Thursday, January 31, 2008


I have been really busy and extremely exhausted, but I promise to update with fantastic news soon. Until then, I had wanted to go to Israel over Spring Break. I thought I might take an additional week off of school to make it more worth the expense. But, then I stopped working 2 jobs and budgeted this semester, which caused me to realize that in order to go to Israel, I'd have to pay for the entire thing on a credit card (a bad idea). Then, today I saw this:

Wow! I have friends in Israel, but I only ever see pictures of them in different places, but never did I actually see the land. Talk about an ardent longing! I can feel it in my gut. I looked up tickets, and I can fly for under $1,000 still. However, I'd have to rush my passport and quickly replace my driver's license which has been lost. I'm going to sleep on it and decide.

Monday, January 28, 2008


So,I brought Mrs. Fabio some flowers for her birthday today. Cala had asked me to buy some for her, so I just got some extra nice ones and brought them over. I tried to be there early enough so Mrs. Fabio wouldn't feel pressured to ask me to stay for the learning she has, but I couldn't make it that early. So, she did ask me to stay and I said it was ok and there was a bit of awkwardness. She went outside with me and explained that she really just doesn't know the rules and she does not want to do anything wrong. Then she asked me to ask Rabbi Dan and I told her of course I would. So, we'll see what happens.



Saturday, January 26, 2008

Shavua Tov!

I try to make sure that every Shabbos is the best Shabbos ever. Even if last Shabbos was fantastic, the next can be better. So, that's my goal every Shabbos. This Shabbos was truly fantastic. I have really felt the need for help, and I asked for it in a yahoo group for orthodox conversion. The woman who runs the group passed my information on to a woman in the community who may be able to help. Right before Shabbos, she e-mailed me and invited me to a meal. I was super busy on Friday, but called her when I had a moment and ended up leaving a message saying that I couldn't make it. However, I felt so happy that she actually emailed me. Someone in the community is willing to talk to me, and might be able to help me. Maybe I will be able to find some direction.

The reason I could not go, though, was because I was having dinner at Rabbi Haine's (the Rabbi who I met with a while ago). He and his wife are wonderfully kind their house was so much fun. Lots of people from my home town were there, and although I didn't know them then, I know them now and we just laughed and chatted. Afterwards, I went to Rabbi Fabio's house and chatted with them. A girl my age who does not live in the eruv was staying with me, and when I got back to my apartment, she was already there. We stayed up and talked about the various books I have learned and need to learn, why I am converting, and why she's considering teshuva. We went to sleep way too late and arrived at shul a bit late. However, unlike last week, at kiddush, so many people were there, and it was a nice feeling compared to last week. After Shabbos, I went to eat at my favorite mechanic's house. He's an ex-wrestler who is BT and now lives in the community. He invited me and all of my friends to his house, and we had a really enjoyable time. It was nice because I got to experience Shabbos in a new way. He isn't FFB, and he is divorced, so we got to hear about what made him return and how he perceives Judaism. After that, I went to have third meal at this wonderful lady's house whom I had met at shul on Friday night. When we got there, everyone (she and her daughter's and some other girls) left to go to the wonderful home of another family. We took a shortcut and traveled through the woods which was tons of fun.

Once we got there, we sang and debated about feminism and ate and talked. The new person I met asked me if I could read Hebrew. I told her I was trying, but was not really good at it yet. She offered to teach me Hebrew if I would teach her how to do legal research online. (She's an attorney, and figured it would help.) She also invited me to be her adopted daughter for the night so I could go to the Mother-daughter dance. I have not told her I'm converting, but I plan to tell her as soon as she calls me (hopefully that will be tomorrow).

I felt like I had been fighting so hard and finally, I've had a break through. Every night, I pray so hard. Sometimes, I've wondered if God won't listen to my prayers because I'm not Jewish, but then things like this happen and I know that He does.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


So, on Sunday night, I had my bimonthly game night, where friends from high school, college, law school and the Jewish community are welcome to come over and play board games and video games. It's my attempt to squeeze socializing into my busy schedule in a regular, wholesome way.

A friend from college said that she was Jewish and asked me why I would want to convert. She knows me from my Christian days, and was flabbergasted by my change of heart.

I have had to answer that question quite a few times, but it never becomes easy. The answer that immediately comes to my tongue is "Because, it's what God wants me to do." I always restrain myself, but I'm not sure that I should.

