Haircovering

6 years ago tomorrow, I made the decision to begin covering my hair.  It was such a momentous decision to me that I noted it on my calendar the same way I noted the day I decided to convert, birthdays, and anniversaries.  It is a mitzvah for married Jewish women to cover their hair and it’s one of the earlier mitzvahs I took on.  I did take a break from hair covering during my wanderings, but once we came back to the Synagogue, it felt weird not to cover, uncomfortable even though most women do not cover up here.

Part of my reasoning was practical.  In the communities we were interacting with, not having my hair covered kind of made it confusing for people to understand whether or not I was single.  In my community now, where the majority of married women do not cover, I might have waited longer.  Still, I felt drawn to covering my hair in a way I don’t always feel drawn to other mitzvos.  Mr. Safek and I weren’t married at that time, but we were living together as a family.  Our Rabbi agreed that it was a good idea for me to begin covering my hair as soon as I felt ready to do so.

It sometimes surprises me that so many born Jewish women struggle with the mitzvah of covering their hair, mostly because it was something that once I decided to convert, I looked forward to.  To me, besides dressing modestly, Orthodox women had few external signs of their faith.  Hair covering was a visible sign to the world around me of a commitment I’d made, both to Judaism and to the man I loved.  The idea of keeping my hair just for myself and for him also really spoke to me, especially in a world where so little is kept special.

I covered first with scarves called tichels.  I loved that I could mix and match colors and patterns and I felt regal in them, like I was wearing a crown.  However, few women in my community covered with tichels and it was strongly encouraged that I get a wig, called a sheitel.  I struggled with this for a while and wrote about that in another blog post, but eventually, I wanted to fit in with the other Jewish women I knew, so I bought a sheitel.  Now, I cover with a sheitel almost all the time because I like how it allows me to blend in better in the world.  Most non-Jews just assume it’s my hair even though most Jewish people can spot it a mile away.  It also fits in better at work and it fits the customs of my husband’s family and our community so much better.

I remember when we took a break from our conversion path and wandered and I uncovered my hair.  While I think most people would imagine that I’d gleefully tossed off my wig and shook out my mane like a lion, the reality was much more complicated.  I was very sad the first day I didn’t cover my hair.  I felt like I’d lost something very special, a connection to something that I very much mourned losing.  I also felt more vulnerable out in the world, raw and open, which very much fits with kabbalistic ideas about hair being like a receiver for what is around us.  For about 2 years, I’d been sheltered and now I was suddenly uncovered and unprotected.

However, just like I’d gotten so used to covering my hair, I also became used to having it uncovered.  Sensitivity dulled and I no longer felt so raw and vulnerable…until we came back to Orthodox Judaism.

My first time back in an Orthodox shul, I didn’t have my hair covered.  Suddenly, that sensitivity was back.  I felt naked, even though there were only a few women there with their hair covered.  Not long after, something happened at work that shocked me back into covering my hair.  A manager in the company, several levels above me, came to my cube to introduce an intern he was showing around.  As we spoke about a committee that he wanted me to volunteer for, he reached out and playfully tugged at my hair in mock disapproval.  It was like a jolt ran down my body and I suddenly felt so violated, perhaps moreso than if he’d touched my body.  I suddenly realized that I didn’t want just any man to be able to reach out and touch my hair.  I longed for that feeling of security and protection that hair covering had given me.  Perhaps I needed to have that break from covering to realize just how much it meant to me?

So, I put back on my scarves and then got a new sheitel to cover with.  It felt right.  It felt safe and secure and I was proud to so identify myself with Orthodox Jewish women.

It felt like being home again.

I am most content with my hair covered.  As I’ve grown in the mitzvah, it’s gotten to where there are so many facets to it that justify the complications or discomfort it might cause.  I like that when I uncover my hair in private, I do feel that sensitivity, that vulnerability and I feel safe in sharing that with the one closest to me and I like that I feel protected and sheltered when I’m out in the world.  I like that I’m marked and set aside as consecrated both to my beloved and to Hashem.  I’m proud to join a long tradition of women covering their hair.

