Orthodox Jewish conversion has a lot of fascinating quirks that a lot of people aren’t aware of unless they’ve dealt with the process directly. One of them, which I mentioned in relation to my husband yesterday, is the fact that once you emerge from the Mikvah as an entirely new, Jewish person in the eyes of Jewish law, you also emerge with a new set of parents, Avraham and Sarah. An interesting twist in this happens when a child converts in that, when it comes to Jewish law and ritual matters…they’re technically no longer their parents’ child anymore, but a child of Avraham and Sarah. When an entire family converts, this means that, from a halakhic perspective, technically, the parents and the children all suddenly have the same spiritual parents and are also spiritual siblings.
This can lead your mind down some uncomfortable, very West Virginian paths if you let it and it is important to have a Rav that can advise you on things like laws of yichud and such if you have older children and are in this situation, but I think those details are best left to Rabbis who specialize in this particular and peculiar area of Jewish law. This also applies to non-Jewish children who are adopted by Jewish couples and converted as infants or children, too.
The aspect that I struggled with early on in the conversion process was the idea that my children wouldn’t be prayed for with my name, but Sarah’s. For some reason, that ached in my heart, that if my children were sick or hurt and needed prayers, they wouldn’t be prayed for as MY children, like any other Jew. My son wouldn’t be called to Torah as the son of my husband, but as someone else’s son. I have heard, in passing, that there is such a thing as “halakhic adoption” after conversion, but I also had to face the prospect of this being yet another thing I would have to work through letting go of in order to become a Jew and so…I set to thinking very deeply about it.
Like my husband’s journey to letting go of his attachment to his names, it took years and I can say that it’s only this winter that I’ve finally come to a place where this feels good, not just something that I’ll grit my teeth and make it through, but something I see as a positive good.
Part of it is the growing up my children have done since we began the conversion process. 7 years ago, when we first approached a Rabbi, my daughter was just 5 years old and my son 7. They were still very much attached to me and needed a lot of care. Over those 7 years, they’ve grown more and more independent. My son, in particular, is now a 14-year-old, an adult in Jewish law and more and more, he craves his independence as he becomes his own man. He needs space from me and our relationship shifts and changes as he grows into being more and more my peer than my child. My daughter turns 12 next week, which is the age she would have become a bat mitzvah. There are moments where she is still my baby and then the next, I see glimpses of a beautiful, bright young woman, strong and capable in her own right.
It’s already becoming the time of stepping back and letting go of my children so that they can be the people they were meant to be.
That process is so bittersweet. I worry over them. I’m intensely proud of them. I’m annoyed by them. I long to just pull them back into my lap and cuddle them. I even ask them for help, particularly my son with jars I just can’t open. I love them just as fiercely, but often, it’s appropriate to hold back some so I don’t embarrass them or cross the boundaries they’re beginning to make in their own lives. They change so quickly and most of the time, I’m clumsily trying to keep up with it all.
A big shift happened this winter when we went to visit a Yeshiva and a boy’s High School with my son. For years, I’d been resistant to the idea of sending him off to Yeshiva. It felt like I was abandoning him to others to finish raising. However, visiting these schools and watching the boys there interact with their Rebbes and seeing my son interact as well, I suddenly realized that this could be something really healthy. Perhaps boys need to go off into a world of men that aren’t so close to them to be stifling and have more influences than just my husband and I. I realized that my son could not just survive, but really thrive in this environment. I also saw that he’d have even more support and guidance than we alone would be able to give him. I suddenly felt like it was time to open up, let others into his life in a much deeper way, and take steps back of my own.
Up until now, my husband and I have been his coach, calling the plays in his life. Now, it looks more and more like we need to be on the sidelines, just cheering and supporting him from more of a distance, but still his biggest fans. He needs new coaches to take him to the next level.
I can think of no better spiritual parents to entrust my precious children to than Avraham and Sarah, the very people who helped to guide so many people of their time to the revolutionary concept of monotheism itself. I also realize that as a spiritual newborn myself, I’ll need to depend on others now to give my children what I can’t, what I’m still in need of myself.
In my own life, I’ve struggled with the transition with my own parents from child to a sovereign adult. I can now see more clearly from the other side of the equation just how difficult that transition must have been for them, too. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been asked spiritually to make that transition with my own children in a very literal way at the same time that they’re at the age of adulthood in Jewish law and I really feel blessed by all the lessons there are for me in this.
Sometimes the very things we feel the most initial resistance to are the things we most need, the bitter medicine that is our cure and, it’s absolutely fitting in a Jewish sense that this cure comes before I have to let go of my children in other aspects of our lives together and accept them as the adults they are growing into.
Plus, I can’t imagine that there couldn’t be a blessing from serving as a handmaiden to a woman as righteous and great as Sarah, giving over to her two new Jewish children that, G-d willing, may grow to bring her blessing with their lives. It’s almost like being a commoner and raising your children to adolescence and the Queen of the realm seeing them and how special they are and how well they were raised and adopting them into her royal family. It’s bittersweet to let them go, but such pride at seeing them ascend and knowing how much more able they’ll be now to reach their full potential.
So yes, I am letting my children go, but in the end, I realize they were only ever lent to me to care for and always belonged to Hashem. I was just entrusted with these treasures of His for a time and it has been an honor. I’m sure I’ll still be needed for many years to come in different ways and I’ll be so happy to step in, but I’m also glad I’m not alone in raising them the rest of the way.
Mother Sarah, I gladly and happily share my children with you and I know that you’ll love and worry over them with me and together we can daven for them.
What greater gift could I ever give them?