Harmony & Synergy

From My Life to Yours ~ Let's Build Some Bridges!

A Fork in the Road?

About a year into my exploration of observant Judaism, I started to feel like something was amiss.  I couldn’t figure out where this feeling was coming from, so I automatically assumed that it had to do with my personality or the stage I was at in my growth.  I experienced a repeated awkwardness in my conversations with others, a shifting of eyes, a decrease in invitations to classes, and a general feeling that I wasn’t as welcome as I had once been.

Now I’m sure that many people can relate to the feeling of wondering if you’ve done something wrong and offended others without knowing.  It’s a common instinct when someone forgets to call, to worry that you’ve done something to cause this person to back away from you.  I automatically assumed that maybe my mentors didn’t think I was ready to grow in this way, or that people just simply didn’t like me, or maybe I was just being overly paranoid.  I let this feeling sit for what felt to be an excruciatingly long time (about two weeks) until I realized that it needed to be confronted.

I had recently made a promise to myself to be brave and face the things that blocked me from the connection I now knew was possible in this world.  It’s one thing to confront yourself, but for me it was much harder to confront someone that I admired and ask her why people had started treating me differently.  I was also at a major crossroads in my life where I thought that it simply wasn’t possible to exist as an observant Jew and also continue my life as a musician (hello Friday night concerts!)  I needed to figure out why Gd had given me these amazing gifts if it wasn’t going to be possible to reconcile them.  I also needed to know why the amazing people that had been helping me along my journey suddenly seemed distant, leaving me to connect to my creator alone.

Perhaps I forced the issue, and given a chance to do it over again, I probably would have approached it more gently and not let it fester until the point of desperation.  In short, I strongly requested that a trusted mentor tell me what the deal was, and why I was being treated like I didn’t belong, after being welcomed with such warmth and love.  At this point, I had absolutely no clue what the reason could be!  I had never heard of someone thinking she was Jewish when she actually wasn’t.  I had never heard of invalid conversions or anything of the sort.  In my mind, I was born Jewish, and I had made a conscious choice all my life to not have anything to do with that part of myself.  In my mind, I was now finding connection in the one part of my soul that I had always been denying.  It never occurred to me that maybe this wasn’t a religion or ”family” that I belonged to.

So you can guess what happened next.  As it turns out, I was told my mother’s conversion wasn’t considered to be valid by orthodox Jews.  It didn’t matter that my father was a Levi, that my mother’s father was an orthodox Jew until the holocaust caused him to hide it from his family, or that my mother studied for a long time before converting and had kept mitzvot at the beginning of her marriage.  Since she had a “conservative” conversion (or so I thought at the time), I was now being told that I wasn’t Jewish.

Of course, looking back on this situation as a now observant Jew, it makes complete sense.  However, you can probably imagine my reaction to this news.  I can’t recall any sort of pain that matches it, except maybe my mother’s death.  Even that experience doesn’t really compare, because I’ve always felt my mother’s liveliness within myself, even though she isn’t physically here.  This was a different sort of pain.  Imagine that for the first time in your life, you have found true connection, happiness, unconditional love, and purpose.  Imagine making the decision to devote your life to fulfilling that purpose, no matter what the cost to your other life “plans”.  Imagine the feeling of things clicking, of life finally making sense, of all the disparate parts of your soul falling into place one by one.  Imagine the deep happiness that can only come from knowing that finally, you are not alone, because now you have roots that extend beyond time.  Imagine all that, and then being told that it’s a lie.  That this truth, this beauty, this connection that you’ve been searching for your whole life, is not yours to have.  That it doesn’t matter what you’ve found, because it’s not yours to keep.

I remember staring at the wall of my apartment late into the night, not even able to cry.  Only later when a friend expressed excitement about going to Jerusalem to learn did I break down and cry for my loss.  I remember being nauseated with jealousy.  I can’t even describe the aching need that I felt because I wanted that same carefree journey.  I had been kicked off the path, my roots torn off and cast aside, and now I had to watch all my friends continue on without me.  And I couldn’t even tell them because I was so ashamed.  Nothing made sense.  However, deep down I knew that what I had been exploring was real.  I knew that it was what I needed to do, yet now I couldn’t fathom how Judaism fit into my life.

The thought of walking away wasn’t even an option at this point.  I had already made the decision at the beginning of my exploration that I wasn’t going to walk away, no matter what I had to face. I went to my mother’s grave repeatedly and wrote in a way that seems almost prophetic in retrospect.  “I don’t know how, but I know that this skirt is right.  The cello is right.  It doesn’t matter that they don’t make sense.  I have no idea how, but it can work.

