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reappearhere

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PostSubject: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Thu Dec 01, 2011 2:43 am

After about 6 months of serious contemplation, I decided in October to undertake conversion. The highly redeeming experience of the Yom Kippur fast was the tipping point. I knew at that moment that I was a Jew. I immediately petitioned the nearest reform temple for conversion. I was asked to wait and e-mail the Rabbi again after Sukkot. I did and we set an appointment.

I made a whole day out of it (especially since the Temple is an hour and 30 minutes' drive on a good traffic day).

Once I was in front of the Rabbi, I feel like I choked when he asked me that ever-begging question: Why do you want to be a Jew? I gave him a sloppy spiel about my experience with Judaism and how I felt it was an intellectually rich tradition, and so forth. The real reason, which I knew but which just didn't come forth when needed, was that the Jewish tradition is the first and only one which makes me want to hope in the existence of G-d and which makes me want to be a better individual. Bam. That was the answer and I couldn't manage to spit it out.

Luckily, the Rabbi noticed my nervousness and didn't make a big deal about it. After inquiring about my life and learning that I am currently a law student who will be 3 to 4 years in a city with almost no Jewish community, he asked me how I planned on being Jewish in a place like that. I didn't have an answer because I thought rabbis were there to help you figure things like that out. I simply reminded him that I live an hour and a half away from one of Canada's largest cities, so it's not like I'm isolated in the middle of nowhere.

I'm single, so he asked me how I plan on meeting a Jewish girl in my current city with so few Jews. I told him I didn't plan on getting married before graduation anyway. I also mentioned (perhaps shouldn't have) that if I did happen to meet and fall in love with a gentile girl, I would simply ask her to convert. He kind of laughed and admitted it was possible, though he didn't seem to approve of it very much.

At this point, I was thinking to myself that I blew it and that I'd have to go to the Conservatives. I mean, it was a Reform rabbi I was talking to here and his main concern seemed to be whether or not I would eventually marry Jewish, which I found kind of odd considering that the appointment he had before me was clearly a case of pre-marital conversion. But anyway, not a big deal.

Finally, he got down to brass tacks and started laying out the process. He said I would have to start with the Intro class. There is one starting in January but the class is held at a time that conflicts with my school schedule (and the law faculty does not negotiate schedules, you get what you get). So he said that I would probably have to wait for next fall in hopes that my class schedule would permit me to make the weekly drive to and from the Big City.

After Intro, he said there's a Bible class that is given online which we would discuss on a weekly basis.

All in all, if I remember correctly, he said it would take around 9 months once I actually start classes (which is on top of the 9 months I have to wait before classes begin).

I'm glad to have at least begun the process. I was hoping to get started earlier, but Rome wasn't built in a day.

Any advice, thoughts or comments are welcome.

Thanks.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Thu Dec 01, 2011 12:13 pm

Hello and welcome! Thank you for telling us a little about yourself and how you got here. I understand the Rabbis concerns. A 90 minute drive! That's going to be quite a challenge. Are you working in addition to going to school?

Though you are not married now, I'm sure the Rabbi realizes it's always possible you'll meet a girl during this process and he wonders how you'll deal with it. Converting before marriage means later on you'll have to decide if you are going to consider only Jewish girls and where you are going to find them. Razz

I wouldn't worry about choking a bit when asked why you want to convert. It's a very complicated question. I think "Why be Jewish?" is a question both converts and born Jews can ask ourselves for the rest of our lives. We make the choice everyday to live as Jews, raise Jewish children, etc.

Did the Rabbi have any suggestions on what you should be doing in the meantime, before you take the intro class?
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Mychal

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Thu Dec 01, 2011 4:12 pm

When I was dating my husband, I drove 2 hours to his house on the weekends and 2 hours back again on Sunday night or Monday morning. I did that for a year and a half.

When you want something bad enough, you'll go get it!

I'm an hour from the nearest synagogue to me and I go once a week. I'd go more often if I could afford the gas money. When our finances get better, I'll be more active. But certainly the drive doesn't put me off going. I'm out of sorts for the week if I don't go to shul at least once.

I am possibly the only Jew in my town (can't tell if the new accountant, Solomon, is a Jew or not). I am certainly the only Jew among my family and friends. That didn't impact my decision, though. God wants me to be a Jew, so how can you argue with that?

It doesn't mean that I don't fantasize about living in Israel, where keeping kosher would be easy, but for the time being, I'm in rural Tennessee and I'm staying here. You make do.

I suppose rabbis might be concerned that people without a close community will turn away from Judaism--that's quite common in the case of born Jews--but leaving once in is not very common among Jews by Choice. If you're willing to leave the protected majority and count yourself among the persecuted minority, you have a certain amount of fortitude and willpower that doesn't often get overcome by apathy.

While I was waiting for my class to start (which has now been cancelled Frustrated ), I started studying on my own. I have been known to quote midrash in Torah study that the rabbi didn't know. I have a list of the lectures and books I've studied so far: http://becomingjew.blog.com/about/

Studying on your own is also how you maintain your Jewishness while not in a community.

Something else I recommend is www.shabbat.com. It is a website that helps isolated Jews find other Jews to share a Shabbat dinner. That was how I found a monthly dinner group in my county (only 30 minutes to get to instead of an hour). It's also a nice way to meet Jews from outside your synagogue. Our haverah group is Orthodox and Consrevative and Reform and not particularly religious.

And, if it makes you feel any better, your rabbi didn't really ask anything out of the ordinary--even for a Reform rabbi. Unlike school, they're not looking for the "right" answer, but are trying to get a sense of where you are in the process. If you're rattling off answers, it shows you've already spent time thinking and studying about that. If you're not sure of your answer or admit you haven't thought about the question, then you're closer to the beginning. (And if you take 30 minutes to answer, quote midrash or rabbis by name, argue against your own position halfway through, and end with a question, you may be ready for the mikvah today! Razz ) There's nothing wrong with being at the beginning.