I am home.

What I Wish More People Knew About Conversion Candidates

It occurred to me that this might be a good post to write.  Despite the fact that converts have always been a part of Judaism and that most communities have many, in most communities I’ve lived in, conversion remains for most people a kind of secretive process and there’s a lot of misconceptions about it.  To that end, here is what I wish more people knew about conversion and conversion candidates!

The Process, frankly, is a mess

We could debate the reasons for this for days, but it’s very complicated and it really doesn’t necessarily matter why, but for most conversion candidates, there is no real clearcut process to follow.  There have been attempts to fix this, but even congregational Rabbis aren’t always certain what process to follow when a non-Jew arrives at their door asking to convert.  As a result, it’s usually impossible for a conversion candidate to estimate how long their conversion might take.  Often, they may not even know what they should and should not be doing while in that process, beyond studying.  Sadly, it’s not uncommon for Rabbis and even some Beit Dins to even play mind games with conversion candidates, losing paperwork multiple times, “forgetting” meetings, making commitments then backing out.  I have even heard from one couple that their Beit Din put them in separate rooms and told them each their spouse had decided not to convert, just to see what they would do.

Most converts who are suffering through things like this won’t tell you.  They’re afraid of jeopardizing their conversion process.  Just know that this is someone vulnerable who may be in a very painful situation and please treat them with a little extra care.

We Just Want to Belong

Once a conversion candidate has found a community, most just want to fit in…so badly.  Little acts of acceptance can really make a big difference.  Of course, check with your Rav, but in most cases, you can invite conversion candidates over for Shabbos meals and, with a little thought to get around any halakhic issues, even to Yom Tov meals.  It really is a wonderful way to boost their spirits and help them learn.  Some of the best ways I learned how to handle Shabbos observance, kashrus, and other things was by being invited to help a Jewish friend prepare food, being invited along shopping, and being invited over.  She was kind enough to let me into her life in a way that felt welcoming and gave me the opportunity to see and ask questions and I’m so grateful.

Little things can also have a huge negative effect for conversion candidates.  I know at times, I felt kind of like I was right back in Junior High, an awkward girl on the side, not chosen as part of the “in crowd” because I’d be left out of things that most of the other women were included in.  If at all possible, please include your local conversion candidates if you can, or at least extend the invitation.  It’s a huge act of kindness to remember to invite them to your Mary Kay party or to help with a committee.  Again, if you’re in doubt, your Rav should be able to tell you what’s permitted.

We’re Going to Be Awkward

And speaking of awkward…conversion candidates can’t help but be that sometimes.  There is SO much to learn and sometimes, our efforts to quickly fit in backfire spectacularly!  Most conversion candidates will mispronounce new Hebrew and Yiddish words.  We’ll use the wrong term or we’ll talk about the wrong thing at the wrong time.  We may even be more socially awkward than we might otherwise be in other areas of our lives because we’re so nervous.  We may follow chumras (stringencies beyond regular Jewish law), for a wide variety of reasons.  Sometimes, we may even be told by those guiding us to do things differently than the rest of the community.

But, I’m asking you to not give up on us.  I’m so thankful for those people who included me despite my awkwardness and who were patient with my questions as well as those who took the time to teach me.  There were kind people who spoke to me about mistakes I might be making and helped me learn and there are people who accepted me even if some of my observance had to be different than theirs.

We Are Easy to Take Advantage Of

You don’t have to look far into the news of past years to find scandals around conversion.  Because a conversion candidate’s future lies in the hands of their sponsoring Rabbi and Beit Din and because even just gossip or rumors can impact their conversion process, conversion candidates are really vulnerable to being manipulated or even blackmailed.  Less serious, conversion candidates are often very eager to please their communities.  They need to be seen as good potential Jews.  This leads some to over-volunteer their time or try to make big donations that they may not even be able to afford.  Right or wrong, often donations do make a difference in some convert’s progress in the process.