My decision to convert came quickly.  Even though I felt kicked and cast out by those who I thought were my family, I wasn’t going to let this stand in the way of seeking out that which I knew was true to me.  And even though I wasn’t a fully observant Jew yet, I knew that I could never make my children go through the sort of pain that I was going through.  I knew that as a woman, I had the responsibility of passing a Jewish soul down to my children, and therefore converting was what I needed to do.  Within a week, I had also decided that I needed to do this for myself as well, and that I would commit to being a fully observant Jew.  There were little details about orthodox Judaism that I hadn’t yet learned about (hey, there still are!), but at this time all the big pieces made sense to me, both logically and spiritually.  I still couldn’t shake the feeling that this was wrong, and I already was Jewish, but it didn’t matter.  If I needed to do a conversion in order to live the life I needed, the life that the infinite gave me the opportunity to fulfill, so be it.

What followed was a year of intensive study at the amazing She’arim in Jerusalem and also in Toronto.  I had originally decided to go to Boston to do my master’s degree in music, but decided against it.  A lot happened during this year that I will mention briefly here before describing what it was like to actually convert.  I found out pretty quickly that I was going to be a “Ger l’Chumra”, meaning that it wasn’t certain whether or not I actually needed to do the conversion, but of course I did it just to be sure.  Apparently my mom’s conversion had happened at a time when the conservative conversions in Toronto were very similar to orthodox ones.  The moment I found this out was hilarious in retrospect, because it was Thursday night, so of course the question of whether or not I should keep Shabbat fully was imminent.  After many Rabbis were called I received my answer a few hours before candle lighting and was told not to break Shabbat.  I learned halacha (Jewish law) like I never would have otherwise, and for this I am forever grateful because I am much too philosophical to have actually taken the time to really explore halacha in all of its depth.  I am so so happy that my conversion helped me discover my passion for living and learning halacha (yes, I am still called the “halacha monster” by those who know me well).  I had numerous meetings with the Toronto Beit Din, known to be one of the “scariest” Beit Din’s in the world, and one of the most challenging conversions.  They were wonderful to me, and I am so grateful that I prayed to be able to show them my genuine soul, because this obviously helped me in the process.  I wanted pristine paperwork at the end, so no one would ever question my commitment.  I wrote a 12-hour test (some people say it’s 20 hours, I honestly don’t remember), on all aspects of Judaism.  The satisfaction I felt when putting the test in the envelope to fly back with me from Jerusalem and having it sealed by the proctor was sublime.  I put so much of myself into that test, and because of this, I now know so much more about Torah than I ever would have at this point in my life.

“What was it like to convert?” people ask me.  I have discovered a great analogy for the conversion process, and I’m sure that I’m not the first one to describe it in this way;  Converting to Judaism is like committing to marriage.  I remember when writing the conversion test that I was suddenly struck by how fair it all was.  I realized that I had no business committing to observant Judaism unless I actually knew all of this stuff!  And in the end, I would know, REALLY know, that I was Jewish.  This test, and all the meetings with questions being fired at me from the Beit Din were so… fair.  Nobody was trying to trick me.  This was real.  It wasn’t a contest, and I wasn’t going to get any sort of grade at the end.  No, this was a litmus test of finding out for myself whether or not I was ready for this commitment.  And now I was.

I didn’t know what to expect while doing my preparations to go to the mikveh.  I felt so full of truth and hope as I made my way to my last meeting with the Beit Din in which I was to finally emerge as a fully committed Jew.  I remember that for the first time in my life, I felt like the infinite was walking within me, instead of my usual feeling of having my hand held, being beckoned, or pushed.  The actual process of getting into the mikveh is fuzzy in my mind, but suddenly, while standing in the water, everything became very clear.  I remember the Beit Din questioning me before I took the plunge.  These were no longer practical questions, but questions about commitment, about my hopes and dreams as a Jew.  Was I committed to being a Jew in every aspect of my life?  Was I going to always feel a yearning for unity, for connecting the separate parts of the world and my soul?  Was I committed to always living a life of honesty and truth, and to be brave and growing until the end of my days?  And did I truly understand my unique place in the world, and was I going to spend every minute of my life from there on, fulfilling my purpose as a Jewish woman?  Did I understand that this commitment could and would be at times painful, and was I willing to take on not only my own pain, but the pain of the entire world?  There were many questions, some more practical, others more intense, that I can’t recall, and I obviously can’t remember any of them word for word.  I do remember considering these questions carefully, not because I had doubts, nor because I was scared.  I realized with the first question that this moment was real in a way that no moment in my life had been real before.  With my answers, I was not only going to change my own world, but the entire world around me.  I remember each “Yes” coming from a part of me that had not ever spoken, and when I stepped out of that mikveh, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and started crying, because now, the separate parts of my soul were finally one.

