Preparing for Shavuos and the Conversion that Wasn’t

Over a year ago, we sat in our Rabbi’s office and he promised, honestly and earnestly, that our conversion journey would finally end in the mikvah the coming April.  This April slipped by with little fanfare and drama, peacefully but busily, as we prepared for our move.  At this point, there is no more timeline given, no further questions asked.  There is no Beit Din waiting.  Our Rabbis did their best, but anything further will have to wait until we move and then, maybe, we’ll have an idea of where we go from here.  It wasn’t anything they did wrong, we did wrong, or even the various Beit Dins (Rabbinical Courts) did wrong.

The main factor was simply us being in Alaska and moving.  If we’d been staying in Alaska, there was one court that would have converted us in April, but moving complicated that, with that court preferring not to step on the toes of the regional Beit Din where we are moving to.  The regional Beit Din has reasons that aren’t related to us or our family personally, that they prefer to wait, perhaps more years, and our Rabbi’s and the Rabbis of the schools our children will be attending don’t want us delayed.  Other courts had other reasons, so, for now, our Rabbis are holding off any further appeals to different courts on our behalf until after we are moved and settled.  The idea is that some of these obstacles will disappear once we’re part of a larger Jewish community with all the support we will need post-conversion.

And so, April passed by with little notice and we sponsored our last kiddush (Sabbath luncheon) at our Synagogue.

Meanwhile, one of my most favorite holidays (do I say that about EVERY holiday) is fast approaching…Shavuos.  Shavuos was the first holiday I spent in an Orthodox Synagogue and I still think I probably couldn’t have chosen a better holiday to begin with even if I had known what I was doing.  On Shavuos, we celebrate the giving of the Torah, eat a lot of dairy treats, and study Torah all night long.  If ever there was a holiday designed just for me, this would probably be it.  I have a long time love of all things dairy and my first introduction to Judaism was intellectual.  I love that there’s always more to learn, more books to explore.

But deeper, it’s often said that every person who converts to Judaism as well as every Jew that is ever born, was present at Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Torah.  Our neshamas, or souls, stood shoulder to shoulder with those alive then, all assenting to accepting the Torah, all speaking with one voice and one heart in a resounding “YES!”

I very much believe this as well.

For me, it’s really the only logical explanation for why those who convert would go through everything necessary to convert and accept the life of a convert after.  This isn’t something you do on a whim or just because you like Jewish food.  It’s not even something you really can do just because you love a Jew or have Jewish family.  When you really get down to it, the only reason that makes sense and is sustainable long-term is just that you love the Torah and mitzvos and want to live according to them.  To me, the only reason that could explain why so many people do search through their lifetimes, find Judaism, then commit to the long process of conversion as well as the trials that do come after is because there is something inside them that already committed to it all a long time ago.

And so, each Shavuos, we read the story of Ruth, the most famous convert.  She chose being a penniless beggar among the Jewish people over being a Princess among the people of her birth and, after quite a bit of suffering, was eventually richly rewarded with the honor of being a forebear of King David himself.  Her devotion to the Jewish people, as awe-inspiring as it is, isn’t completely unique.  Throughout history, there have been converts who have chosen the Jewish people over their own, who would rather be a stranger among the people of Israel than have an easier life among their own.

Happily, most of us aren’t called upon to lose everything and be begging and sleeping in fields, but I know of very few converts who haven’t at least given up something to be Jewish.  I also know very few converts who haven’t experienced the sting of being excluded by other Jews at some point or another.

I like to believe that converts are special souls, neshamas that were chosen for this path because they were either uniquely suited to it or had something they would gain from it.  Perhaps we had a dual mission that needed us to be non-Jews for a part of our lives, to reach sparks of holiness we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to?  Or, maybe we had lessons to learn and ways we needed to grow that could be accomplished no other way?  Or, as some do believe that at this point, we’ve all been here before, perhaps we are Jews that were lost at some point and now we must undergo all this to return to our people?

Whatever the reason, I’m sure it’s going to be interesting to one day understand, for now, I find I’m content with knowing that wherever this path leads next, it is headed closer to a Jewish community and a fully Torah life.

I would rather be still a convert-in-progress within a vibrant, thriving Jewish community filled with opportunities to learn and grow in Torah than be already converted, but still mostly alone and on our own, trying to cobble together what Torah learning we can for ourselves and our children in a remote outpost of the children of Israel.  And I would much rather be either a convert or convert in progress than live an easier life as a non-Jew, eating my mother’s excellent cooking and being able to buy whatever I please at the grocery store as well as have Saturdays to do whatever I like.

And to me, that’s kind of what Shavuos is all about, that yearning to stand next to other Jews, committing yet again to the Torah and to each year trying to learn more and grow closer to Hashem through the mitzvos.

I may not be “official” yet and I don’t know when we will finally be, but I do know that we’re right where we need to be.

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