It’s been about 2 weeks since our family emerged from the mikvah and I’ve had a little time to rest and recover from the trip and all the kashering and toiveling of our kitchen. I’m still in the midst of planning our wedding, but I took a weekend off to attend a Jewish women’s retreat last weekend and I had some time to just sit and think a bit about what has changed since the mikvah.
The short answer is…everything and nothing.
Conversion is a big transition and yet you do come back to your life afterward. Our family was observant before the mikvah, so that hasn’t changed…and yet it has. It’s a little like the color of everything has changed. I say the same prayers, but I have a greater connection to them. When I say the words of the prayers, I no longer feel left out of sections that mention the “children of Israel.” In the retreat, I no longer had to filter through what parts of Torah law or observance apply to me and what parts do not. As I studied Torah, I had a feeling of the Torah being mine in a way I’d never fully felt before.
I sang and danced with the Jewish women at the retreat and there was no longer this feeling of being an outsider, a stranger. Yes, my past is still unique and different, but everyone has a story of some kind. I felt…included…accepted.
I would say the biggest difference between how I felt before conversion and how I feel now is that I have a feeling of completeness that I’ve never had in my life. There’s a peace that comes with it. It is as if a vital piece of me was just always missing and that caused a pain that I was so used to that I barely recognized it. It caused me some low-level anxiety or a feeling that I always had to compensate for it. Now that it’s gone…I just feel comfortable to be.
My relationships with Rabbis have also shifted significantly.
I have had some serious fear of Rabbis in my past, due to some painful interactions I’ve had. Unfortunately, the process of conversion can be painful and often, Rabbis have to serve in that place. I’ve left a Rabbi’s office in tears. I’ve had to hold my children and comfort them after a Rabbi’s decision hurt them. I’ve lived in a space where Rabbis had so much power over my family, where I was afraid that a wrongly worded question or misinterpreted statement could delay or even end our conversion process.
Some people have “white coat anxiety” a phenomenon where their blood pressure goes up when they visit the doctor simply due to anxiety. For me, I had “black hat anxiety,” where my chest would tighten and my pulse raise whenever I needed to talk to a Rabbi, never knowing if the interaction would be positive or discouraging.
Now…Rabbis are a lot less scary. They’re here to help me grow and be a good Jew and I’m learning to fear them less. It also helps that the Rabbis in our new community are really wonderful.
It’s hard to describe how little has changed and yet how much has changed. There’s a deeper dimension to every mitzvah I do and a greater connection to my fellow Jews, but there’s also so much that is just business as usual in our daily lives.