I’ve written a lot about the good sides of having a long Orthodox Jewish conversion process and I think there are some obvious downsides, but there is one downside that became readily apparent recently that I hadn’t really stopped to think about and has come up for us.
You can become TOO comfortable with being IN the conversion process.
If you had brought up this possibility to me years ago when I was so acutely aware of how long our conversion was taking and all the things we were waiting on, I probably would have laughed in disbelief. How in the world could anyone actually become comfortable living between two worlds or being on hold? Every holiday, I ached to be Jewish. Every simcha that we attended, I yearned for our own. Somehow, though, after the sharp pain of our childrens’ bar and bat mitzvahs passing by without a party or acknowledgement and after mourning the children we will not have, being in the conversion process just became normal, comfortable even.
Being in the conversion process can feel like being Jewish at times, but without the weighty responsibilities. Our mitzvahs are for practice and extra credit, not a requirement. Our observance is simply because we want to, not because we’re obligated. There’s really no commitment and we’ve been free to change our minds. We got used to this kind of almost-Judaism. Even when antisemitism was directed at us, there was also a lessening of that sting because, little did these people know, they didn’t exactly have the right target. We were only Jews in progress, at least the children and I.
I never had to worry about someone asking me to bring food to someone sick or in mourning or to do any number of volunteer activities that as a non-Jew, I am not able to do. We were never asked in any community to act as any kind of leaders or be role models. My husband and son never had to wonder if they’d be called up for an aliyah or some other responsibility in front of the whole Synagogue. We didn’t have to worry about which holiday invitations to accept. Mostly, we have just been left to ourselves to grow and learn, like weeds growing next to the fence of a field, uncultivated or pruned, but also left to grow as we will.
Now, with some recent developments, we’re suddenly realizing that, actually, we probably will be converting this summer and I’m surprised at the mix of feelings in our home.
Of course, we’re all excited. This is what we’ve been praying for and working toward for 7 years now. It’s close enough that we’re talking about travel dates with our Rabbis.
There are other layers to it, too, though. Layers I never would have anticipated.
There’s some fear, particularly in the kids. They realize that they will immediately be bar and bat mitzvah, adults in the eyes of Jewish law and obligated in all the mitzvos any other Jewish adult might be. For them, that’s a weighty responsibility. My daughter worries that she won’t do everything perfect. For her, I try to reassure her that no one does. We’re all human and that Hashem just wants us to do our best and keep growing and learning. I reassure her that now she’ll have more teachers to help her and a community around her. She already does so much here and I know she’ll grow even more there. It’s so very much like her to worry about disappointing Hashem and other Jews.
My son is nervous about the speed at which he davens. He knows that he’ll need to be at daily minyan and that he’ll need to keep up. I try to reassure him that it’s ok to be slower than some of the men and it’s even ok to start earlier or end later. I also point out how far he’s come and how now he’ll be practicing even more and he’ll come even further in the next year.
Mr. Safek is less nervous. For him, this is returning to where he came from. He has day school and being raised Orthodox behind him, a lifetime of preparation for this. For him, it’s a return of what once was his, taking his place once again in his family tree. I think he’s a lot more nervous about the logistics of the move itself.
Then there’s me. For me, it still doesn’t seem real. I go through moments where I worry. “Do we have enough mezuzahs for the new house? Will we be able to rush and buy them all if we don’t?” “How will I get everything toiveled and kashered after before we starve to death?” “Am I going to make some big mistake after conversion that I’m going to feel guilty over until Yom Kippur?” “Am I going to reliably remember Modeh Ani right when I wake up instead of remembering after I’ve stumbled out of bed half-asleep?”
“Will my kids be happy and observant years from now or wish they’d never converted?” “Will they marry Jewish?”
I think those last two are my biggest ones. It’s harder to see what my kids will still want when they’re grown adults than it is to picture my husband and I growing old in a Jewish community. I really believe this is what they want now and have wanted since they were little, but don’t we all change and question who we are as young adults?
Then I stop and breathe and realize that pretty much every one of these fears are the same that my Orthodox Jewish friends who were born Jewish share. They worry about who their children will marry and what Judaism will mean to them. They worry about making mistakes and they struggle with mitzvos from time to time. They move houses and have to scramble to buy new mezuzahs and they make multiple trips to toivel new dishes. We may have a lot more at once than many, but most of this…is all perfectly normal. The in-between practice state we’ve been living in is what is unusual.
In the meantime, we have a big move to distract us for a bit and we have Hashem guiding each piece.