By: Rosie Ruth Wagner
Just to be clear, just because I converted, does not mean I think you should convert. You should do what makes sense to you.
To be a non-Jew exploring a Jewish life is an exciting but also incredibly uncomfortable experience. I have run into many walls on this journey and have had all the feelings many times over. When you’re completely surrounded by things you don’t know anything about, getting overwhelmed is like breathing.
Even after I was mostly done being overwhelmed, I was very resistant to formally converting even years after I had decided to lead a Jewish life with my partner.
It’s hard to talk about conversion without this coming up, so I just want to briefly flag that I think the pervasive belief that marrying jewish is the best way to a flourishing jewish life is corrosive and deeply wrong. However, there are many good reasons to convert to Judaism, it’s wonderful to be Jewish.
Whoever you are and whatever you bring with you will shape everything about how you’ll feel about maybe becoming Jewish; you’ll have different obstacles and also different joys than I did. For me, a lot felt very very right but I still had QUESTIONS! I told my partner it was like I was Bilaam, and my body was Bilaam’s ass. In the middle of services, everything would be going great, and then right at the moment I’m supposed to bow, my whole body bucked. And my body is a good body, it’s a faithful body, so I listened to it, until it told me I could go ahead. And I had a similar feeling about converting.
Everyone finds their stepping stones, that become their keystones. For me, moments of beauty and peace that I found through Jewish practice often revolved around drunken Friday nights and lazy Saturday afternoons. Slowly, I found real community and connection, like here at Mishkan. And when you don’t know the language, Hebrew can be a real fat river to ford, but in another way, so much of the point of prayer is to transcend the literal, I often think we’re the lucky ones.
So personally, part of why I converted: I am a philosopher and a historian, and I am deeply committed to a search for truth. And exploring a spiritual life has infused my weeks with the sweet but persistent reminder of the boundaries of the rational. In our current societal moment of scientistic megalomania, it is deeply important to remind myself of the non-rational and the non-linguistic and its crucial place in a full understanding of human meaning.
In terms of advice, I’ll allow myself to say two things: (1) reach out to anyone and everyone to talk with them, and you don’t have to know what questions to ask in order to have a useful conversation. (2) I know there are probably some people for whom every step of their deepening Jewish life just felt more and more like coming home. That’s not how it was for me. For me, it was a blips of truly transcendent moments with a whole lot of awkard filler in between. If that’s how you feel, I just want to say you should never feel bad for walking out of services or out of any space; it’s very hard to be an outsider. There’s a reason Bilaam’s ass didn’t want to go forward, so listen to your ass. Judaism is as large and multitudinous as Walt Whitman. If something doesn’t feel right, but you have a desire for Jewish Magic in your life, you will find it and it’ll find you.