There are so many questions when it comes to the subject of conversion, and I recognize how important it is for me share my story and reflections.  There are countless people including myself who have gone through similar processes, and have had to face firsthand how many “unknowns” there are about the Jewish soul.  You would be surprised at the amount of people have had to go through a conversion to Judaism in the way that I had to, because of gaps in knowledge of their Jewish identity!  Many people don’t like to talk about it, as I didn’t until now (I actually still don’t like it, but other forces in my life have encouraged me to write this), so be sensitive to the reality that the person you are talking to might be going through or have completed a conversion.

I know that many readers of this site come from different sects of Judaism and might be interested in why it was necessary for me to convert in the first place.   I have friends who they themselves have gone through or had relatives go through different kinds of conversions and am aware that there are different views on this subject, all of them with perspectives containing a lot of research and validity.  However, for myself, and Orthodox Jews as a whole, Judiasm isn’t a “religion” in the way that most people define the word.  Judaism is not a religion, nor a belief, nor heritage.  Well, it is all of those things, but it is so much more.  It is our whole life, from day one until our death, from dawn til dusk and dusk til dawn.  I am not only Jewish on my bat mitzvah, or when holidays come around, or just when I go to synagogue, or when it’s time for Friday night dinner, or on the day of my marriage, or only when I feel like it.  I am Jewish the moment I wake up, with every step that I take, with every piece of nourishment that I put into my mouth, with every word, every thought.  I am Jewish when I go to the bathroom, when I change a diaper, and even when I’m craving chocolate.  I am Jewish when I am stuck in traffic, when I hear a piece of beautiful music and when my friend needs my support.  It is a complete commitment to the purpose of your soul.  As I said before, being Jewish is like a marriage.  It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s easy or difficult for you at the moment.  It is life itself.

Saying “Yes” in the mikveh was like saying “I do” to a soulmate when getting married.  When a person gets married, he/she is committing to a lifetime of giving to his/her partner.  In the same way that commitment in a marriage is not “just when I feel like it”, neither is a conversion.  A commitment of the soul must be a full commitment, with nothing holding you back.  The only way to truly be one with another is to give all of yourself to it.  And of course, those who are overseeing the conversion must feel the same way about what is taking place.  The reason why my mother’s conversion was questionable was because we couldn’t be sure what she had actually committed to when she went through with it.  Unfortunately, she had passed away a long time ago, and so had the Rabbis that did her conversion.  We only had one piece of paper evidence that anything actually took place, and the synagogue that was in charge of the conversion had no records of what had actually happened.  No one knew.  So with this, I knew that the commitment wasn’t going to come from my birthright, but from a conscious choice of my own.

There were various friends and mentors who I spoke to during the process of conversion.  Surprisingly enough, an issue that came up for them was jealousy.  Many of the people I spoke to didn’t grow up as observant Jews, and had taken the 613 mitzvot upon themselves later in life.  They often lamented to me the feeling that their bar/bat mitzvahs had been in vain… that they actually hadn’t committed to anything.  They also wanted to have some sort of rite of passage, some sort of test and moment in their lives where they could say they had truly committed.  Even those that had grown up in observant homes expressed this same feeling to me.  I also have experienced this feeling, because this past year, when accompanying a good friend of mine to her conversion, I felt the same sort of jealousy.  I wanted to commit again, and say “I do” once more.  I wanted to tell the infinite once more how much I loved and wanted to live my life as a Jew, and re-give myself to that purpose.  Surely the infinite had given us an outlet for this need to commit again and again?