Being someone a conversion candidate can trust can help make a huge difference, but often conversion candidates aren’t willing to come forward when abuses do happen because they fear their process will be impacted.

Little Things Really DO Matter

One of the hardest things I often run into is when born Jews actually try to make me relax my observance.  It’s hard to be an observant Orthodox Jew anywhere and it’s hard to be a Baalei Teshuva (a observant Jew who wasn’t raised observant) or a convert because we KNOW what it’s like not to have to work around observance.  We know what bacon tastes like and, believe me, the reason the Torah forbids it is NOT because it tastes bad.  Sometimes, born Jewish friends can almost be like my own yetzer hara (evil inclination) perched on my shoulder, saying things like, “Why do you ALWAYS wear a skirt?  I wear jeans now and then and we’re not at shul…no one will see you…c’mon…”  Or, “Why can’t you eat dairy out?  My whole family does and we’re still Orthodox.  How is the Rabbi going to know?  Don’t you WANT to come with us?”

Yeah.  Not helpful, unless your intention is to test our resolve.  I’ll admit, not giving in to things like this has cost me some friends and even seems to put walls up between me and parts of the community who observe differently than I must.  Maybe they think somehow that my choice to follow the guidance I’ve been given in those areas means I’m judging them, but I just don’t have the same choices available to me that a born Jew does.

Assume We Are Sincere

Are there some insincere conversion candidates?  I’m certain of it.  It’s likely, though, that most will be sorted out by the process, which can be so grueling both from a standpoint of everything that must be learned as well as everything they must go through.  It simply isn’t your job to question their sincerity unless you are their sponsoring Rabbi or sitting on their Beit Din and in fact, you may be breaking the Torah commandments regarding converts if you are questioning them.  Since conversion was never this long of a process until recent times, there are differing opinions on what applies to converts in process.

It’s sometimes tough for the frum from birth (people who were raised observant) to understand what a huge step it is for anyone who isn’t familiar with Orthodox Judaism to come forward and ask to convert.  What can seem to a born Jew to be a friendly, welcoming environment can often appear to a non-Jew to be incredibly foreign and full of hidden dangers.  Looking back, I was incredibly naive early in my process and as a result, I was probably too trusting and open.  I’m a lot more cautious now.  Anyone who has gotten far enough in the process to have moved into an Orthodox community and is attending shul regularly has already overcome big obstacles to be there.

If You Want to Help, GREAT!  But, Be Sure You’re Giving Good Advice!

Most of my Jewish learning has come from other Jews who were kind enough to teach me.  I really have never found formal conversion classes or a sponsoring Rabbi that had available time to learn with me, so being open to helping a conversion candidate learn is wonderful!  That being said, it’s important for conversion candidates to learn in a way that is going to match their Beit Din’s expectations.  For example, if a conversion candidate is planning to convert through a Chareidi Beit Din (pretty strict Orthodox), they’ll need to know how to answer questions in a way that their Beit Din will accept, which may or may not be different from how you hold as a born Jew.  If you know their sponsoring Rabbi, it might be a good idea to consult them as to what sources to use for their study.  I also have a list of resources for converts on a separate page that might be helpful.

Beware of Offering Advice on the Conversion Process Itself

I learned this one the hard way!  When we first began our process, many well-meaning friends and family offered advice on how to go about converting.  Some of it was really helpful and some of it…really not so helpful.  The problem is that few people are really that familiar with the process of conversion and that process can vary from place to place.  In some places, you approach the Beit Din first and then they guide you from there.  In other places, you absolutely do NOT approach the Beit Din…you wait until your sponsoring Rabbi contacts them.  In some places there are actually conversion classes you must go to and pay for.  I actually think that’s a good idea as long as they are priced reasonably.  In other places, you’re expected to learn on your own.

There are even Rabbis or Beit Dins offering conversions that won’t be recognized by many within Orthodox, if at all.  (My link to resources for converts has a list of those Beit Dins and Rabbi’s whose conversions are currently recognized by the Israeli Rabbinate, which is about as close as anyone is going to get to a universally recognized conversion…there’s always someone somewhere who isn’t going to accept a conversion!)