If you'll excuse my trite verbiage, I think God has given me a great gift in giving me the spark to take this journey. I love learning, I find the practices I've taken on deeply rewarding, and, despite my frustrations and fears, I've felt happier and closer to God since starting this journey than I ever did before.

"The Rishonim also relate to the hidden aspect, known to Kabbalists, and write that a righteous convert's soul was meant to be born in a Jew's body and certain reasons caused it to be born as a gentile. In the responsa attributed to the authors of Tosfos (Responsa Ba'alei HaTosfos, Appendix I, Paragraph 19), they state so regarding our Gemara, which says that "the son of David will only come when all the souls will end from the guf (lit. body)": "My teacher, my father-in-law zt"l citing Rav Y. Chasid explained that there is a room in Heaven called Guf, containing all the souls meant to be given to people, and the appointed angel...takes from the room and puts in a woman's womb and sometimes he puts a soul fit to be a Jew into a Gentile's womb and he becomes a convert."

It's difficult because I didn't get a badge, or a seal, or any other physical proof that I'm supposed to convert. I read stories of others who have converted, and they tell amazing tales of unknown Jewish relatives, immense spiritual journeys, and volatile sparks. My tale is much less inspiring, and more meandering and pretty much just a recognition. It's powerful and life changing to me, but I don't think it would make anyone cry (except my mom). How can you explain to people that the Diary of Anne Frank was always especially interesting, Number the Stars was dog-eared from the re-reads, Chaim Potok wrote books that told irresistible stories, Introduction to Hebrew Scriptures was the first college class you signed up for, and the numerous other ways that Judaism and its people have pulled you in throughout your life? Converting is difficult, being Jewish has its dangers, and my life will never be as easy as it was when I was a Christian. I know that I am not yet Jewish, but until I am, I'll be working hard to become Jewish, because that is where I belong.

It's really difficult to explain my feelings adequately. It's similar to feeling like you really belong in a certain university, and going through the application process trying to make sure that the committee knows that you're a good fit. I have that same anxiety, that maybe they'll see that I'm not quite good enough, but the hope that they'll see the depth of my desires and let me in.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Climbing Hills

So, how did my talk with Mrs. Fabio manifest itself in my psyche over Shabbos? Well, it was snowing, and so a lot of people did not go to Shul. When I got there, late, it was almost time for a Bris. I saw no one with whom I felt comfortable just chatting, so I stood by myself for a bit. Mrs. Fabio came in with three girls who I know. They came and greeted me and Mrs. Fabio did the same. As it became time for the Bris, Mrs. Fabio and the girls moved closer to the seating area and Mrs. Fabio started talking to them about what was going to happen, and showing them the prayer from the Siddur. I moved up and stood near for a bit, trying to learn, too. However, what Mrs. Fabio had told me nagged in the back of my mind, and as the circle didn't open to include me, I just stepped back. I felt sad.

After the Bris, I went to the Kiddish and looked for the people from the house where I had planned to eat. They weren't there. I kinda wondered around, but none of my friends were there. I thought about how Mrs. Fabio said I wasn't lonely enough and I felt so alone. I mean, here I was, feeling totally out of place, but apparently that wasn't enough. I went into the bathroom and cried a little bit. I thought about my mother, my family, and my friends, considering how I could have just stopped being "religious" and they never would have questioned my change from Christian to non-observant Christian. I would still have my college friends, my mom would not be sad, and there would be peace in my home. Yet, I have given that all up because I need to do what compels me. However, maybe even then, I can't. Maybe I will not be allowed to be Jewish. Often, I feel that I'm just not what I need to be in order to convert, but I am willing to fight if there is a possibility of victory. It's just when it seems like failure is inevitable that I feel defeated. And, then, I feel bad about feeling defeated. Doesn't someone who truly wants something keep fighting despite defeat? Do they do it cheerfully? Does the fact that I feel frustrated and defeated mean that I'm not good enough? I just don't know.

Then, I found some other people who were going to lunch where I was, and I walked with them. While there, we went around the table and talked about one way where we saw Hashem's hand in the past week. The Father-in-Law of the hostess was there. He is a great Rabbi from South Africa who has sense retired, I think. He started by explaining Brachos and how the Jewish laws force people to see Hashem everywhere. When a billionaire thanks Hashem for a glass of water, it's a humbling experience. Brachos are the currency with which we purchase from Hashem. He then said that he is never alone. Hashem is always there, and every second of the day, Hashem is paying attention. Although there is no way I can do justice for what the Rabbi said, but in the end, it doesn't matter exactly what he said. At that moment, he brought me back out of my head. I am not doing this for Mrs. Fabio to love me, I'm not doing it for people to flock to me in Shul. I'm doing this because I love Hashem. I had a warm church family, and I had mentors and religious leaders who would look after me. That's not what I want. I want to serve God, and I want to do it the best way I can. I realized this because of the Rabbi's talk, I need to remember that, while I am fighting an uphill battle, Hashem is with me and with each step that I move upwards, I'm that much closer to Him.