And rabbis are used to people being nervous; people who speak about their conversion experiences online or in books tell very similar stories to yours. It's normal!

P.S. The answer to how to meet a nice Jewish girl is 1) let someone at shul set you up, or 2) Jewish online dating sites. LOL
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reappearhere

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Thu Dec 01, 2011 6:55 pm

Thanks for your input ladies (fellows?).

To answer one of your questions, I am not working, just studying. It's a rough programme. Very few students work in our faculty.

The 90 minute drive doesn't bother me one bit, however from a practical and financial standpoint, once a week for class plus two Shabbat services per month is more than enough for the time being. It's regrettable that there isn't something closer, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

There is a Conservative conversion programme online out of a shul in Chicago. It seems legit and I admit it was tempting considering my circumstances, but I wanted to do it locally (or almost).

I'll check out that Shabbat site. That sounds interesting.

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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Thu Dec 01, 2011 7:07 pm

I'm not sure why you would think that a Conservative rabbi wouldn't ask you the same questions since in fact a Conservative rabbi would be much more likely to ask those questions.

And I have to say that your suggestion that you would simply ask a non-Jewish girlfriend to convert indicates a lack of understanding of how important that a person convert "for the sake of heaven". Conversion to Judaism is a change in identity that it not to be taken lightly. If you want to know about the complications of intermarriage, even where the non-Jewish spouse converts, just go to the Interfaith Family website.

By the way, nervousness is almost to be expected. The first time my sponsoring rabbi asked me to read a Hebrew passage for him just to judge my Hebrew reading ability, I was so nervous that my voice was almost a squeak. I forced myself to read even though I was embarrassed that my reading ability wasn't very good and thought I would pass out from nervousness. Actually, it was good in that it got me to start really practicing every single day because my Hebrew sight-reading ability wasn't what it should have been even though I had studied conversational Hebrew in Israel and I knew most of the liturgy and blessings and tons of Hebrew songs well enough to be able to sing along.

You might like to know that even though I was actually more "Jewishly observant" and knowledgeable than most Jews who call themselves "Conservative" when I started to study for conversion with my sponsoring rabbi, I still studied privately with him every other week for almost 9 months before I converted. Once he verified that I already knew the basics, we spent the time doing in depth study of the weekday morning liturgy. Instead of learning about the holidays as they passed, I would bring in photos and tell him stories about how my family celebrated the holidays. In turn, he shared some personal stories of his own. My rabbi felt that I needed time to become "spiritually ready" and it is true that I needed the time to transition to thinking of myself in a different way.

Here are two replies that I wrote to a prospective convert who didn't live near a synagogue who was considering an online conversion program (the one out of Chicago that you mention). Much is relevant to your case.

Quote :
I have to say that I think you would be missing a very important part of being Jewish to convert without a Jewish community. I am lucky enough to have two very supportive Jewish communities. As an example, 10 years ago when I ended up in the hospital for a week due to a ruptured appendix, our minyan babysat my two young children, brought us meals, visited me in the hospital, and even did our laundry because we had just moved to a new house and didn't have a working washer and dryer yet. We can always get together a minyan for a member who is sitting shiva or saying kaddish. The members of my minyanim are very committed Jews who have been important role models for me in developing my own Jewish identity. Because *doing* is so important in Judaism (even more important in many ways than *believing*) I would question whether is is really possible for a convert, who by definition does not already have a lifetime of traditional Jewish practice as a base, to truly practice Judaism without a Jewish community. I know that I would never choose to live where I could not be part of a Jewish community.

That Judaism is both a religion and people is something I've been thinking about recently because I just finished listening to a six lecture series by Mechon Hadar (an egalitarian Yeshiva in NYC) on conversion/apostasy. It's a weird thing to become a part of the Jewish *people* as a convert, but I do feel that I'm a part of the Jewish people. I'm an American-born-Chinese, and I didn't believe my husband when he first told me that being Jewish was as much like being Chinese as being Christian, but I now agree with him. And it's more than just the culture, like eating bagels and lox. I may not have the literal bloodline, but my soul is certainly Jewish now. So what I'm getting at is that converts need to have a community to join to really become Jewish.

Anyway, my advice would be to take advantage of Rabbi Ginsburg's huge number of Youtube videos to learn about Judaism without signing up and paying for his online conversion course. Also, read lots of books and learn about the liturgy etc through online resources. But save your money, and wait to convert until you can move to where you can become a part of a Jewish community. Otherwise, your conversion will give you only the religion part, which in some sense is how you relate to God, and having or not having a "conversion certificate" which is just piece of paper doesn't really change that. (Well, I admit that I did feel different about myself after formally converting, but that's not quite my point.) The main reason for an official conversion is to be certified that you are entitled to the rights within a Jewish community, such as to be counted in a minyan, take an aliyah, read Torah, etc. If you don't have a Jewish community, you can't do any of that anyway.

Quote :
Do not be in a rush to convert. Not that I'm advocating waiting as long as I did, but at least a few years or until your life situation changes. (1) It is not necessary, not from a religious point of view, nor from a practical one (2) You should learn more to understand what it really means, to determine if Judaism is indeed what you are looking for and if so what is the best way for you to convert (3) Except for the most liberal denominations, being Jewish imposes a number of requirements which may be difficult for your present life situation, so it would be better for that reason to postpone formal conversion until those can be changed.

More detailed comments:

(1) Judaism does not think that all non-Jews ought to convert to Judaism or would even be better off if they convert. Non-Jews are not considered to be "damned" (although no one is "damned" since that is a Christian concept) and righteous gentiles are assured of a place in "the world to come". There is not much emphasis on the afterlife anyway.

