While checking out my blog stats one day, I noticed I'd gotten some traffic from a site called "chbagi.blogspot.com." (Don't worry. I can't see WHO finds me, just how many and from where.) Intrigued, I clicked on it, to discover a lovely blog by one Kate, a recent convert to Judaism. I scrolled through some posts and just warmed to her message. I tried commenting on her blog but couldn't find a way to do so, so I emailed Kate my comment. I also posted one of her pieces on my Facebook page where quite a discussion ensued, so I found Kate on Facebook and tagged her.
Now we're friends. Facebook agrees. Of course, the next natural step was to ask Kate if she'd guest blog for me. And here she is:
The number one question I am asked once people discover I’m a convert is, “Why Judaism?” Actually, scratch that. The first thing they want to know is when I’m getting married, a natural presumption given many converts’ introduction to Judaism through a relationship. As I explain to them, in my particular case I didn’t fall in love with a man; I fell in love with Judaism. And I’m happy to tell anyone willing to listen (or read) why.
This time three years ago, I was still about five weeks away from finding it. If you had asked me if I was happy, I would have answered, “Of course!” I loved my life in Chicago, and according to most modern-day standards, I had everything that was supposed to make a person happy. Certainly I thought religion was the last thing I needed, as I associated all religion with my Christian upbringing. I began having major issues with Christian doctrine (Read: Sending people to hell) in my early teens and subsequently distanced myself from it. Even with a couple of Jewish boyfriends later, I never bothered to study Judaism, because I thought if I disagreed with A, B, & C in Christianity, I’d really have a problem with A-Z in that harsh religion of laws. So imagine my surprise in late February 2010, when I began researching my paper on Judaism for a Religion course and it was absolutely nothing like what I had been taught it was. The more I read, the more I realized how much Judaism matched up with what I already believed, e.g. people have a good side and a bad side, and can freely choose to make the world better or worse. Miss “Spirituality-Yoga-Organized-Religion-Is-Bad-I-Do-Whatever-I-Want” suddenly agreed with an organized religion. Oh. Uh-oh.
Chalk it up to denial, but after finishing my paper, I kept reading with the specific intention of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I really and truly believed that I would find something I disagreed with and be able to go back to my comfortable existence. When that didn’t happen, I thought I would try keeping Shabbat, to see if I could walk the walk. I thought for sure that this would be the dealbreaker that would let me off the hook; I’d get bored two hours into Friday night and be able to say it just wasn’t for me. If you’re waiting for the part where I fall in love with Judaism, I promise it’s coming.
If I was going to test the waters, I was going to do it right. I obviously didn’t know everything about Shabbat—I didn’t even know there were special candles—but I knew it involved food, so I bought and prepared all of my favorites, scribbled down the blessing on a Post-it, and waited for eighteen minutes before sundown. It’s hard for me to put into words what I felt that night. I didn’t have timers for my lamps, because I had no idea they were allowed—I just knew I couldn’t turn lights on or off. But it turned out that I didn’t need them, because the rosy glow of the sunset and the candlelight filled my apartment with light and me with a sense of awe. From that first Shabbat, there was no going back, and I knew it.
It wasn’t just about the beauty of Shabbat in those 25 hours. After a few weeks, I began noticing that I was more patient, more aware of what mattered. This really speaks to the effects of the mitzvot overall: with time, I was becoming better. I started to see that this organized religion wasn’t judging or oppressing me; it was freeing me to live up to my full potential. It was why I refused to resign myself to only 7 laws, even as the Rabbi insisted that it would be a much easier life. “And what kind of person would I be,” I argued, “If I believed in something but gave it up because it wasn’t easy?”
I ask myself that question again all the time, as becoming officially Jewish wasn’t the end of the struggle. Like Jacob and the angel, I wrestle with other Jews, I wrestle with G-d, I wrestle with myself. Sometimes I stubbornly push against the mitzvot that I fought so hard to be able to perform as a Jew, but like a lover after a quarrel, I always come back. And when someone asks me, “Why Judaism,” I know exactly how to answer. Because it works. I lived with myself for years before finding Judaism. I know who I was, and I know who I am now. Still imperfect, but better than I was three years ago, and always striving to improve.