On loneliness

So, a couple days ago, right after I had made my plan (detailed before), I decided to speak to them to Mrs. Fabio. Mrs. Fabio is the wife of Rabbi Favio, who is my sponsoring Rabbi. They were the first "official" Jewish people I told about my desire to convert, and they are very close to Baker. They have always been friendly towards me, and when I needed a sponsoring Rabbi, I asked Rabbi Fabio. He said he didn't know what he would need to do, but he was willing to try. Since then, he and his wife have always been very kind to me, but they have never really discussed where I am in converting, nor have they given me any clear offers of help. It is ok, though, I have not minded. They are extremely busy people and they mostly do college outreach and are always on the run.

I approached Rabbi Fabio last year about teaching me something from my list, and that led to a small class where he taught from one of his favorite Rabbis. It was really nice, but it wasn't something from my list, and the class ended. It has since been supplanted by Mrs. Fabio leading a large group of girls in learning. I see the invitations go out on facebook, but I have never been invited. I had discussed this with Baker, and his suggestion was that I should just show up. I am far too southern to do such a thing. Plus, even if she had missed my name the first five or six times, she could not have missed it every time. I thought it was intentional, but I was not sure why. Anyway, Mrs. Fabio comes to my school and gives talks for girls. After the last one, I was really excited to tell her my plan and get her feedback.

I gave her a rundown and explained that I thought it might help Rabbi Dan (the conversion Rabbi), realize my sincerity. She said they didn't need to know I was sincere. I said, "But, I want him to know that I'm working hard and he will not be wasting his time." She told me that they were not worried about waisting time. She said the concern was that a convert is the responsibility of those who convert him. After someone converts, if they break laws, the beis din suffers, too. I explained that I understood (she had told me this before), but I said that even given that, people still convert and I wanted to do something, anything, besides this stagnation. She then went on to say that barriers between Jews and non-Jews existed for a reason. She said that all people were the children of Hashem and worthy of love and respect, but that not everyone should become too familiar. She explained that non-Jews are not supposed to learn the Torah from Jews and that there were no exceptions for me. Now, I know that there are prohibitions on teaching a non-Jew Torah, but I thought that there were exceptions for people converting. How am I ever supposed to learn that list if I do not have someone to teach me? How am I supposed to be able to show that I know how to keep the mitzvahs if I am not allowed to know what they are?

Then, she continued to tell me that she knows of some seminary in Montreal where people go to convert. I told her that I had not heard of one there, but had heard of things in Israel. She said that where I am, I am too comfortable. I am not alone enough. I have Baker and Edgar and Cala and other friends. I am not like Abraham because he was alone and had to travel to a foreign land. This upset me. I am very pleased that she was willing to be completely honest with me. I appreciate her candor.

However, I think there are a few mistakes. First, Abraham was not surrounded by people who believed as he did, he was surrounded by idol worshipers, which is why he had to leave. In fact, when Hashem told Abram to travel to the land of Canaan, Bereshis says, "Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot...and the persons that they had acquired in Haran." Which clearly indicates that he was not alone. He went with people.

Additionally, in many ways, I am alone. Sure, I have made new friends in the Jewish community since beginning this process. Edgar and Cala are among them. Baker and I have been friends for a long time, but we had gone four years without much interaction at all and in high school, we were friends, but not really close. This process has brought us closer. Probably a combination of our being in law school and the fact that we are both learning and growing in the same community. However, having friends does not make a person not lonely. Many times, I feel very isolated. There are many Shabboses where I do not receive an invitation to go anywhere and it feels lonely. When my friends do not receive an invitation, they can eat at their family's home, or, as with Baker, they can always eat at those people who have practically adopted them into their family. Baker and Rabbi Fabio are extremely close and Baker can always go there and feels comfortable doing so. I have not been embraced to such an extent. Many times, I see people being invited and I am overlooked. I think it's because most of my friends are targets of "outreach," but I, of course, am not. I'm already sold on the club; I'm just not a member.