And you don't have to be Jewish to attend Jewish religious services. I should know: I attended services almost every Shabbat and for all holidays for almost 25 years. The only hitch might be that many synagogues require "tickets" for High Holiday services. That is because some synagogue are inundated at HH with Jews who wouldn't voluntarily support the synagogue, but simply want to attend those few services. Of course, the synagogue has expenses year round and in some cases may get so many non-regular visitors for HH that they wouldn't even have room in their sanctuary for their regular active members (Some synagogues even have to rent space in other buildings for HH crowds). Conservative and Orthodox synagogues do not allow official membership for non-Jews, but I'm sure if you talk to the rabbi (and you should if you become a regular visitor) that some arrangements can be made to allow you to visit during HH.

You would need to attend services as a non-Jew if you were formally studying for conversion anyway.

(2) There are many aspects of Judaism to learn about. It is not just a simple belief in a single idea. There is so much to learn that the most respected rabbis study and learn more hours than most lay people and do so for their entire lives. And all Jews are expected to engage in some aspect of Jewish study. Studying for conversion is just the beginning. So you certainly don't waste time with more study before starting a formal conversion process.

...
As I mentioned, you do not have to register or pay for the online conversion course to view Rabbi Ginsburg's many videos. View them here: http://www.jonathanginsburg.net/my_educational_videos
At some point you will benefit from the guidance of a rabbi, but there is a lot that you can learn on your own first. For a fairly thorough discussion of conversion from the Conservative viewpoint:
http://www.jewishconversion.com/converting.htm
My favorite overview book on all aspects of Judiasm: "Jewish Literacy" by Rabbi Joseph Teluskin. He's an Orthodox rabbi, but his book gives very fair treatment to non-Orthodox movements, people, and history. His humor and little personal anecdotes also keep the huge book from being entirely dry and boring.
[I'll add that other good online resources are MyJewishLearning.com and "Judaism 101".]

(3) ... you mention that the synagogue that you would participate in is an hour or more drive away, and is also in the town where you do a lot of your shopping. The situation means that Orthodox conversion is not at all possible. But Conservative conversion is also problematic. Yes, there was a controversial Conservative ruling that driving *to synagogue* on Shabbat is permissible (more specifically that it would not be construed as a Shabbat violation), but it is not allowable to drive for other purposes (despite the fact that many C Jews think driving on Shabbat is OK in general). I wonder if you would expect to attend services on Saturday morning and then attend to shopping since you are already in town, and then drive home. However, shopping on Shabbat is certainly not allowed according to Conservative standards. Shabbat observance was one of the few areas in which my sponsoring rabbi asked me quite a number of detailed questions to assess whether I was sufficiently observant. In fact, he asked me specifically if I went shopping on Shabbat. I believe that Rabbi Ginsburg is less strict about observance levels than my sponsoring rabbi, but he was ordained as Conservative rabbi so I wouldn't expect him to condone shopping on Shabbat.

So it would be preferable for you to remain non-Jewish until you are able to change where you live because as a non-Jew you have no obligation to avoid driving or shopping on Shabbat.

Reform rabbis may not care about driving or even shopping on Shabbat, but please do not choose that movement merely because it requires fewer observances. The Reform movement has a different religious outlook and that is what should fit the kind of Jew you want to be.

I actually even know the rabbi of the online Chicago program. He came to my son's bar mitzvah---one of nine rabbis in attendance---if one of our other rabbi friends had not had a schedule conflict we could have had a "minyan of rabbis". I wouldn't recommend the online program for someone without access to a Jewish community though.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Thu Dec 01, 2011 8:05 pm

Debbie B. wrote:

And I have to say that your suggestion that you would simply ask a non-Jewish girlfriend to convert indicates a lack of understanding of how important that a person convert "for the sake of heaven". Conversion to Judaism is a change in identity that it not to be taken lightly. If you want to know about the complications of intermarriage, even where the non-Jewish spouse converts, just go to the Interfaith Family website.

I was on another site one day where a girl in her 20's asked about conversion and dating. Another member replied,

Evangelize girl! Evangelize!!! If the man wants to be with you, he'll convert too! The more Jews the better I say.

I was appalled and I said so too (politely). First, that is not a valid reason to convert. Secondly, it's not fair to ask a person to change their identity to be with you. I have no idea what that woman was thinking but I hope she doesn't give that advice to any other young women.

Reappear, the point is that you cannot just ask a girl to change who they are as a person in order to fit into your life. It would devalue the conversion process and make a mockery of Jewish identity. It just might piss her off too! Razz

Are there any Jewish student communities at your school? I am assuming you probably wouldn't have mentioned it but perhaps you aren't aware of a small group that doesn't advertise themselves?

Debbie B. wrote:
That Judaism is both a religion and people is something I've been thinking about recently because I just finished listening to a six lecture series by Mechon Hadar (an egalitarian Yeshiva in NYC) on conversion/apostasy. It's a weird thing to become a part of the Jewish *people* as a convert, but I do feel that I'm a part of the Jewish people. I'm an American-born-Chinese, and I didn't believe my husband when he first told me that being Jewish was as much like being Chinese as being Christian, but I now agree with him. And it's more than just the culture, like eating bagels and lox. I may not have the literal bloodline, but my soul is certainly Jewish now. So what I'm getting at is that converts need to have a community to join to really become Jewish.

I completely agree. I know (and Debbie knows too) that one of our members did work with Rabbi Ginsburg but she has a Jewish community, they just didn't have a Rabbi.

Debbie B. wrote:


My favorite overview book on all aspects of Judiasm: "Jewish Literacy" by Rabbi Joseph Teluskin. He's an Orthodox rabbi, but his book gives very fair treatment to non-Orthodox movements, people, and history. His humor and little personal anecdotes also keep the huge book from being entirely dry and boring.

I thought that was an excellent book. I would recommend it for anyone interesting in Judaism whether for conversion or just out of curiosity.