To this conundrum, I have two answers.  The first is “Lech Lecha” which are the words spoken to Avraham.  These words are also meant for us.  Every single one of us has to “go away in order to go towards”.  This doesn’t mean that we have to go away physically, or in our actions.  It means that we have to take it upon ourselves to make a choice.  A real, honest and genuine choice, to devote ourselves to fulfilling our purpose as a Jew.  To those that are ba’alei teshuva, I would strongly suggest that when you are ready, that you take the time to make this commitment.  It can be done on your own, or with others.  If you can’t decide on when or how to do it, I have good news for you.  We have the opportunity as Jews to say “I do” each and every year.  This is the day of Shavuot.  On this day, we reaccept upon ourselves the commitment that we made at Sinai, and once again proclaim that we will spend every minute of our lives fulfilling our purpose as Jews.  When Shavuot comes upon us next year, you can remember this, renew your vows, and get married again :)

Many have asked me if I feel like I got a new soul once I took the plunge into the mikveh.  Others will say yes.  My answer is no.  I feel like parts of me that were already there were finally more connected.  Many things happened to me during my time spent in Jerusalem before the conversion, leading me to be quite certain that I already had a Jewish soul, and didn’t need to spiritually convert, even though physically I did need to.  Do I know this for sure?  No, I certainly don’t, and that’s why it was absolutely necessary for me to go through with the conversion, no matter what evidence the infinite was presenting to me on the contrary.  Was I faced with a lot of hurtful, misinformed comments?  Yes, but I’ve heard of others going through much worse.  The good news is that most of it didn’t come from a bad place, but simply from not knowing how complicated and multi-layered the process actually is for most people.

Here is some advice I would like to share; Above all, we as human beings must remember to always be humble.  Jews especially need to remember this.  Yes, we have a unique purpose in this world, but that makes us no more important or better than any other soul.  (I know some will disagree with me on this… feel free to message me privately and I would be glad to discuss.)  When it comes to souls, there is so little that we cannot ever be sure of.  We don’t know if someone “Jewish” actually isn’t Jewish, or if someone who isn’t Jewish, actually is.  We must remember that there were once were twelve tribes of Israel, two of which we know of today.  Where are the other ten tribes now?  Why are we seeing so much conversion, turbulence, and people violently leaving or returning to Judiasm in these times before the new era?  Sources tell us that even though everything seems murky and crazy down here, it is all actually falling into place in higher worlds.

I must also mention, that even though finding out that I needed to convert was extremely painful, it was actually handled with a lot of care and grace.  There really is no easy way to discuss this subject with someone going through the process, because it is so emotionally ridden.  I know others who weren’t as lucky to receive the empathy that I did.  My advice is just to be as considerate as possible, ask for help from the infinite (you will get it), and the right words will come.  And always, always, make sure that your questions and comments come from a place of love.

My friends, we must remember that if someone goes off the derech, he might come back with more emunah that you have ever imagined.  If someone marries a non-Jew, maybe that person actually has a Jewish soul and they will grow towards observance together, or maybe they both aren’t and this is also Hashem’s way of helping things fall into place.  Maybe if someone isn’t halachically Jewish, they actually spiritually are, and by treating them with arrogance you might be delaying the coming of Meshiach (whom, according to some sources, will be a convert, or at least from a family of converts, and most likely from the blood line of David haMelech, whose grandmother, Rut, was a convert).  Remember Pirkei Avot, which tells us how everything is going to be in its right place eventually, if not in this lifetime, then in the next, or the next… and that any judgment that comes from a place of ego or anger is not one that should be brought into this world.  Do what you need to do halachically when dealing with converts, but keep in mind that all of this should be in the service of v’ahavta lere’acha kamocha.  Always, always be humble, treat people with respect, realize how much yet how little we truly know about this world.

It is my hope to eventually write down the stories of those I have met that have also gone through the process of conversion.  I have met so many that my husband is starting to think that I’m a magnet for it!  Obviously this process was part of my tikkun, and perhaps sharing the stories of others is part of it as well.  Sending all of you a big “kol tuv”, and wishing everyone much strength, wisdom and clarity during this difficult time of the three weeks.

Love, Andrea

A Note To Rabbis, Rebbetzins, Chavruitot, Mentors etc.:  I know it might be hard to read about how painful it was for me to find out that I wasn’t considered Jewish.  Any sane person would want to avoid causing pain to another.  Ideally one would be able to speak to a student about this issue and have him/her leave the conversation with a renewed sense of clarity, hope and happiness.  Unfortunately, I have never heard of this happening.  And I don’t think it’s possible.  Telling someone who thinks that they are Jewish that they actually aren’t is like telling someone that her family actually isn’t her family.  Not only that, she has been lied to by others she trusted saying that her family is her family.  And a lot of her family might still think that she is family, even though she isn’t.  And worst of all, it would be in her and her family’s best interest if she walks away, and never has any association with them or mention that she is or was part of that family… because she isn’t.  Umm… ouch.  No matter how you word it, no matter how carefully you broach the subject, no matter how much love you try to give… it’s going to hurt.  A lot.  There is no way around upsetting this person.  No matter how well you handle the situation, there is going to be a lot of pain, which, depending on the person, will be directed at herself, her family, her community, you, orthodox Jews, or Jews in general (or probably some combination).

