Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
See how Portman is making her big splash in Israel and don't miss Paper Towns with Nat WolffGo To Pop Culture
I was in the eighth grade, a year after my Bat Mitzvah, when I found out I was not Jewish. It happened in a post Bar/Bat Mitzvah class that I was taking. We were having a discussion about conversion when one of my friends made a comment about my mom not being Jewish. Our teacher, who happened to be a very religious, knowledgeable man, told me that if my mom wasn't Jewish then I wasn't Jewish. How could this be? My entire life I had always proudly identified myself as a Jew, and I had been in Hebrew School since I was five. I loved Judaism!
I was shocked and in total disbelief because my Judaism was a major part of my life and in one sentence that had all been taken away, so I went home and discussed it with my parents after class. I had heard many times that Jews believe children get their religion from their mother and I had always responded with, "But in my family my parents made a deal: The children will be raised Jewish as long as my mom can still have her Christmas tree."
Religion hasn't divided my family because while my mom didn't convert; she opened herself to Judaism when she married my dad and would even say the Sh'ma with me at night. To all my friends, I had the best of both worlds because I had Hanukkah and Christmas, but now, perhaps for the first time, I felt like I didn't fit in with either world. My parents tried to tell me that it didn't matter that I wasn't technically Jewish; all that mattered was what I believed in my heart because God could feel my prayers and love for Judaism, no matter what. This was not good enough for me.
Without a doubt in my mind I knew I wanted to be a real Jew. This would mean I'd have to go to the mikvah, a ritual bath used for conversions, but I wasn't ready. As a young teenager, I wanted to put off having to get naked in front of people for as long as possible. The rabbi of my "Conservadox" shul retired after over fifty years of leading our congregation. He was my brother's moyel, or ritual circumcizer; he officiated at my Bat Mitzvah; and he welcomed my family into the synagogue even though my mother wasn't Jewish. Our new rabbi was going to officiate at my brother's Bar Mitzvah; however, first my brother would have to go to the mikvah for a conversion. This stirred many arguments in my house because my parents didn't want to force a twelve-year-old boy to stand naked in front of three men nor did they want to leave our shul, or synagogue. I was hysterical because there was no way I wanted my family leaving the shul I loved for a Reform shul where my brother wouldn't need a conversion.
At that point I was in high school and I had joined an Orthodox youth group, NCSY, where I spent a great deal of time learning more about Judaism and striving to become more religious. It was hard enough for me since my family didn't keep kosher or Shabbos, the Sabbath--now they were considering a female rabbi! How was I supposed to cope with all of these changes?
After a few discussions between my brother Aaron and my rabbi, Aaron agreed to go to the mikvah. So after all the drama we stayed at my shul. My brother had his Bar Mitzvah two days after my high school graduation, and everything worked out fine except I still wasn't Jewish.
I went to talk to my rabbi. We had become very close because I worked as a tutor at my shul and we saw each other often. He knew about my struggles being the only Jew in my public school. He had witnessed my effort to become more religious. I said, "Rabbi, before I leave for college in September, I want to be Jewish! I want to go to the mikvah and go to college as a real Jew."
I watched for a reaction as he took a deep breath in and exhaled with a troubled look on his face. He told me conversion wouldn't be as simple for me as it had been for Aaron. Aaron converted before his Bar Mitzvah. Because I had already had my Bat Mitzvah, the process would take longer and be more complicated, including keeping kosher and observing Shabbos for a year.
I was overwhelmed and still am. I don't know if I will ever be able to complete those major requirements for my conversion but I am coming closer to really feeling the Judaism in my heart and maybe that is all that matters... for now.