Debbie B. wrote:
Reform rabbis may not care about driving or even shopping on Shabbat, but please do not choose that movement merely because it requires fewer observances. The Reform movement has a different religious outlook and that is what should fit the kind of Jew you want to be.

Reappearhere, I am curious as to whether or not you spoke with any other Rabbis or visited any other communities? I think it's a good idea to speak with several Rabbis and perhaps visit a few communities just to get a feel of them. Before my conversion I spoke with seven Rabbis from the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movement. They all have different personalities and different ways of interacting with their conversion students and congregation.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Thu Dec 01, 2011 8:11 pm

Mychal wrote:


I'm an hour from the nearest synagogue to me and I go once a week. I'd go more often if I could afford the gas money. When our finances get better, I'll be more active. But certainly the drive doesn't put me off going. I'm out of sorts for the week if I don't go to shul at least once.


I am 20 minutes by freeway and about 40 minutes if I decided to opt out because I hate the freeway or I want to do other things on the way. I would really prefer to be closer...like walking distance. I do not go to services every week. Quite frankly, I don't go that often. I'm much more apt to attended classes or special events. I've been taking a class on Mondays, I started Hebrew again on Wednesdays and other little things here and there. If I lived closer, I'd go to services much more often and take even more classes. But I hate driving for more than a few minutes and I'm a bit of a homebody (unless I'm going to travel out of state then I love to be away from home). Plus gas isn't exactly cheap.

So 90 minutes one way seems excessive to me. I don't think I could handle it.
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reappearhere

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 1:30 am

Debbie B. wrote:
I'm not sure why you would think that a Conservative rabbi wouldn't ask you the same questions since in fact a Conservative rabbi would be much more likely to ask those questions.

It's a Reform rabbi I spoke with, not Conservative.

Quote :
And I have to say that your suggestion that you would simply ask a non-Jewish girlfriend to convert indicates a lack of understanding of how important that a person convert "for the sake of heaven". Conversion to Judaism is a change in identity that it not to be taken lightly.

I don't see how love for one's would-be spouse is not a valid reason to want to join the Jewish People. Everything has to start somewhere. People have many valid reasons for doing the things they do, and Jews (converts or otherwise) display a myriad of levels of observance and varying degrees of belief. With respect, I don't think any of us are well-placed to judge someone else's reasons for converting. Many rabbis would agree with you, many others would not. Two Jews, three opinions.

As for the hypothetical eventuality where I would ask a future gentile wife if she would convert, that would be a private matter between her and me. I would obviously explain why it was important to me (Jewish children, etc.) and she would obviously be free to make her own decision. But if she did choose to join the Jewish people for the purposes of creating a Jewish family with me, I don't see what is wrong with that. She may grow into a certain level of belief, she may not, but the importance of belief is highly debatable. In the event that this hypothetical young lady revealed herself to be completely intransigent or hostile to the idea, then that would be an issue, perhaps even a deal-breaker. We'll just have to wait and see.

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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:03 am

reappearhere wrote:


It's a Reform rabbi I spoke with, not Conservative.


Debbie was just stating that a Conservative Rabbi would most definitely ask you the same questions. I am married but I had one Conservative Rabbi tell me that if I were not married, I would have to promise to consider only Jewish men for marriage or he would not work with me.

reappearhere wrote:
I don't see how love for one's would-be spouse is not a valid reason to want to join the Jewish People.

I appreciate what these Rabbis have to say about the topic.

This question plagues our religion. Over the generations, many have been so insistent on a Jewish wedding, that conversion has almost been relegated to part of the wedding preparations. For the sake of a homogenous wedding, we have lost the sense of the sacredness of the choice. I believe that one can share one's heritage with others from diverse backgrounds. I have known many wonderful friendships (after all, marriage is supposed to be the deepest friendship we experience) involving people of different backgrounds. So often in our synagogues, the non-Jewish parent is as responsible for raising a Jewish child as the Jewish parent. I will not work with an individual looking to convert for the convenience of a wedding. The question I ask is, if the marriage dissolved, would the prospective convert still want to be Jewish? If the answer is anything but emphatically yes, I cannot perform the conversion. We are not missionaries.

Conversion of convenience has never had a viable place in our rich tradition. To my way of thinking, someone wanting a Jewish life is the only reason to convert. And to be sure of that, even if the person openly states his or her aspirations to be Jewish, the motivation and desire must be established, challenged, and reestablished to real desire.

If a conversion is only for romantic reasons, the spiritual path in Judaism probably ends quickly or never even begins.

reappearhere wrote:
She may grow into a certain level of belief, she may not, but the importance of belief is highly debatable.

I'm actually not sure what you mean here? Belief about what? Belief in God in general? Belief in Judaism as the truth? Not quite sure what you meant.

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:07 am

The city I'm 90 minutes away from, I might as well say it, is Montréal and it has a very large Jewish community, but only one Reform temple. There are also 3 Conservative shuls, one Reconstructionist and then a multitude of Ashkenazi Orthodox and Hassidic congregations both large and small (around 40). There is also what might be the largest Sephardic community in North America and they have about 27 synagogues in the area (all Orthodox).

Given the demographic reality of the region, their are differences in language to consider when chosing a congragation. The Sephardic community is largely French-speaking while the Ashkenazi are more English-speaking. Language is not a barrier for me personally, since I speak both. Even though I prefer to speak, read and socialise in French, I'm more familiar with the Ashkenazi tradition so the choice was natural for me to seek out an Askenazi congregation, and even more so since the Sephardic community in Montréal, though French-speaking, has no liberal movement. They are all Orthodox and, with respect, I do not wish to convert to Orthodoxy.

