etc. And that is okay. Israel means “to struggle with G-d.” One should question, one should seek answers and truth, and one should find the path that makes sense to them. To me, that is the beauty of this religion.
During my classes more reasons became apparent on why I felt connected to Judaism. Like one is encouraged to ask questions. I have a fond memory of a Shabbat dinner at a host family’s home several years ago. The family included two little boys. While the host started Kiddush, the eldest boy interrupted and asked, “What does Kiddush mean?” We chuckled as the father explained it meant to separate, but that they would talk about it later since they had guests. There was no reprimand, no negative feelings, no hush hush just listen. The father was loving and encouraging to his son, which later led to great discussion at dinner.
Jews stand together here, in South America, in Europe observing and celebrating the same beliefs with cultural twists. A few years ago a friend of mine invited me to Seder dinner and I gladly accepted, but was confused when he said he needed to take off his dress shirt so it didn’t smell like onion. That year I learned Persian Jews take green onions and whip each other to symbolize how the enslaved Jews were treated in Egypt.
I found (still do) all this fascinating. The more I learned the closer to home I felt. Of course the ex’s family and my conversation with the rabbi stopped me hard. Of my six years being an honorary Jew I’d never encountered these judgments. I felt scared and questioned if I was making the right decision. The same Persian friend, at said Seder dinner actually, told me to schedule a meeting with Rabbi Wolpe. Best decision ever. For an hour Rabbi Wolpe listened to my past, desires, recent experiences and without knowing it he reminded me why I was converting.
If you didn’t know, the story goes you must ask a rabbi three times in order to convert. Albeit, my experiences weren’t explicitly with rabbis I’m glad I didn’t quit on my second encounter. These were my commitment tests to Judaism and a reminder that it’s not easy being a Jew.
After my meeting with Rabbi Wolpe, I immediately schedule my beit din and mikvah. I spent the next month studying and practicing Hebrew prayers. I wanted everything to go perfectly. Many friends come to witness my transition including the man that introduced me to everything (my ex’s dad) and my now boyfriend (friends then). Our bond is incredibly deep because he saw my love for Judaism and knew my heart was true.
I’ve said this before on my Instagram, after I converted my journey wasn’t over. It was really just beginning as Ahava. My Hebrew name meaning Love. I’ve since gone on Birthright, hosted numerous Shabbats (my most favorite thing to do), held my first Seder dinner this year, started Hebrew classes along with many other things.
I know I chose right and I’m proud to be Jewish.
ps off to host twenty plus people for Shabbat tonight. Keep up on my Instagram to see how the night goes. Shabbat Shalom!