I always used to feel so much sympathy for the doctors that have to tell their patients that they are terminally ill.  Once I spoke to a doctor about this and he said the most insightful thing; “Better me than someone that doesn’t care.”  The same is true in this situation.  The sad fact is that people do grow up thinking that they are Jewish when halachically, they aren’t.  And someone needs to tell them.  Also, especially if they are on the path towards discovering obeservant Judaism, someone eventually IS going to tell them.  And that someone might not be kind, sensitive, or loving.  So with that in mind, make sure that you don’t worry so much about hurting someone that you fail to tell him/her at all.  Accept that no matter what you do, the person is going to hurt.  I remember when my mentor told me, I was so impressed by how she asked the infinite for strength and help finding the right words (out loud).  She told me with so much care, and love.  But guess what?  It hurt.  It hurt like nothing else ever had.  And guess what?  It’s okay.  It needed to hurt and needed to happen in order to bring me to where I am today.

As Jewish role models, we have to recognize that our “jobs” in this world aren’t always going to be easy and filled with instant positive results.  We are going to make mistakes, and even when our intentions are completely pure, it doesn’t mean that the result will be what we wanted.  Sometimes, we might have to tell someone that she/he is not halachically Jewish.  Make sure you pick a good time, when the person is already at a level of self reflection and has a sense of emunah and self worth.  But don’t delay too much because otherwise this person might have to find out from an unsympathetic source.  As I said before, ask the infinite for help, and the right words will come.  Accept that this truth is going to hurt no matter what, but through the greatest darkness can come the greatest light.

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46 Comments

  1. elisheva

    Beautiful. I’m also an Orthodox giyoret. I especially appreciate your comments about being humble – something I strive toward every day.

  2. Melissa van Dijk

    Andrea, I hope you know how interesting your blog is. I am not Jewish, but Christian, and it is fascinating to read about your conversion. Reading your stories helps me understand the world better :)

    • Marina

      Dearest Andrea, I totally feel the same as Melissa. Being born as an Orthodox Christian, and struggling with my faith daily, it is really good to be able to read your blog! Nothing comes in one day; it requires patience, learning, accepting, and above all, something which I greatly miss, faith! Love you lots! <3

      • Marina… you are so wise about nothing coming instantly. I know that if you keep exploring (and trusting) as honestly as you are, you will arrive at amazing places. Love you very much!

    • Your comment means so much to me, Melissa!

  3. Sarah Manning

    What a beautiful, insightful, articulate description of religious growth. May you and your family be blessed through your strength and the strength that you give to others.

  4. Tiffany Jones

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. For me it was a reminder that what I am doing, working my way towards conversion, is the absolute right path for me(100%). I look forward to the day when I can say…..I feel whole! I really appreciate your words.

    • Tiffany, I also truly look forward to that day! I’m thinking of you and your journey :)

  5. Dina

    Andrea it has been a while since I have seen you, but honestly that was so beautiful, I was crying my eyes out. Honestly you amaze me and I look up to you. You are a beautiful person :)

  6. Angelina Ifraimov

    Thank you so much for sharing this Andrea. You were always an inspiration to me and everyone around. You really are a special neshama. Continue lighting up the world.

  7. Vicki

    I am a Catholic Christian, and I enjoy reading your blogs so much! I check in every day and am delighted when I find that you have made a new entry. You have a beautiful soul, Andrea. This world is so blessed to have you here with us. G-d bless you!

  8. Sari

    “No, this was a litmus test of finding out for myself whether or not I was ready for this commitment.”

    What a beautiful and sensitive way of looking at the whole process!
    Sari

  9. Ayelet May

    Andrea, thank you for your words from the heart. I’m totally in the “jealous” camp, here. Although, the truth is, lately I’ve become less jealous as I realize that I too can renew my commitment to my faith and to the service of my Creator in a real way – no ceremony required.

  10. Dinah

    Andrea, Its a very touching article.. I got to the part where if you found out you weren’t jewish you were going to break the Sabbath. How could you have done that when you know that keeping the Sabbath set apart was the right thing to do even if you weren’t consider Jewish in the eyes of the Rabbis. In the eyes of YHWY you are. I am glad it worked out in the end and you have found your Shalom. I don’t understand the ways of the Orthodox but I practice the Jewish faith.Its hard when you live in an area that don’t have any congregations. We have 8 people in our little group that meet in their homes to celebrate the Sabbath together as well as the festivals. It makes it very special to our small group to have each other.