I have been asking people to learn with me for almost a year now. So far, one person has accepted (not counting NG, with whom I will start learning this week), but even she became too busy and seemed too disinterested for me to continue trying to impose on her. It is difficult because my friends all know that they are welcome at the classes sponsored by the shul; they are all called and told about trips to Israel or learning programs at various schools. I am not called and I am often not really allowed. It is very difficult.

My mother, and my mother's family thinks I am crazy. They are all Southern Baptists and, although they do not know too much about their own dogma, they do know that Jews aren't Christians and that they have been told that one cannot go to Heaven without being Christian. My mom told me that she did not think I was going to hell, but that God said I was going to Hell. My non-Jewish friends think I am a bit nutterbutters because why would anyone want to give up Friday nights? Sure, I am around Jewish people and have befriended them, but it isn't always a choice. It's practical. My other friends are available Friday and Saturday nights, but often, I'm not even available on Saturday nights because Shabbos ends too late. Being in law school leaves very little free time, and what I have is often dedicated to studying school work or Jewish things. I won't even start to explain how all of my childhood memories with my family center around some holiday that I will no longer practice. Every one of my new friends has warm seder memories, even if they have become more religious. I have those memories, but not from a seder.

I am a member of a debate society from my Undergraduate school. It was my "fraternity" and how I made all of my friends in college. Every year, they have an anniversary meeting which is attended by most of my friends who have disbursed since graduating. I cannot go because it is on Saturday. I missed it last year and I will miss it this year, and every year to come. The society holds regular meetings on Thursday nights, but even then, I do not go. I have work and school and giving up Thursday night to study and driving the three hours it would take to go there and be back by Shabbos is too much when I am also not studying on Shabbos. It's lonely for sure.

The final thought I have regarding what BG told me is that I wish she had told me this earlier. I would not have continued to request that she learn with me. I would have understood why I was not invited to her learning classes. I would have been able to question RF about the rules regarding my learning Torah. If I really do have to move myself across the world to Montreal or Israel, I could have known. I would still learn, but I probably would not have told my mother so soon. It would have saved her from a lot of pain and it would have allowed us to have a better relationship for longer. I could have initiated plans for moving, and tried to include them in my plans for the future. Although I intend to talk to RF about this, law school moves at a set pace, and once I graduate and my debts become due, it will be much more difficult for me to uproot myself and still meet my obligations.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


So, last night Baker went with me to talk to Rabbi Haines. I think it helped because I know that at least one Rabbi is willing to help me. He advised me to be more assertive and to be very clear about what I want. He looked at my "syllabus" and suggested that I ask for clarification on some issues and construct a plan for Rabbi Dan to review and approve or change as necessary. He also suggested that I meet with Rabbi Dan every two weeks or so, and stop all of this calling and emailing. There was more advice, but I think that's the general gist. So, with the help of Baker, I have constructed the following plan:

1. Make a "Resume": In a page, give a brief overview of who I am, what I have done so far, and what my objectives are.

2. Make an Outline: List all of the books I have read, what I have learned, how I have changed my life, etc. This will probably be a supplement to the resume as it will be a rough sketch in order for me to prepare my Jewfolio.

3. Make a "Jewfolio": Using my outline, write clear summaries of all of the books I have read in order to show that I have read them. Using the Syllabus given to me by Rabbi Dan, list the aspects I have already learned. Describe the areas, and give clear examples to show my knowledge. Elaborate on any life changes I have made, including how my decisions have effected my family, friends, etc. This will include the Resume and Outline. Make this into a neat, presentable binder.

4. Make a list of all Rabbis and community leaders I know. Using this list, send an e-mail to each one, communicating who I am and asking for any help. I plan to attach my resume and possibly the Outline to each e-mail so that my sincerity can be seen.

5. Meet with Rabbi Dan. Show him my Jewfolio, and leave a copy with him. Discuss the list I have made and my plan. Ask about what an RC tutor is (appears on the Syllabus) and how I am supposed to obtain one. Ask him to review the Jewfolio and schedule a meeting soon after to discuss what I still need to read/learn in more detail.