The 3 conservative shuls in the area have a harmonised conversion programme, but the reason I didn't bother was because I'm not sure that my beliefs and planned level of observance really fit with them. For example, I can't wait to don tefillin but at the same time I have no intention of keeping kosher. What attracts me to the Reform movement is that it respects the individual's choice of which traditions are meaningful to him and which are not compatible with his life or beliefs. rom what I understand, in practice the Conservatives have a similar attitude for those who come from Jewish families, but expect more observance from their converts. I may be wrong.

Now, the more zealous among you certainly have your own opinions about my funky observance choices, and that's fine. To each his own.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:23 am

reappearhere wrote:
Debbie B. wrote:
I'm not sure why you would think that a Conservative rabbi wouldn't ask you the same questions since in fact a Conservative rabbi would be much more likely to ask those questions.

It's a Reform rabbi I spoke with, not Conservative.
Yes. I understood that. But you seemed not to like the questions the Reform rabbi asked and were thus thinking of talking to a Conservative rabbi. And what I am saying is that issues such as distance to a synagogue or finding a Jewish spouse are much more important in Conservative Judaism.


Quote :

I don't see how love for one's would-be spouse is not a valid reason to want to join the Jewish People. Everything has to start somewhere. People have many valid reasons for doing the things they do, and Jews (converts or otherwise) display a myriad of levels of observance and varying degrees of belief.
I think you are naive to think that just because a woman loves you, she would necessarily want to convert. Note that I was formerly a non-Jewish wife married to a Jew myself (yup: "Been there, done that"). But it was easier than for most intermarriages because I didn't have strong beliefs in another religion, and probably would have converted before marriage if my parents had not objected. Also I was happy to have a Jewish home and convert and raise our children as Jews before converting. I have known many interfaith couples---some where the non-Jewish member converted before marriage, several in which the non-Jewish spouse converted several years or even some decades later, and some where the couples have kept their different religions.

The issue is not whether rabbis are willing to the conversion. Indeed, many are so averse to the idea of intermarriage, that they will do conversions in the case of marriage even where the convert seems to be doing it only to please a fiance or the fiance's family and doesn't seem to have much internal desire to be Jewish. That is not a good prescription for a healthy marriage. Why wouldn't you love her for who she is?

Sorry to pull rank about being "older and wiser", but I'm probably old enough to be your mother, and I've found that most people really do get wiser about a lot of things by middle age. I've been married for 24 years and have seen some friends divorce, both amicably and less so.

Trust me that a person should never expect to a spouse to change. (Even though they might change, don't bet your future marital happiness on that.) That annoying habit? Be sure you can live with it---and that person may well have many positive qualities that outweigh that one aspect. But even if it really bothers you , and the spouse really loves you, it still might be something that isn't going to change. Being Jewish for most Jews is a major lifestyle change. It is asking too much of a person to convert if they don't have their own internal motivations for doing so.

If you want to convert, you must understand why Jews have this thing about intermarriage. It is not simply random racism or ethnocentricity. It has to do with cultural continuity and ethnicity. Judaism has an ethnic component that is not a part of other religions.

Quote :

With respect, I don't think any of us are well-placed to judge someone else's reasons for converting. Many rabbis would agree with you, many others would not. Two Jews, three opinions.
Pulling rank again:
I have been living and studying Judaism since 1984 (probably before you were born) and have many Jewish friends in the US and Israel who range from secular to Orthodox. If you have not even started the conversion process and yet you are already looking for leniencies, it may indicate that Judaism is not the right religion for you. (Remember: Jews don't think that everyone needs to become Jewish, and that's certainly my view.) Yes, there are rabbis who are OK with absolutely anything---intermarriages, non-kosher food, you name it, but if you don't care about what kind of Jew you want to be you can even just join a Jewish Humanist congregation where saying that you want to be Jewish is all that it takes. But I'm assuming that you are interested in converting with some "mainstream" Jewish movement, and I do think I know more about the doctrines and lifestyles of those movements and what it means to be that kind of Jew than you do.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:31 am

reappearhere wrote:
The city I'm 90 minutes away from, I might as well say it, is Montréal and it has a very large Jewish community, but only one Reform temple. There are also 3 Conservative shuls, one Reconstructionist and then a multitude of Ashkenazi Orthodox and Hassidic congregations both large and small (around 40). There is also what might be the largest Sephardic community in North America and they have about 27 synagogues in the area (all Orthodox).

Well given all those choices I would definitely make a few visits if you've got the time.

reappearhere wrote:
The 3 conservative shuls in the area have a harmonised conversion programme, but the reason I didn't bother was because I'm not sure that my beliefs and planned level of observance really fit with them. For example, I can't wait to don tefillin but at the same time I have no intention of keeping kosher. What attracts me to the Reform movement is that it respects the individual's choice of which traditions are meaningful to him and which are not compatible with his life or beliefs. From what I understand, in practice the Conservatives have a similar attitude for those who come from Jewish families, but expect more observance from their converts. I may be wrong.

Now, the more zealous among you certainly have your own opinions about my funky observance choices, and that's fine. To each his own.

I don't know much about the Conservative movement in Canada so I can only assume that the Rabbis would require you to keep at least a minimum level of kashrut, so perhaps you are correct in that it's not the place for you at this time.

You can most certainly decline to answer but I am curious (nosy) as to why you have already decided you have no intention of keeping kosher? Do you think that might change in the future or are you pretty settled on it?
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:32 am

Oops, Debbie and I were posting at the same time.
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reappearhere

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:55 am

Dena wrote:

I appreciate what these Rabbis have to say about the topic.

This question plagues our religion. Over the generations, many have been so insistent on a Jewish wedding, that conversion has almost been relegated to part of the wedding preparations. For the sake of a homogenous wedding, we have lost the sense of the sacredness of the choice. I believe that one can share one's heritage with others from diverse backgrounds. I have known many wonderful friendships (after all, marriage is supposed to be the deepest friendship we experience) involving people of different backgrounds. So often in our synagogues, the non-Jewish parent is as responsible for raising a Jewish child as the Jewish parent. I will not work with an individual looking to convert for the convenience of a wedding. The question I ask is, if the marriage dissolved, would the prospective convert still want to be Jewish? If the answer is anything but emphatically yes, I cannot perform the conversion. We are not missionaries.