    • Hi Dinah, I’m not quite sure what YHWY stands for. Judaism believes that religious identity is passed down by the mother, and since my mother wasn’t observant and was a convert, the validity of her conversion was questionable. In terms of breaking Shabbat… Shabbat is the only mizvah that is for Jews and Jews only. Keeping it fully is the only thing that someone in the conversion process isn’t able to do (no problem with kashrut, tefillin, holidays, etc.) In a (very small) nutshell, Shabbat is a reality that always has and always will be in the world. But during Matan Torah, the infinite made us (the Jewish people) partners in making it a reality. The Jewish people keeping Shabbat is what makes Shabbat happen in this world (whereas before, it was only from the infinite). This is a very deep idea and I can’t articulate it as well as I would like on here. Anyway, That’s why whether or not I needed to keep Shabbat was a question that needed to be answered immediately! Bear in mind, that when someone in the conversion process “breaks” Shabbat, it’s usually just going into a room and flicking a light switch once. The majority of Jews in the world today keep much less than this… but for someone that is in the process of becoming an orthodox Jewish convert, it is a reminder that he/she is not yet part of the covenant.
      I hope I answered your question! If there’s anything you would like me to clarity, please let me know!

      • I am confused. When the Shabbat was given there were no Jews and it was to be honored so how can it only be for Jews today?

  11. Velma

    This is a very interesting article. My son is waiting to go through the conversion process. My husband is Jewish and my son wants to be as well. Since I am not, he has always known that he must convert. We have asked him to wait until he is 18 (he is now 15)a, but he is so ready to do it. My son and husband attend an Orthodox kollel so he will be going through an Orthodox conversion. I will ask him to read this too. Thank you for your deep insight.

    • Dear Velma,
      You son is so lucky to have such a supportive family. Hopefully he can be as patient as possible and use this time to learn everything that he can, enabling him to bring all of his knowledge and passion into making his commitment when he’s 18. Wishing you so much happiness and nachat from your family! Shabbat shalom.

  12. Kelli Ann Smith

    Andrea,
    Thank you for your insight and simple way of sharing. It is honest and raw. I am not Jewish, but have always felt a connection, maybe even a calling to become so. I think I have as you say, a Jewish soul. I am excited and a bit scared to finally be able to explore this. I have always had a yearning to explore MY own beliefs and I have always asked questions. I know, I am rambling. Sorry. All I really wanted to say is that I admire you and your story means a lot to me, personally. Thank you for sharing with the world.

    • Thank you Kelli Ann. I am so glad that you are exploring path and finding your own truth.

  13. Paula

    Since I got home I’ve been unable to stop reading your blog. It is interesting and beautiful, and this entry is wonderful. I am not Jewish but I admire and love all I’m learning.
    Thank you much for showing me your website.

    Paula :)

    P.s. We met today at Mrs. Zak in Lakewood.

    • Thank you so much, Paula. I hope we get to meet again :)

  14. Deanna

    Thank you so much for sharing about your journey. Your words have spoken to many feelings I have been experiencing lately. I was raised (for most of my life – with the exception of some dreadful years until age 11) in the Christian faith. I continue to hold to this faith, but have always felt an unidentifiable distance and void. Something has always been missing. Gears are slipping. Something is not connecting somewhere, and I am not “whole”. I can remember having a natural interest in Judaism and Jewish culture since about age 13, but always feeling like it was not right for me to explore it. Like it was not right for me to question my “original” faith. (In truth, I also remember being secretly elated to learn that my great grandmother was Jewish, however, it seems of no consequence since she was my grandfather’s mother.) It is only now that I find myself 31 years old, the single mother of toddler, bitter and angry all the time, anxious about today and the future of tomorrow… terrified that I have nothing to offer my son in the way of a solid foundation of existence; hoping, wishing, knowing that there must be more I can give him.

    Where you say: “Imagine the feeling of things clicking, of life finally making sense, of all the disparate parts of your soul falling into place one by one.” That is so perfectly worded, and it’s what I want for myself and my son.

    Where you say: “Judaism is not a religion, nor a belief, nor heritage. Well, it is all of those things, but it is so much more. It is our whole life, from day one until our death, from dawn til dusk and dusk til dawn.” This makes sense to both my brain and my spirit. This idea of actively acknowledging, observing, connecting, and committing to G-d daily, hourly, and fully – from the soul and with the whole Being – spirit and flesh; not just from the mind, or on weekends and holidays, and in times of difficulty.

