When converting feels like being an exchange student

I remember going to a Methodist church once, and, being raised Presbyterian, living in a (for all intents and purposes) Christian home for most of my life, I thought maybe I would be a Methodist. But then the clergy told me that I would have to take a two-part several hour long class that would teach the history of the Methodist church. I totally wrote it off and never returned. I thought it was ridiculous that I would have to take a class to become a member of a congregation.

Fast forward a couple of years, and now I’ve done the equivalent of what feels like a Master’s program with a dissertation, and I saw no problem with it at all. Of course, it was overwhelming at first; the list sort of goes on forever and attending ALL the holiday services can be sort of inconvenient, but the point was that it was for my own good, and I knew it. If I wanted to be Jewish and say things like “nosh” and “mazel tov” without being ironic, I would have to put in the time and do the work.

The funny thing was, it hardly ever felt like work. I mean, no one wants to get up early on a Saturday morning (especially if he or she is perhaps a bit hungover…), drive twenty miles to the other side of town with very little caffeine in his or her system to go to an early class. But the difference was once we got there, saw all the familiar faces of friends who were going through the same ordeal, the same feelings, the same anxiety of “am I doing this right?”, we felt immediately at home. (To be sure, I was not very popular when I told Nick, my husband, that we would be attending the Saturday morning, year-long class as opposed to the Wednesday night semester-long class, but I digress).

And when it was over, and “school was out for the summer”, it was sad. We all got that feeling of “graduation day blues”, but with no yearbook.

But we see each other at Temple. And we’ve made new friends. So now we’re a part of the Temple family, a part of the community.

I  don’t know how it is for other people when they decide to convert to Judaism. I always wonder if it’s a sort of lightning bolt one day and BOOM you feel Jewish, or if it’s more of a slow build-up to a day when everything just sort of clicks. A day when you know the lingo, you know the Hebrew words to the prayers and songs you’ve been hearing for months. When you don’t have to look at the siddur anymore, and you just know it by heart. When you miss services and everyone there if you’re out of town for a week.

When you automatically say “Shabbat Shalom” instead of “nice to meet you”.

I want to be Jewish because in my heart, I am Jewish. This is where I belong.