It’s been a while since I did an update on my conversion to Judaism. Right now, I’m in the fledgling stages of the process. In order to convert to Judaism, I need a sponsoring Rabbi who will help me through this process. This Rabbi will be a key player in my conversion; he or she will help me grow, integrate into the community, and be responsible for helping to teach me everything I need to know in order to actually convert. I met with a local Chabad Rabbi a few weeks ago, and am reaching out to another, just to talk about my process and hopefully find someone who is a good fit for me. If you’re looking to convert yourself, the best piece of advice I can think to give is to be picky about your sponsoring Rabbi.
One thing I wasn’t sure of until now was what the conversion process itself actually meant. From what I can gather from speaking with my Rabbi, there are two parts to a conversion: the learning stages, and the actual conversion(taking the Mikveh, sitting for the beit din). The learning stage is difficult. I’m going to be learning Hebrew, the inner and outer workings of the religion itself, and different norms within the community. I’ll also be learning more about the Torah, holidays, and rituals. I’m so excited for this part. The more I learn about Judaism, the more sure I am that this is the right path for me. I started my learning process months before I sat down with Rabbi. This isn’t something you have to do, but I would strongly recommend it for those looking to convert. Converting is not a simple choice to make. It’s a choice that will follow you for life, and learning the basics of the religion itself can help prepare you and help you make sure that this is something you truly want to do. Aside from learning, there are a few other things I will have to do. In order to be considered Jewish, I will have to convert via the orthodox tradition. This means a lot of things to a lot of people, but my Rabbi explained it as three big points: Keeping kosher, learning the ins and outs of the religion, and shomer negiah. Since I’ve already talked a bit about the learning process, let’s unpack what Kosher and shomer negiah are.
The kosher laws are the dietary laws followed by Jews of all denominations. In the orthodox setting, kosher is followed strictly. The basics are this: don’t eat meat and cheese together, wait a few hours before consuming dairy after having meat, wine must be certified kosher, anything from pigs is a no-no, and only certain cuts of meat from certain animals are acceptable. Don’t be alarmed, it really isn’t as scary as it seems. Keeping kosher is actually really easy; it’s not hard to find kosher certified foods, and it’s not hard to adjust to the dietary laws. I’ve been given a lot of advice on how to adjust, and the easiest way I’ve found is to just keep vegetarian for a few days. It really helped me to get into the kosher style and when I added meat back into the equation, I found it wasn’t difficult keep it separated. Now, that’s not saying I’m perfect at keeping kosher; I slip up way more than I would care to admit! The difficult part of kosher is the cooking laws. If it isn’t cooked in a kosher kitchen, it isn’t kosher. This means if your meat and cheese touch on the same counter, your counter is no longer kosher, and a whole bunch of other rules. This can be a bit of a tangled mess to sort through, but it gets much easier with time. I learned a lot from just watching my boyfriend’s eema cook over Shabbat, and she even guided me towards some kosher recipe books. A lot of people do freak out over the price of kosher certified foods. I won’t lie to you, kosher certified meats and dairies can get expensive. But it’s important to remember that loads of other things are kosher, too. Vegetables, fruits, and many of your favorite snacks are all certified. Its entirely possible to keep kosher on a budget, you just have to watch what you’re buying and always make sure the O-U is on the packaging. Overall, not something to stress yourself, or your budget, over.
What is shomer negiah? Quite literally, it means “observant of touch”. This is the part of conversion a lot of people tend to freak out over. Shomer negiah law dictates that you are not allowed to touch the opposite sex in anyway, even if its just a friendly pat on the back. I’m a very touch oriented person; I have no shame in saying I have some trust issues. Touching people(a hand on the shoulder, a hug, etc), is how I normally communicate and receive sincerity. This is why shomer negiah is potentially going to be the hardest part; I’ll have to try and rework my brain into taking people, specifically the men in my life, at their word. If you’re one half of a couple like I am, it’s also a bit of a struggle for the relationship. I’m very lucky to have a supportive significant other who understands my commitment to Judaism and is wanting to grow with me during this process, regardless of some of the requirements. If you’re looking to convert, talk with the important people in your life about shomer negiah. It’s a big change that can sometimes not be well-received; having the conversation early will help you find a middle ground with those you love.
I’m not going to lie to you, the biggest challenge I’ve had so far is a sense of not belonging. At this point, I’m not Jewish. But I’m also not, not Jewish. I’m in an in between, and will be for the next year and a half to two years. This feeling isn’t unfamiliar; as I said in my previous conversion post, I was never baptized. I’ve felt “outside” of any religious community for a really long time, but the reality that I finally found a religion that fits me and means so much to me has finally sunk in. I want nothing more than to belong, and I know I will with time, but that doesn’t mean the feeling isn’t hard. I think it’s important to talk about the specific trials I’m having; I know from experience that most times, my experiences mirror other’s. My hope is that with a candid discussion about this process, about the trials and triumphs I’m facing, a conversation will be started about conversion. It is easy to feel alone in a process such as this. You don’t belong to the community yet, you have fears that you never will. My hope for this is that someone who needs this comes across it, and knows they aren’t alone.
Despite some of the trials, I’m extremely excited with how my conversion is going so far. I’m looking forward to starting my lessons in the fall, and am slowly working my way to going to synagogue more regularly. Check back periodically to see more updates on my journey! In the meantime, if you have a conversion story or piece of advice that you don’t mind sharing, let me know in the comments!