    I have only very recently begun to (finally) explore Judaism. I have been researching several sites online, and I love your blog entries and videos. I have also been reading a wonderful parenting book based on Jewish values, and am looking for other books to study. Already, I have a renewed sense of hope. I don’t know how this will all pan out or fit into my life, but I am excited to continue the investigation.

    Well, I’m sorry for the lengthy comment but I just had to tell you that your words have reached me, and I am so thankful that I’ve found your blog. Thank you, truly, for all that you share here. Blessing to you, Andrea!

    • Deanna, your words have moved me so much. It is obvious that you are being truly honest with yourself and searching in a genuine and brave way. I admire that so much. I hope you know that even though it often feels lonely, that I am thinking of you and know that if you continue to search and connect in this way, you will find true happiness and love. Please keep in touch and wishing you lots of strength, clarity and joy.

      • Deanna

        Thank you for the encouragement! :)

  15. Randi McAllister

    Andrea,
    Thank you for writing your conversion story. I am an Orthodox Christian (a convert) and we believe also that our Orthodoxy is a way of life, not a “religion.” We must dedicate ourselves to God in every moment, which is hard to do. God is very humble and very loving, and we are meant to be same. God bless you, Randi

  16. Thank you for inviting me to ready your blog. I know that this will be a very hard journey for me. I am so happy I have my husband who is going through it with me. We are both a little nervous and have a thousand and one questions but we know they will all be answered. I know we will come across some unkind and hurtful people during this journey but we will also meet so kind and caring ones as well and we will focus on them.

  17. Oh, Andrea, This made me cry very much as I can relate to the pain of it all. Blessings dearest and thank you for being so open and honest. Blessings

  18. Andrea, it was perfect & beautiful!! You touched on just about everything I could think of on conversion and how it effects people. The depth and sincerity of your words touched me uniquely because I am also one. :)

  19. Sara Liba

    Thank you so much for writing this. I come from a similar background (although my mother never converted at all) and was sent the link to this page after I told someone my story (I completed my geirus about 9 months ago). My best friend went through the same thing as me, so it’s not as if I haven’t ever been able to speak to someone with the same experience before, but the two of us have never felt the need to describe to each other what it feels like, because we just know. This is the first time I’ve seen anyone but myself try to put it into words and you captured every last detail of the emotions so perfectly.

  20. ladyjosie

    I am so touched by your story, and totally relate! I have loved HaShem all my life but Mom raised us protestant. After such a pull towards observing the Torah and walking in it. I decided to investigate I am currently tracing family history. Mom always made potato Latkhes and other things made me look into our past. Her maiden name is Schramm which is Jewish but I need to trace her Mothers lineage which I am now doing. If not I am going to convert. What a blessing you have been to my heart.
    Shalom and love xo

  21. Beverly Peacock

    Dear Andrea, I love your honesty and sincerity about your journey of conversion. I feel certain of a maternal Jewish ancestry, however I am a happy Christian person keeping Sabbath as a Seventh Day Adventist. We believe God gave the Sabbath at creation, and it is a special blessing to us as a remembrance and acknowledgement of Him as our Creator. Not all Christians notice that head covering for women is mentioned in the Bible for the worship services, but many do. That may explain why you have a “cross-over” following for the tutorials on head coverings. I’ve been trying; and wearing scarfs outside the home is starting to feel comfortable. My Mama always said to not be afraid of being different. I hope I can truly respect the diversity in beliefs and grow and learn from earnest God loving people such as yourself. Thank you, Beverly

  22. you have an amazing story and real strong Emunah. God Bless you..

  23. Jen Hackenbruch

    I can’t believe I’ve only just found your blog! The below quote really resonated with me. My conversion will not be considered halachic by the orthodox rabbinate – and this is for reasons way beyond my control. I cry every single day (this is no exaggeration) because I want to be a halachic Jew, and I eagerly await the day when my unhalachic conversion allows me to make aliyah and do an orthodox conversion in Israel. We have been met with so much hurt and hatred from orthodox Jews, who, even though they know us well and see our sincerity, have told us that we have to wait until leadership changes before we will be allowed in. To think that you have to leave your country to become orthodox is just horrible! Relocating within my country to a community who DOES accept candidates for conversion is out of the question as we have no financial resources and very little chance of finding new jobs due to the colour of our skin. So thank you for giving me hope!

