The decision to convert to Judaism hit me like a thunderbolt and became an all-encompassing need over the course of a single evening. As a studious and circumspect individual, it pains me to admit that I didn’t reach this decision at the end of a long period of reflection and consideration. Rather, I was a new college graduate, living with my partner in our first grown-up apartment and trying to figure out what to do with my life. One night, our dinner conversation turned to physics and the nature of the universe.
At the time, I strongly identified as an atheist but something about the idea of a universe that once was not and then suddenly was, expanding infinitely into nothingness, completely destroyed my worldview. I never considered a return to Christianity, and Judaism called to me at that moment like a long-lost love. I started researching Judaism and conversion the very next day.
My family’s reaction to my decision to become a Jew was neutral but supportive. The child of a father who didn’t really go along with his entire family’s Catholic views, I was raised by my mother who took me to a series of belligerently evangelical Protestant churches. When I went to live permanently with my father, there was no expectation from my extended family that I would conform to their faith. I grew up attending Catholic weddings, funerals and the occasional Sunday Mass, and having sleepovers with cousins. Choosing Judaism did not mean rejecting my family’s religion because I was never a part of it to begin with.
Religion aside, I’ve always been a little bit of a wildcard in my family. I am the loud, queer, aggressively liberal cousin who never really understood how to dress, act or hold my tongue. My family is incredibly important to me and I’ve never questioned their love and support for me, and nothing I do surprises them. They accepted my decision to convert the way they accepted me dying my hair rainbow colors, coming out as bisexual, eloping, espousing Leftist political opinions and putting off having a career to have babies right after college. They may not understand or personally approve of my individual decisions, but they accept me for who I am and everything that goes along with all of this.
I completed my conversion in October 2010 after more than a year of study. I was 22 years old, a newlywed and seven months pregnant with my first child. I was so enormous and buoyant I could barely stay under the waters of the mikveh long enough for a kosher immersion. My spouse was not and is still not Jewish but was committed to creating a Jewish home with me and raising Jewish children together. Unfortunately, it took several years for us to find our way to a Jewish life that felt comfortable and meaningful.
My first few years of being a Jew were a blur of pregnancies, babies and the deep isolation of being a stay-at-home mother living away from friends and family with a spouse working extremely long hours. I was too overwhelmed and anxious to visit synagogues, let alone seek membership at one. Navigating Shabbat, holidays, keeping kosher and other observances that I found so meaningful while studying for conversion felt impossibly daunting.
I suffered from severe postpartum depression after my first two babies and my imagined inadequacy as a Jew was just one more thing for me to feel guilty about. The incredibly deep connection I felt throughout my conversion studies could barely break through my numbness and exhaustion. I made feeble efforts to create a Jewish home, but it was not until my oldest child was in preschool that we became part of a synagogue community and our family finally began to live the Jewish life I had dreamt of.
In the years since I went to the mikveh (ritual bath), we have moved from Albany to Long Island and back again. We added three children to our family. My spouse came out as a transgender woman and began her transition, which prompted me to be more open about my own queer identity. I finally started my career and went back to school for my Master’s degree. Our kids go to a Jewish day school and we are members of a warm and accepting synagogue where I serve on the board of the religious school. We are beginning to plan our eldest’s bat mitzvah.
My life looks nothing like what I envisioned when I started out on this path, but there is not much I would change.