In almost all cases, unless you’re really familiar with your local process, the best advice you can give someone is to refer them to their local Orthodox Rabbi and then give them support and encouragement.  Trust me, the requirement to discourage the convert will be taken care of by the process itself and you don’t need to worry about discouraging any conversion candidate yourself!

Remember, Hopefully, This Person Will One Day Be Jewish!

Sadly, not all conversion candidates make it.  I don’t know if anyone keeps any statistics, but based on my own experience with the conversion candidates I’ve known, I’d guess that the vast majority do not make it through the process.  Of those, most don’t make it as far as moving into an Orthodox community and becoming a regular at the Synagogue, but even some of those don’t make it through.  However, those that do?  Once they emerge from the mikvah, they’re Jews and often very dedicated Jews.

Hopefully they’ll remember all the kindness shown to them, but I also doubt few forget any cruelty, either.  Why not be the one that helps teach them about ahavas Yisroel (love of your fellow Jew) rather than sinas chinum (baseless hatred)?

Spring and the Sabbath Always Come

It’s sunny and warming up here in the frozen north.  Everywhere I look, the snow is melting and we’re seeing patches of green grass underneath, a glimpse of the world that will be ours in just a week or two if things continue.  The world is waking up here after the long winter and birds like the Siberian Swans are returning from their warmer winter homes.  It won’t be long before the Aspen trees bud and leaves start bursting forth.

Springtime in Alaska is like a Sabbath afternoon, it passes by in an instant and it’s good to pause and enjoy it.

With the longer hours of sunlight, it’s like everything in the natural world around us begins to go in fast-forward.  It’s hard for us humans also not to get caught up in it.  The warm months here are short, essentially ending by the end of July, so we all try to pack as much as possible into them.  There are fish to catch to fill the freezers for winter, veggies to grow while the ground is warm enough, berries to pick, rhubarb to cut, and all those wonderful outdoor activities we enjoy so much.  Hiking and camping become a priority.  There are mountains waiting to be climbed and glaciers waiting to be explored!

For the small community of Orthodox Jews here, though, long hours of summer sun also mean a VERY long Sabbath each week, as if G-d knows we need the longer pause in the midst of all this hectic activity.  We’re forced to slow down and begin the Sabbath sometime before bed Friday night and often we will sleep through the brief break in the sunshine Saturday night, making havdalah before breakfast in the morning.

For our family, this also means we’re looking forward to the Shabbat RV version 2.0.  This time, we’re opting to sell a couple of things and put a down payment down on a loan and buy a RV that will be more comfortable and safer than the first one.  G-d willing, this is also the RV we will take next summer through the Canadian Rockies, across the plains of Canada and down to the lower 48 to our new, bigger Orthodox community in an epic adventure that might have made Moshe Rabbeinu proud.

For now, though, it’s the Shabbat of Chol Hamoed Pesach, a time to slow down in the midst of the flurry of Passover cooking and rest and reflect.  This Passover has been one of the most joyful I can remember for our family…and oddly enough, one of the easiest.  Usually I struggle through craving all different kinds of pasta and bread, but this year, even though we’ve been eating non-gebrokts foods…it FEELS easier.  I am not consumed with what I can’t eat, but rather enjoying trying new recipes and enjoying simpler tastes.

I hope everyone has a restful and meaningful Shabbat.  Here, we will begin the days of Shabbat not starting until after our usual bedtime and also not ending until after and I think this may be the last week we can greet the Shabbos Queen on time rather than early and be awake for her on-time departure rather than wishing her goodbye in the morning.

The Ups and Downs of “Practicing” Pesach

To boil or not to boil?  Which customs shall we use?  How stringent do we want to be this year?  These are all relevant questions we face as we clean out cabinets and work to gobble up all the chametz (leavened foods) in our house prior to Passover.  We’re often on our own to try to find answers since Passover is quite likely the busiest time of the year for Rabbi’s and the answers are complicated in our case, even more than for most conversion candidates.

