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The Crisis of Religious Conversion

July 2, 2010

From HuffingtonPost,
I converted to Judaism 25 years ago. Under a Sukkah, as I recall, because it was — wait for it — Sukkot. For you gentiles, that’s a Jewish autumnal harvest celebration. It’s kinda cool. A day earlier I had been rolled around in the surf near Santa Barbara (where I then lived) and barely said my conversion prayers between waves. My temple didn’t have a mikvah. Sucked for me but I have to give my rabbi kudos for not laughing as I was tossed in the waves. He let me emerge with my dignity and new Jewish identity intact. The day following my conversion, I was married. Which is why I converted. Because my then fiancé was a (very) semi-observant Jew (you know the drill: Yom Kippur, Chanukah and the occasional bris) and he wanted to be married under a Chupah. The very first Jewish wedding I ever went to was my own. It was nothing like Fiddler on the Roof and I want to go on record with that complaint. Also, there were knishes served at the reception. Twenty-five years, two kids and a divorce later, I’m still Jewish. Or am I? I no longer live in a Jewish household. Or do I? Believe me, I was a typical zealous convert.
My kids both went to Jewish preschool, sang to Hebrew tapes in the car, went to religious school and learned about their history and forefathers and culture. And my son had a bar mitzvah. My daughter, interestingly, declined. I knew more about Judaism than most of my in-laws. I vociferously insisted on living a Jewish lifestyle to my very assimilated in-laws, who oddly cared VERY much that my then husband marry a Jew but didn’t actually do much in the way of observance outside of a chaotic, sped up Seder every year. I insisted my parents not give my kids Christmas presents. I hectored my heretofore unaccepting Jewish in-laws about being more Jewish. I must have been intolerable. Suffice to say that I did such a great job making my children Jewishly identified that each year when St. Patrick’s day rolled around, my kids stared at me blankly when I reminded them that they were also Irish. They still do. Have you seen your mother? I tell them. After the divorce, I was adrift. Guess I’m not Jewish anymore. And I’ll be honest, that very first holiday season I bought a huge Christmas tree and decorated the hell out of it. I enjoyed the pine smell and the grandeur of its blinking lights. I enjoyed the freedom I suddenly felt to drink egg nog, hang candy canes and sing “The Little Drummer Boy” once more!
But it didn’t take long for me to again feel adrift. Especially when my ex remarried a Jewish woman. A real Jewish woman. All of my insecurities came flooding back. I remembered all those times when I was so much younger and newly converted and I felt like an imposter at synagogue. I felt that all eyes on me because I don’t look Jewish. And before anyone says oh come on, Jews come in all colors and stripes — no, seriously, I don’t look Jewish. I am Irish and Scottish and save for the brogue, that’s the deal with me physically. So what was I to do? Do I light a menorah? Put up a mezuzah? If I go to temple without my kids or Jewish husband, am I an imposter? Am I Jewish or did that get revoked? A few months ago, a friend who was living and working in Jerusalem invited me to go visit. Israel, are you crazy?! It’s dangerous! But when a friend died suddenly, I rethought it. Why the hell not live my life to the fullest! Plus, my friend added a side trip to Egypt. Egypt, baby, Egypt! The Middle East! Click here to read the full article.