Conversion of convenience has never had a viable place in our rich tradition. To my way of thinking, someone wanting a Jewish life is the only reason to convert. And to be sure of that, even if the person openly states his or her aspirations to be Jewish, the motivation and desire must be established, challenged, and reestablished to real desire.

If a conversion is only for romantic reasons, the spiritual path in Judaism probably ends quickly or never even begins.

I read this and yet see a great disunity with reality, which is that most conversions (the Rabbi himself pointed it out to me) are done in view of marriage to a Jewish partner. So either they say things like this strictly as lip-service to what they consider acceptable reasons, all the while performing conversions which are clearly undertaken in view of marriage. One cannot truly know all the reasons for another person's decision to convert, so if someone wants to get married to a Jew in a Jewish ceremony, petitions for conversion, is asked by the rabbi if the only reason they want to convert is to not screw up their wedding plans and the prospective convert answers no... how will the rabbi ever be sure? I think that very few people, if any, would jump through all the hoops towards conversion simply out of 'convenience'. There is nothing convenient about conversion and such a person would probably lose interest long before going to the mikvah.

reappearhere wrote:
Quote :
She may grow into a certain level of belief, she may not, but the importance of belief is highly debatable.

I'm actually not sure what you mean here? Belief about what? Belief in God in general? Belief in Judaism as the truth? Not quite sure what you meant.


I mean that traditionally, and particularly before Maimonides' 13 principles of faith, Judaism did not require anyone to positively believe in anything. It required them to observe and respect laws and traditions. Even after the elaboration of said 13 principles, they are not universally accepted. So if a person converts and doesn't necessarily believe in G-d, for example, or doubts his existence, that does not in any way invalidate his conversion. Here is an excerpt from an article on MyJewishLearning.com written by Rabbi Daniel Gordis called 'From Belief to Faith' :

Judaism does not require faith statements as a sign of legitimacy. Judaism does not ask Jews to give up their questions or to deny their doubt.

In Jewish spiritual life, faith is not the starting point of the journey. Uncertainty is not the enemy of religious and spiritual growth. Doubt is what fuels the journey.


So my argument is essentially that one can wish to be Jewish for profound reasons other than religious belief. Certainly, one's reasons cannot be frivolous and one must sincerely want to be a member of the Jewish people. It is a spirirtual journey and like all journeys, it must begin somewhere. I think a marriage is an excellent place to start and I do stress the verb to start.

As for Judaism being 'the truth', I'm not sure what to make of that. The truth about what? About G-d? What if there is no G-d? Would Judaism then be meaningless? I think not. There are many ways of being righteous and of bettering oneself, both within and without religion.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:11 am

reappearhere wrote:

One cannot truly know all the reasons for another person's decision to convert, so if someone wants to get married to a Jew in a Jewish ceremony, petitions for conversion, is asked by the rabbi if the only reason they want to convert is to not screw up their wedding plans and the prospective convert answers no... how will the rabbi ever be sure?

They really have no choice but to take their word for it. However, I suppose if they feel it's apparent the person is not really interested, they can refuse to continue the conversion.

reappearhere wrote:


As for Judaism being 'the truth', I'm not sure what to make of that. The truth about what? About G-d? What if there is no G-d? Would Judaism then be meaningless? I think not. There are many ways of being righteous and of bettering oneself, both within and without religion.

I was merely asking what you meant by "belief", that's all. There are many people who come to Judaism because they believe it's the true religion. I didn't know if that's what you were talking about or not.
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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 3:37 am

Debbie B. wrote:

I think you are naive to think that just because a woman loves you, she would necessarily want to convert.

I think if you read my post more carefully, you will notice that I'm well aware of the possibility that one might not wish to convert simply out of love. I clearly said it would be her personal decision. And I do remind you that we are talking about a fictional person at this point. The fact of the matter is, it is quite possible that I do find a future fiancée who is not Jewish but who would be willing to consider conversion to Judaism. If not, there are obviously other althernatives. I think it is way too early to jump to conclusions or to make snap judgements.

If you want to convert, you must understand why Jews have this thing about intermarriage. It is not simply random racism or ethnocentricity. It has to do with cultural continuity and ethnicity. Judaism has an ethnic component that is not a part of other religions.

Jews may or may not have a 'thing' about intermarriage. 52% of American Jews who have married since 1985 are in an intermarriage, so the mainstream view amongst Jews might not be as clear cut as some people may have guessed.

Quote :

I have been living and studying Judaism since 1984 (probably before you were born) and have many Jewish friends in the US and Israel who range from secular to Orthodox. If you have not even started the conversion process and yet you are already looking for leniencies, it may indicate that Judaism is not the right religion for you. (Remember: Jews don't think that everyone needs to become Jewish, and that's certainly my view.) Yes, there are rabbis who are OK with absolutely anything---intermarriages, non-kosher food, you name it, but if you don't care about what kind of Jew you want to be you can even just join a Jewish Humanist congregation where saying that you want to be Jewish is all that it takes. But I'm assuming that you are interested in converting with some "mainstream" Jewish movement, and I do think I know more about the doctrines and lifestyles of those movements and what it means to be that kind of Jew than you do.

I have emboldened a few of the turns of phrase where I think, with respect and if I have understood the tone correctly, that you might be out of line. I'm not sure what sort of 'rank' you feel entitled to pull (I mean, congratulations on being Jewish since 1984 and everything), but I don't feel that I'm in a hierarchical situation with you. You think I'm looking for leniencies from whom exactly? From the Reform rabbi whose movement represents a majority of affiliated Jews in North America? I don't think so. Not a single word I have written here nor intention I have described is in conflict with the Reform movement and it is one of the reasons that I have consciously chosen that branch.

