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Untitled for Now

 

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.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "collection," referring to the "collection of water," is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher. Yiddish for "circumciser," the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The Hebrew masculine form is "mohel," the Hebrew feminine is "mohelet." Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the youth group of Judaism's Orthodox in the United States, Canada, Israel and Chile. It offers local and regional Shabbat programming, summer programs and post-high school programs. Yiddish for "synagogue."

Hana Daley graduated from the University of Maryland in 2006.

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