It’s been several months since our conversion and then Mr. Safek’s triple bypass. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of Jewish Day school for the kids and classes and work for us. It really has flown by and now I think I finally understand why most conversion blogs seem to peter out after the conversion. Once you’ve converted to Judaism, the real work of living as a Jew begins.
For us, that’s been learning even more. Now that we don’t have a halakhah test looming over our lives, we’ve been learning more about subjects that most Jews probably start with. We are part of a bi-weekly class that started out covering the haftarahs and then moved on to the thirteen principles of faith, or Jewish theology. I still take weekly Tanya classes and I learn the Rebbe’s sichus with a chavrusa, which means that I study talks the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave about the weekly Torah portion with a friend. Add in daily minyans for Mr. Safek and all the community activities going on and it all adds up to a full schedule and a wonderfully full life. Our lives revolve around the Synagogue, the schools, and our jobs with little extra.
Mr. Safek has continued to become healthier since we went vegan at home. His cholesterol and lipid numbers are down lower than they’ve ever been and his kidney function numbers are great. I laugh when I think how excited we were a year ago at the prospect of less expensive kosher meat and dairy…and now we don’t have any of it! We have started to add back some healthy oils and the occasional fish, but for the most part, since his surgery, we’ve eaten a whole foods, plant based diet with little to no oil.
Is life always easy? Do we live in a state of Orthodox Jewish bliss?
Of course not…that’s not how life works, is it?
I still cry at bar or bat mitzvahs. I can make it longer through them now, but it seems that there always comes a moment where my heart is pierced with pain and regret that my kids never had one. I never can predict when it will happen and those who know me well understand when I withdraw. I stay a little longer each time and try to help the family celebrate, but at a certain point, I find I need to be alone and cry a bit.
I still am sad sometimes that we will never have children together. Mr. Safek and I waited to have a child together until our conversion completed and…it simply came too late for us. I feel a pang of longing whenever I see a new baby, but I also am thankful that I don’t have to worry about those long sleepless nights or diapers. There is a peace that comes with having one’s children nearly grown and I realize that soon Mr. Safek and I will have a lot more time together, which will also be wonderful.
Then, there are the moments when I don’t feel as complete as a Jewish woman. Sometimes, it’s someone deciding that they won’t eat our food, as has occasionally happened. Other times, it’s an offhand remark made that the giver likely had no idea how it would land, like when someone joked about my being “born in a barn.” We’re really fortunate and grateful that we live in a wonderful, welcoming community where such moments are incredibly rare and there is a lot of respect for converts.
Mostly, though, I’m finding that the work that we’ve been doing post-conversion is mostly letting go of our own expectations of ourselves. I remember the first time I forgot to say “Modeh Ani” right away after waking up. I remembered about a half hour later, as I emerged from my pre-coffee fog and I felt AWFUL. I felt like I’d ruined the squeaky clean slate I’d been given at the mikvah and then again on Yom Kippur. How could I have forgotten? Was I really taking my Judaism for granted…ALREADY?! I paused, breathed a minute, reminded myself that I’m human, and then said it late. I’ve made mistakes since then…nothing as big as breaking Shabbos or eating something non-kosher, but more the small things that happen in the course of genuinely trying to live an Orthodox life, like missing a prayer time or forgetting to say a bracha. I try to remember that my little Jewish neshama isn’t even a year old yet….and wouldn’t I be gentle with a baby just learning? Then, I dust myself off and try again.
I’m also slowly adjusting to the idea that my Judaism doesn’t have to be exactly like anyone else’s. Maybe my Judaism wears a turquoise sweater to a Vort (engagement party) as I did a few months ago even though I think I stood out like a sore thumb among all the gray and black. Maybe my Judaism sometimes has chili for Shabbos dinner when the week has been crazy. As long as my family loves it and it helps us joyfully keep Shabbos…why should it matter that it’s not a 5 course meal full of traditional favorites? Maybe my Judaism is quirky and colorful and influenced by everywhere I’ve been…and perhaps that’s exactly why Hashem gave me such a different path?
I also often miss Alaska. I’ll sometimes see a picture of a mountain or look out the car window and just feel like I need to get OUT…somewhere. Away from houses and cars in a way that you just can’t really ever get away down here in the lower 48 but is really easy to get out and away up there. I miss moose and mountains and salmon and the wilderness. I also love Lake Michigan and our community here and how everywhere is so close to visit.
Being a convert is often living with your heart in two places and having to choose one over the other.
Mr. Safek and I are planting our roots here in a very real and tangible way. After so much talk around this time last year as we worked so hard to sell our house in Alaska about how we’d never buy another house…we put in an offer on a home here. The process is just as crazy and chaotic, but we also feel like it’s right. This is home now. A piece of our hearts may forever stay in the mountains of Alaska, but it’s home is here now with our people.
And the adventures that lay ahead.