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.