6. E-mail the Rabbis and community leaders and see what responses I receive. Even if I do not hear back, at least they will know who I am and be aware that I am working.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Tonight I'm meeting with Rabbi Haines. He's a local Rabbi who mentioned to Baker that he might have some advice for me. I'm looking at the "Conversion Syllabus" in an attempt to figure out exactly what I want to ask about. I plan to ask him how I can communicate better with Rabbi Dan. I really feel that I must be missing something obvious that will enable me to get much more information from Rabbi Dan. I also want to ask him for suggestions of people who can learn with me. Maybe two suggestions for each major subject. I also think that I will ask Rabbi Haines to learn with me. Other than that, I am not sure what other specific questions I have. I'll write later with what happens.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cast of Characters

Rabbi Dan -- the Rabbi who is in charge of my conversion. He is the assistant Rabbi of the shul.

Rabbi Adan -- the Rabbi who is the lead Rabbi of the shul. I really admire him as a religious anleader and as a person. He's wise, interesting, learned, and connected to the world in a way that allows him to have insight to many people.

Adara -- a very nice, young, married woman in the community who does college level outreach. She often has large Shabbos dinners. My first Shabbos dinner was at her house. I like her a lot, but often feel that the feeling is not mutual. This is most likely because I am illogical.

Mr. Adara -- Adara's husband. He is doing his residency and often talks about the evil lawyers.

Baker -- The first Jewish person I ever met back in 8th grade. He's a good friend, although we argue a lot. He helps when I need it, and frustrates me often.

Cala -- My frum from birth friend. She and I clicked quickly, and although we are from different places, we are both going through the same process of trying to figure out who we are.

Gemma -- A friend from law school who converted conservative and is considering converting Orthodox. I see her as my foil because where I'm emotional, she's logical. But, she's a bit nutty at the same time, which makes her so much fun.

Edgar -- Baker's friend from college and a friend of mine from law school. He's currently in Yeshiva in Israel, which is a big change from the path he was on a couple of years ago. I see him as Edgar's foil.

All of these names are pseudonyms found by random in a baby name generator. I tried to chose those that were unfamiliar, yet not too weird sounding.

I'll update/edit as necessary.

Stalling Out

So, it has been a while, but here's a full update:
I had to stop learning the 39 Melachos with Adara over Yom Kippur/Rosh Hashanna/Sukkot because Shabbos day was so short and because the demands of the holidays were too much. Plus, unknown to me at the time, Adara was pregnant and not feeling well most of the time. Adara now feels much better, but I am still not learning with her. Why? Well, I am not sure. Over the holidays, I was not asked to join anyone, really. I know I am not allowed to be explicitly invited over, but before, I had been told the door was open. That did not occur at all this year. It hurt because I felt even more excluded.
I know that the community does not have an obligation to make all converts feel welcome, but I think sometimes people just forget how lonely it can be. My family is sad and distant from me regarding my religious life, and so is the Jewish community. My mother cries and says that she doesn't think I am going to hell, but that the Man Upstairs said I am going to Hell. That's my at home life. The holidays of my childhood, that bring back the warm family memories, are no longer holidays in which I can rejoice. Christmas seems incredibly pagan and lacks the sense of spirituality of the Jewish holidays. As a result, not only am I separated from the Jewish Community on Jewish holidays, I am also separated from my family on their holidays.
So, that is hard. Additionally, and this may be part of the "mind games," I have had an exceedingly difficult time finding people who will learn with me. The "syllabus" I was given specifies that I am to have someone sign off that I have learned the 39 Melachos, The Laws of Brachos, and The Laws of Kashrus. Although I have read all of the Brachos and Kashrus books, I have read them alone and I fear that does not count. I have e-mailed the Rabbi about this twice and called him three times, and I have yet to receive a response. I learned in shul on Shabbos that his wife just had a baby (girl), so that may explain his lack of response. I have been trying to contact him for more than three weeks, though.
My frum friend is currently in Israel, and she's having a wonderful time. I miss her lots because my connection to the frum world seems to be missing. I have asked her sister in law to learn with me, and she seems really willing, which is exciting.
I have added some blogs of interest, which may not interest you, but they do interest me. Someone's blog had a post entitled "A cast of characters," and I liked the idea and plan to copy it with my next post.
I really want to learn in Israel next year, but I think in order to be able to find a program and find the support I'd like to have, I need to finish my conversion first.
I want to be finished converting. It's so much easier to run a marathon when the finish line is known and in sight. Right now, I feel like I'm in a marathon, only, I'm not running. I'm doing some sort of really awkward movement that I do not understand and the course keeps changing to lead me into walls. Only, I'm blindfolded. I'm determined, though. This marathon is one I was meant to finish and I will.