    “Maybe if someone isn’t halachically Jewish, they actually spiritually are, and by treating them with arrogance you might be delaying the coming of Meshiach (whom, according to some sources, will be a convert, or at least from a family of converts, and most likely from the blood line of David haMelech, whose grandmother, Rut, was a convert).”

  24. Renee

    Hmm I was considering the Hebrew word you shared on this post Emunah. firmness, steadfastness, fidelity – faith really, the gift of G_d and evidence of things as yet unseen. It brings to mind the firmament of the heavens stretched forth by the hands of G_d. Yet to our eyes the heavens appear non-solid, but by faith we are convicted of the Word G_d gave.

  25. Rachel Diamond

    Hi Andrea!
    Reading this essay was so powerful for me!!
    I was not raised Jewish, although I always “felt Jewish”.
    I began to research my mother’s side of our family and discovered that her maiden name “Radoszycki”. The namr had come from a shtetl in Poland called “Radoszyce” (Yiddish: Radoshitz).
    Little by little, I began to remember the Yiddish words my grandmother and grandfather used as I was growing up. I thought that they were speaking Polish! No one told me anything different!
    As I kept exploring, I discovered that my Great-grandmother’s maiden name is Grabek and my Great-great grandmother’s Kozoner, respectively.
    I reached out to Chabad and sent all of this information to Chabad.org’s “Ask the Rabbi”.
    They told me it is very likely that I was born Jewish. Furthermore, my in-laws took me to a Shabbat dinner held at a local Chabad house.
    The Rabbi and Rebbe were eager to meet me.
    This Rabbi also agreed that I was born Jewish.
    I have received MANY remarks from other Jews that were raised Jewish that they do not believe this to be true…one reason they gave me? But Rachel, you don’t “look” Jewish. I usually counter this with “What does a Jew look like?” No response…thank G-d!
    One of the painful aspects of this wonderful discovery, is the reactions of my four sons.
    My youngest son accepts that he is Jewish through his mother. My three older sons consider Judaism to be “just a religion”.
    My husband (second husband) is Jewish and non-observant.
    Andrea, I love being Jewish. My entire heart, soul, and mind sing with a joy and purpose that I never dreamed could be possible.
    I would love to get feedback from you :)
    Oftentimes, I feel so alone.
    Thank you for being such an inspiration to me!
    Best,
    Rachel Hannah Diamond

    .

    • That is INCREDIBLE!!! Wow – I can’t wait to hear where this journey brings you. One thing you MUST know, is that even though you feel alone, you are not… there are many out there in similar situations, it’s just not talked about :)
      And yes you are totally right about the whole “looking Jewish” thing… there is no one way to look Jewish at all!

  26. Maria Frasche

    Andrea ,
    I came across your blog in the middle of the night, as i counldn’t sleep. Just thinking of different things.. Originally i was looking at your tichel videos, i im a christian women recently attending a mesianic jew and gentile concregation.. I im loving the jewish roots of my faith.. Im loving your blog, i want to follow my creator more closely and you have inspired me tremendestly.. I cant tell you how bless i feel to read your words. I love it and love you for it..
    Blessings siter
    Maria

  27. Andrea ,
    I came across your blog in the middle of the night, as i counldn’t sleep. Just thinking of different things.. Originally i was looking at your tichel videos, i im a christian women recently attending a mesianic jew and gentile concregation.. I im loving the jewish roots of my faith.. Im loving your blog, i want to follow my creator more closely and you have inspired me tremendestly.. I cant tell you how bless i feel to read your words. I love it and love you for it..
    Blessings siter
    Maria

  28. Lee-Anne Wachtel

    Absolutely amazing story Andrea. I also did Geres Chomra with the Toronto Beit Din. It took me 2 years. My mom was adopted into a Jewish family. Kol Tov Bracha. Keep up your amazing work.

    Sincerely Lee-Anne Aka Sarah Bluma

  29. Andrea, I thank you for taking the time to write out the emotional aspects of your conversion. I am converting currently and this touched on so many of my own feelings and experiences. Thank you!!!!

  30. Yona

    You have been an awesome influence and role model as a Jewish woman to me and I just want you to know that . I admire you ,your strength and your love of Judism and what you share with all of us be it a Torah or a head covering. You are a soul sister from Sinai all the way !! <3

  31. Nancy. Pierce

    Thank you for writing this Andrea. As I am in the midst of conversion I couldn’t have read this at a more appropriate time. I have so much to learn and I always will. As a almost 64 year old Italian woman this has been by far the most rewarding heartfelt journey I have ever experienced. Thank you for everything that you have meant to me. Nancy Pierce

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