For most conversion candidates, there is a lot of choice when it comes to Passover traditions as well as what level to observe prior to conversion and your best guidance will come from your sponsoring Rabbi.  This can be complicated by the fact that Rabbis are so very busy this time of the year, but you can’t really go too far wrong trying to follow the customs of your community when it comes to cleaning and such.  A non-Jew’s dishes and such are already not really kosher, so any kashering you do is mainly for practice and to learn what you’ll want to do when it’s for real.  There are varying opinions as to whether or not a conversion candidate should do something like attend a Jew’s seder or eat the afikomen, but generally a local Rav can sort those out for you.

And then there’s us.

 

My husband’s murky status often means we’re not quite sure exactly to what level we MUST observe and what we should and should not do.  Early on, the assumption of most people around us seemed to be that we needed to observe as closely as possible to what we might observe after conversion.  So, instead of perhaps trying a Sephardic Pesach to experience what sorting through rice multiple times could be like or slowly easing into the chaos that can be Pesach cleaning, we jumped in with both feet.  We also have never really quite gotten an answer when it comes to customs.  Unlike a lot of conversion candidates, my husband was raised with some and it seems like we could choose to inherit those of his Mother and Stepfather, who have been spiritual parents to us both as well as actual parents to him.  But, when we ask the question of “Should we?” That becomes more complicated.

There’s a lot that conversion candidates practice without being able to fully do.  Married conversion candidates practice Taharas Hamispacha without going to the mikvah.  We practice kosher, even though nothing a non-Jew can cook by themselves can be kosher and our dishes are inherently un-kosher, not able to be toiveled.  It’s not really a state that most Sages expected anyone to be in for long, but in modern times, it’s not unusual to take several years to convert.  When we first began, because of my husband’s upbringing in Orthodox day schools and his unusual halakhic status, friends and family assumed our process would have to proceed quickly and advised us accordingly, hoping we’d work to prepare to be fully observant soon.

Our first Passover, this meant dishes and such in storage, bought bit by bit whenever sales came up for that day that seemed like it would happen at any moment.  Like most conversion candidates, we knew most of our kitchen stuff would not be able to be saved and would need to be donated or given away after conversion, since it couldn’t be kashered or toiveled.  We would often hold off buying anything new.  We’d practice kashering our non-kosher utensils just for practice.  I’d cook food according to kosher laws that couldn’t be kosher because I’d turned on the oven.  For Passover, we followed the Ashkenazic customs of the local community to help simplify things some, but I did practice some non-gebrokts recipes in case we’d take on Chabad customs one day.

Over the years, I relaxed some of this and practiced other parts more thoroughly.  As it became more clear that this journey was going to be a long one, I started to think it might be more important to delve more deeply into a specific aspect of observance of holidays than try to do everything “right” but only on a surface level.  After all, if we weren’t obligated, then now was the time to make mistakes and learn, not to just try to fake our way through things.  As we unpacked the stuff we’d stored away and finally put it to use, I began to settle into living in this space between Jew and non-Jew rather than trying to rush past it.  One Passover, this meant really digging into the details of the Seder, preparing for it, looking more at the “why’s” behind the “what’s” and maybe spending less time obsessing over aluminum foil.  Another year, this meant really getting into the bedikas chametz even if it meant less time cleaning right before.  One Passover, it meant turning the kitchen over completely early and experiencing that.  Was that easier or did it make things harder?  That year we really got into kashering, nearly killing an oven with a blowtorch in the process.  The meals that came out of that kitchen were much simpler to compensate for all that in-depth effort.