You might have your views on kashrut, intermarriage and a whole host of other topics, but they remain yours and you cannot speak for the ensemble of world Jewry. Nobody can, thankfully. The fact that I do not plan on observing kashrut does not separate me in any way from the mainstream, since the vast majority of Jews, even affiliated Jews, do not keep kosher. I can elaborate on my views about kashrut in another thread eventually. The fact that I *might* eventually meet and marry a gentile with whom I will discuss her possible conversion (which she is free to refuse) in no way estranges me from the mainstream (see the statistic quoted above).

In any case, I feel we are straying into an unpleasant conversation and I feel like I am being judged by a perfect stranger based on next to nothing. Suffice to say that the movement I have chosen to affiliate myself with is mainstream and it is compatible with the kind of Judaism that I wish to be a part of. That is what is important. I don't want there to be any hard feelings.


Last edited by reappearhere on Fri Dec 02, 2011 4:26 am; edited 1 time in total
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reappearhere

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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 4:04 am

Dena wrote:

You can most certainly decline to answer but I am curious (nosy) as to why you have already decided you have no intention of keeping kosher? Do you think that might change in the future or are you pretty settled on it?

I am pretty much settled on it, but anyone is apt to change his mind. Who knows if in 10 years I will feel the same way.

Without getting too into it, I would point out that kashrut is nothing new to me. I worked in a strictly kosher restaurant at a Jewish retirement community for 3 years when I was in high school. I know all the rules a lay person could be expected to know, I have had countless kosher meals and I have done the tour of all the arguments for and against. I even kept a basic level of kashrut for about 4 months as an experiment just to see what the challenges would be.

The only argument which I find convincing is that it does make every meal and every food choice a conscious, spiritual decision. The downside is that it prevents you from sharing meals with non-Jews as long as you're not eating at home, packing a lunch or in a kosher restaurant. It keeps you from breaking bread with others, or at least makes it very cumbersome. There are other ways of making every meal special and spiritual, and since I do not believe that there is a punishing G_d that will smite me down for eating prosciutto, I don't see a great advantage to kashrut in my life today. Plus, as a French-speaking person, I don't know how I would give up so much delicious yet non-kosher French food!

That being said, I am knowledgeable of the tradition, I respect it, I commend those who pursue it and I recognise the pivotal role it played in the ensemble of Jewish life until relatively recently.
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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 6:23 pm

reappearhere:

You are right that I was inexcusably rude. I apologize. It was late and I guess I was in a grumpy mood.

I regret that I did so not just because it was a breach in civility, but because I may have set myself up to be written off and I think I can provide useful advice.

Perhaps one can only learn from hard experience, but truly you will save yourself from grief if you can try hard not to see other people only in terms of their relationship to yourself and to work hard to understand who they are. It is difficult. People in very long-term relationships may make it look effortless and natural, but it takes work that you simply don't see from the outside. I still remember a remark to that effect by a college friend early in his marriage, and whose understanding of that is probably one reason that he is still happily married 20 years later. "Conversion out of love" is simply a bad idea. There is evidence that was the reason for the conversion when a divorcing convert rejects Judaism after leaving the Jewish partner. (But luckily I know of more cases in which the divorced convert stayed just as committed to Judaism as before.) The issues of intermarriage are very real---I was not being flip when I recommended the InterfaithFamily.com website. That website also has really good introductory materials for all aspects of Judaism. They promote a positive response to intermarriage, but they do not advocate intermarriage.

I suggest the same approach for your explorations of Judaism. It is better to learn about the religion and the people as they are, rather than looking for particular aspects of the religion which fit what you think you want from the religion. Obviously some aspects of Judaism resonate with you now, but you seem to be closing yourself off prematurely to other aspects. Take more time to study and learn. Being more open even to things that at first seem foreign or even distasteful can enable you to find something meaningful that you weren't even looking for. There are many aspects of my own current observance that I would not have dreamed of embracing 20 years ago.

1984 is not the year I converted; it is the year I first started to attend services at a university Hillel while in grad school. I married my Jewish husband in 1987 (after 7 years of dating) as a non-Jew. Had I converted back then, it would have been with a very different understanding of Judaism. In part, it was my evolving understanding of Judaism, especially the "peoplehood" aspect that delayed my conversion for over two decades.

The reason I mention these years is to show that I've had a lot of time to collect a lot of data from which to develop my understanding. For example, I know a lot about intermarriage from my own experience, from the experiences of many friends and acquaintances, from lots of study of all kinds of sources from Talmud to anecdotal stories from rabbis and people in interfaith relationships. These are the real stories behind the statistics that you cite which can be very misleading if you don't know how the way the data was determined and analyzed. See for example: http://www.jewishjournal.com/demographic_duo/item/jewish_intermarriage_declining_20111115/ Another important thing left out of the bare numbers is many of the Jews who "married out" (and probably most of the "committed Jews" which excludes those "secular Jews" who are Jewish only by birth for whom Judaism has almost no relevance in their lives) still see intermarriage as a negative that was outweighed in their own case by other factors. I also think you should at least entertain the possibility that the attitudes of the rabbis whose views you seem to discount may be informed by information you don't know.

It is a common misconception that Judaism is a "religion" in the same sense of the word as applied to Christianity---it is completely different in many fundamental ways. When what some Jews say about Judaism seems so wrong to you, it may simply indicate that they are coming from a very different perspective from inside the tradition. Judaism is not simply a matter of faith, although that is one aspect. One of the most difficult aspects of Judaism for most prospective converts to understand is why Jews keep talking about conversion as "becoming a part of the Jewish people". It is not just semantics. It is separate from belief which is why it is possible to be a Jewish atheist.

