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My Conversion Story

Sixteen years ago, I sat in my parked car on a residential side street, staring at the door of a substantial brick home, which also housed the office of a urologist and mohel--ritual circumciser. Jim, my fiancé, had gone through the door a few minutes earlier, accompanied by our rabbi. Inside, Jim was undergoing hatafat dam brit, the ritual taking of a drop of blood, required by Jewish law of already-circumcised male converts. There was nothing for me to do but wait.

Nearly three years earlier when I first fell in love with Jim, I realized that I'd found a life-partner, someone with whom I could imagine having a family. But that made me suddenly aware of my need to raise any child we might have as Jew.

This was not an issue for Jim. A lapsed Presbyterian, he had no objection to raising Jewish children. The problem was mine. Not only was I non-observant and unaffiliated, I had almost no knowledge of Jewish traditions, history or ritual.

Even so, I was unconditionally Jewish. Although there was little religious practice in my childhood home and even less formal Jewish education, I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. My grandparents spoke Yiddish. Still, I knew that I could not impart a purely ethnic or historical Jewishness to another generation. I would have to teach my child how to be a Jew on my own terms, whatever those might be.

Jim joined me in the search. Together, we learned the blessings for lighting candles on Friday night. Jim found an ad for a Jewish study group, "no prior knowledge necessary." When we started talking about a wedding date, he made an appointment with Rabbi Lawrence Kushner to discuss the possibility of conversion.

His conversion curriculum became the core of my remedial Jewish education. We met with the rabbi regularly, read the books he assigned, attended an "Introduction to Judaism" course with 100 other people, and made our first attempt at learning Hebrew. As we planned our wedding, we discovered the joyful wisdom of Jewish ritual.

Waiting for him, that spring morning 16 years ago, I counted off the days until our marriage. Jim smiled at me as he got back into the car. He told me that it was nothing he ever wanted to do again, but it went okay. Then we drove to the mikvah, the ritual bath, where we met Rabbi Kushner and two other rabbis for his beit din, court of Jewish law. After a spirited fifteen-minute conversation, the rabbis nodded their approval and sent Jim to the mikvah, ritual bath.

I stood in the hallway and listened to the quiet splashing as he walked into the water. The rabbi asked if he was ready to enter the covenant between God and the Jewish people--freely, without reservation, forever, and to the exclusion of all other faiths. Jim answered "Yes" and recited the Hebrew blessings for conversion.

A few minutes later, we all walked out into the bright sun. Rabbi Kushner said, "Welcome, brother." Jim's hair was still wet. Neither of us could stop smiling.

Hebrew for "drop of blood covenant," it is a ritual circumcision for those already circumcised. (Usually men who are converting to Judaism.) Rabbinic court involved in matters of Jewish law, including conversion and traditional divorce procedures. A language, literally meaning "Jewish," once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino. 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 "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. Hebrew for "circumciser" (Yiddish term is "moyel"), the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The feminine form 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.
Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant is a writer who lives in the Boston area. She is a member of Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley.

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