This year, I’m finally circling back to those questions of customs and I’m trying out (bli neder) the customs of my in-laws.  This means a lot of peeling, not many spices, no gebrokts until the last day, and a whole lot of making things from scratch.  I’m looking to see what’s here for us, as I have any time we’ve practiced an aspect of Pesach or observance in general.  Does this bring deeper meaning?  Is there something hidden in doing this?  Does this make the week of Passover more separate, more holy?  Is this something I could handle next year or years beyond or something that’s too much for now?  As a result of this focus and the fact we got invites for the Seders, I’m turning over the kitchen late this year, on Sunday.  That has me a little anxious and I feel that pressure to turn it over a little early (I’m the type that is always worried about time, always afraid of being late or behind).  I’m asking questions of that anxiety.  What am I afraid of?  Do I not trust that whatever needs to be done will get done?  Where am I not having faith or not asking my family for help here?

They say practice makes perfect, but I think that the mitzvos are an area where demanding perfection probably misses the point.  I think it’s more that perfection is a goal we can never fully reach, yet we become better people by the effort.  I think reaching for unattainable goals can teach us a lot about humility and having compassion for others’ shortcomings.

But…I’m still practicing.

Passover Prep – Alaska Style!

The sun is now up past bedtime.  It peeks through the little edges of the blackout shades, sneaking into the room, tiptoeing to my eyelids.  Granted, bedtime at the Safek household is around 9-9:30pm.  We hit the hay early and get up early.  But still, the sun is coming back, regaining his dominion over life here in the subarctic.

We are also fast entering that season that is unique to Alaska…breakup.  In other places, snow melts in a relatively orderly manner.  Here, it takes a month or so and is a season unto itself.  Everything is melting and then sometimes re-freezing, only to melt again.  Mud is everywhere.  Puddles are deep enough I’m a little nervous driving our all-wheel-drive truck through them.

It is against this dramatic backdrop that we prepare for Passover in Alaska.

For me, it fits.  It makes sense.  We have been buried in snow and cold for months, living in darkness.  The Jews of Exodus had their own winter of slavery.  Their spiritual life was dormant, buried.  They were in darkness and it probably seemed it would never end, that spring would never come.  Alaskans can certainly relate.  And yet, as Moses comes to them and they begin to see and experience the miracles G-d made, it’s much like their world thawed and burst open.  It’s messy and chaotic and beautiful and exciting.  The newly freed Jews are pulled into the light, blinking.

On a practical level, it means we generally do our Seders early, so that no one has to try to stay up for sundown and THEN an entire Seder.  Our Seders at least begin with sunshine that looks like mid-afternoon streaming through windows.  It’s hard for Eliyahu to sneak up to our house.  We try to drag things out past sundown to get a little darkness to help him out.

Passover in Alaska also means ordering…almost everything.  We have meat and basics shipped north from Seattle and place orders through our local Chabad house.  When the shipment comes in, everyone picks up their groceries on the same day.  We can’t count on much being available in the local stores.  They’ll often try to sell things that aren’t kosher for passover in the tiny display they do have, which isn’t labeled.  It’s a quiet endcap on a random aisle.  The fact we’re not doing gebrokts until the last day this year helps.  Our needs become smaller to fit what’s there and trying out this custom means we need fewer specialty Passover products.

And then, as always, there’s the conversion dimension.  Passover is one of the BIG holidays and it’s one that has special laws as to what a Jew can do and what a non-Jew can do.  Conversion candidates live in some space in-between the two.  A safek?  Even more so.  A regular conversion candidate is encouraged to keep as many of the Passover laws as they can, to practice for the day when they will be obligated.  They are encouraged to learn about kashering their kitchen for Passover and practice what they feel comfortable with, to clean out chametz and use it up or sell it, and to observe the Yom Tovim.  However, what they are able to participate in varies widely from community to community.  In some communities, they are not allowed to be invited to a Jew’s home for a Yom Tov meal.  In others, they can be invited for a Yom Tov meal, but not a Seder.  In others, they can be invited to a Seder, but they can’t eat any of the Afikomen.  In others, they can participate fully.  It generally depends on where they are in the process as well as what the local Rav holds.

For a safek, all bets are off and often, we can ask a question and the Rabbi’s just won’t answer because there is no way to know.  We get used to unanswered shailas and doing the best we can.  I like to believe that G-d understands we’re trying and is forgiving.