One final note: if you are interested in pre-Rabbinic Judaism, you'll have to look to the Karaites. Truthfully, as a moderately observant Jew, I have sometimes wished that I could ignore the many stringencies imposed by the Rabbis. But all of modern Judaism is product of rabbinic Judaism, with the celebration of Chanukah being a prime example. If you "pick and choose" rituals and beliefs completely on your own, you will end up with your own personal religion (not withstanding an appallingly offensive comment by a Birthright interviewer who said that a member of this forum followed "Natalie-ism" because he didn't believe any non-Orthodox movement had the right to use the term "Judaism"). But conversion requires accepting Judaism, at least the version of the movement under whose auspices you convert.

Shabbat Shalom.

--Debbie


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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Fri Dec 02, 2011 7:18 pm

How Jewish for everyone to argue the details of a hypothetical situation! Razz

Personally, if there ever comes a time in the future when I was no longer married (God forbid), I would only look for a Jewish spouse--a practicing Jewish spouse, specifically. And I hate to say it, but I'd give a lot more weight to a born Jew than another convert, simply because I want a Jewish family to celebrate things with.

Being an only Jew and having a Gentile husband, I am sad that I don't have anyone to celebrate holidays with (and who knows, better than me, what they're doing). I'd not marry a Gentile if I was single and looking again.

I think, reappearhere, that as you study and really begin identifying yourself as a Jew, you'll probably change your mind because you, like me, will be an only Jew. And that's a lonely place.

But regardless, it's not a question that needs an answer today or tomorrow or even when you convert. Some born Jews don't even know the answer to that question. It all depends on who you meet. If someone is your bashert, they're your bashert, regardless of skin color or religion or nationality, and God will make things work out.
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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Sun Dec 04, 2011 3:22 am

Since Dena noted that I was converted out of my community by an online program, I thought I would pipe up.

As Mychal says - Jewish and alone is a very lonely place. Whether you set yourself apart by observances or not, without a community to experience that, it is not only easy to fall out of practice and observance for the sake of "fitting in," it's also missing out on a huge piece of Judaism - that of community.

I am lucky in that my community is so welcoming (and is actually comprised of a number of converts, it turns out) as only about 1.5 years from me showing up as a new convert, they are coming out in spades to welcome me and my fiance as we get married on the synagogue grounds. That theoretical convert wife of yours needs a community to help her get married. I cannot imagine having none of that around to marry, raise children, and simply "Jew out" on occasion.
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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Sun Dec 04, 2011 10:31 am

maculated wrote:
Since Dena noted that I was converted out of my community by an online program, I thought I would pipe up.

As Mychal says - Jewish and alone is a very lonely place. Whether you set yourself apart by observances or not, without a community to experience that, it is not only easy to fall out of practice and observance for the sake of "fitting in," it's also missing out on a huge piece of Judaism - that of community.

I am lucky in that my community is so welcoming (and is actually comprised of a number of converts, it turns out) as only about 1.5 years from me showing up as a new convert, they are coming out in spades to welcome me and my fiance as we get married on the synagogue grounds. That theoretical convert wife of yours needs a community to help her get married. I cannot imagine having none of that around to marry, raise children, and simply "Jew out" on occasion.

Thanks for responding.

Just a reminder that I am not converting using an online method, though I had considered it before meeting with a near-local rabbi.

The rabbi's in Montréal and I'm 90 minutes away for a few years no matter what, but as we say in French: C'est pas la mer à boire.
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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Sun Dec 04, 2011 2:17 pm

And that means . . . . what? French is way over my head. :)
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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Sun Dec 04, 2011 3:24 pm

It means basically that it's far from impossible.(Literally "It's not like drinking the sea.")
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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:39 pm

Love it.
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PostSubject: Re: My conversion begins... well, sort of.   Sun Mar 25, 2012 2:12 am

Okay, so an update that may be surprising for some who were a part of this this thrad a few months ago.

I am still pursuing conversion, but I switched movements. It's kind of a long story so I'll just cut to the chase by saying that the Reform rabbi under whose ausipices I had planned on converting, well, he neglected to mention that he was retiring and making aliyah. I liked him and had been hoping to continue the conversion under his guidance, but that is no longer possible. His replacement is not my cup of tea. I also was doubting about the capactiy of the leadership at this synagogue to initiate me into practices such as laying tefillin (which is a practice not readily associated with the Reform movement).

Suffice to say that I realized that I was looking for a more traditional approach, so I contacted a rabbi at one of the three local Conservative shuls who run conjointly a common conversion program. This rabbi is very nice, he was very helpful and scheduled a meeting with me right away. After we sat down and had a chat about my experience and my goals, he informed me of the Conservative program in our area and what the expectations would be.

He said he felt that my perspective would be a welcome addition to the current conversion class since I would be the only young man converting with no ulterior motive (i.e. converting for marriage). As such and in llight of the fact that I am a university student, he offered me a full tuition waiver (this 14 month program usually costs the candidate about $2000 with books and everything included).

I thought about it for 24 hours before giving my answer and then wrote the rabbi to inform him of my acceptance. I start classes this Tuesday! He's allowing me to jump into a class that has already been meeting for several weeks because this is the time when they learn to read and pronounce Hebrew which I already know thanks to my own private study of Modern Israeli Hebrew.

I am so very excited! I have to drive 1h40m each way to attend class every week, but that is a small price to pay for such an opportunity.

So it looks like I'll be observing kashrut after all. I honestly don't mind. I actually kind of want to. It will be a challenge in my area, but I can handle it.

It just goes to show you, never say never. In French we have a funny way of saying that. It goes: Il ne faut jamais dire « Fontaine, je ne boirai jamais de ton eau.», Which literally means: You should never say "Fountain, I shall never drink of your water."
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