Generally, we host our own holiday meals and we gather up others who don’t fit elsewhere for guests.  Other conversion candidates are welcomed to our Seder table as are patrilineal Jews.  Our Seders are usually full of joy…even if they aren’t full of Jews and most of us don’t know the tunes to the songs.

We aren’t quite free yet, even as we celebrate and sing and say, “Next year in Jerusalem!”  The exodus still remains a promise for us, set in a future where obligations will be clearer.

The snow is melting, though.  It’s coming.

Choosing Minhags (Customs)…or Not?

The snow is still piled high, but the sun is setting late, nearly bedtime already.  Spring in Alaska is a time full of contradictions and calling Pesach cleaning “Spring cleaning” never quite seems to fit…and yet it does.  Even if more snow may come, the days growing strangely long tell my body that summer is coming and the ice will melt.

For Orthodox Jews, cleaning for Passover is also a time of contradictions.  It’s a time we face demons left and right, deciding how stringent we will be and which customs we will hold to.  For a convert, there’s sometimes less pressure if you’re still in process because if you make a mistake, it’s ok, you’re not obligated yet.  This is all practice.  There is also, though, the difficulty of having too many choices sometimes.  Converts can take on any customs they choose, if they have no real tie to any custom.

For us, we have family who are Lubavitch and we daven at a Chabad shul, so the customs that would seem most natural for us to take on would be those.  However, Lubavitch Passover customs are a thing unto themselves since they hold by some stringencies that many do not.  For years, I’ve stubbornly resisted those customs, whether it’s the tichel in my hair, the cholov stam yogurt in my cup, or the gebrokts on my Passover table week long.  It’s not that I don’t feel drawn to the Lubavitch view of Judaism…I very much do.  It’s just that some of these things seem SO hard and I wonder if it’s necessary for me to take them on.

And so, for 7 years, we’ve kind of gone back and forth between different customs, but always feeling a pull toward the Orthodoxy we know best and see lived by my husband’s mother and stepfather.  I love the warmth and joy of Chassidism.  I don’t always love the stringencies that seem to come along with it.  I’ve often wondered if it might be easier if I had less of a choice, if I’d been raised from birth identifying with one community rather than being free to choose one.

But…a convert has choices galore.  I could even choose to take on Sephardic customs!  Rice on Passover is mighty tempting, but you quickly learn that every custom you choose has pluses and minuses.  Checking every grain of rice at least three times for Passover doesn’t sound quite as appealing once you study it, nor does further restrictions on what blessings you can say as a woman.  Every custom has another side to it.

This year, I’m not yet at a place I’m ready to trade my tichels for my sheitel every single day, but I am going to try Passover using Chabad customs, bli neder.  Since I don’t have to be quite as strict with my kitchen preparation yet, it seems like a good time to give it a try and see if holding off gebrokts until the last day, peeling my vegetables, and boiling my sugar are really the big deal I’m making them out to be.  So, we wait until the last day to eat matzah lasagna and matzah brie, is that really enough to keep me from taking on the customs that seem like they’ll be the best fit for our family?  Will I feel differently about other customs I’ve been resisting later, when I’m in a place where cholov yisroel is easier to get and I can find a sheitel with a bigger cap?

Or, maybe I’ll try it and decide that, no, that’s not something we need.

Each year is filled with these small experiments and decisions, helping us learn and grow and find out what we will do each holiday, each milestone.  To me, it’s probably a big part of the journey for either a Ba’al Teshuva or a Convert.  The way is less defined and often, you have to learn more to make your own choices, but there’s also that feeling of choices being wide open.  Our family chooses how we will do our Seders, which songs we will sing on Shabbat, and a dozen other choices that begin to shape what kind of Jews we are and what we will share with future generations.

For now, I’m just going to try this, making no promises or oaths to continue it if it doesn’t fit us.  One day, maybe we will join our Lubavitch family in their customs…or not.  For now, it’s all like trying on clothes to see what fits and letting go of what doesn’t.