When I talk about myself and my Jewish journey, I never ever like to start by talking about my Jewish boyfriend.
Even though he is at the start, he is not the reason. In the past, I’ve tried to leave him out my conversion story entirely whenever possible. Sorry dear.
The truth is, he is certainly an important person in my life and in my decision to embrace Judaism. But so is my sponsoring rabbi, the Jewish girl who lived across the hall my freshman year, the man who stayed up late discussing philosophy with me, and my current college room mate who is just as inquisitive as I am when it comes to Judaism. There are lots of people I’ve met who have shaped the woman I am.
But it all starts with a boy, and I’m going to face my fears and do the very thing I’ve avoided doing for so long. Tell where it all started, boy included.
We met in my 10th grade Holocaust studies class. Cheerful, right? The teacher was incredibly positive, making the subject matter bearable. And as the token Jewish kid in our class (by token, I mean the only one), David got to answer all the interesting and not-so-tactful questions from my classmates. I sat next to him, and we became friends. I never thought that we would be dating junior year and then into college.
It was David who took me to my first Purim celebration, David who brought in the dreidels to Science class, David who wrote me little Hebrew notes and passed them to me in Latin class. He was Jewish. I was not. It was simple and sweet and an uncomplicated part of our relationship, just like how his eyes were brown and mine were blue.
In college, things began to change. Since both of us were very religious, we agreed to learn about each other’s religions now that we had entered into a more long-term, serious relationship. He would watch documentaries on Catholicism; I joined Hofstra Hillel. At that point, I enjoyed being both Catholic and Jewish. Shabbat dinner on Friday, Mass on Sunday. It was a fun intellectual pursuit at first and nothing more.
Come winter my freshman year, we separated, for various reasons, religious differences being one of them. After David was gone, my friends expected me to lose interest in Judaism. So when my interest only increased, I began to wonder… If I was not doing this for him, then why am I still doing it after he’s gone? I began to have a more spiritual connection to Judaism, a religious interest that hadn’t been there before when I read books. I attended my first services. Went to a Jewish museum. When he was out of the picture, I began to find myself in Judaism.
It was only a few months later that I began to feel the need to choose: Jewish or Catholic? I knew that as fun as being both was, these religions had contradictory messages, different interpretations of G-d, and too many differences for me to do both (Messianic Judaism never really appealed to me, more on that later). David was back in my life, but it was my decision. Jewish or Catholic?
I wish I had a single moment where G-d yelled “JEWISH!” and I suddenly saw the road to Judaism clearly, strewn with challah and lined with kippah clad men waving Israeli flags. But it was more a gradual indication of my soul, heart, and mind that led me to Judaism. Hebrew classes, Shabbat dinners, gaga tournaments, Torah study, Jewish music… All of it spoke to me and who I am, what I love, and how I want to live. It’s only grown more and more clear.
There was a time at a mass on Palm Sunday two years ago where I was so wholly surrounded by people, physically linked by hands and spiritually linked by the central prayer of the Our Father, and I felt disconnected. Alone. Isolated. I nearly started crying at the loss of something beautiful and at the idea that my soul had become foreign in a once familiar environment. After the next week, I stopped going to mass altogether. For the first time in my life, I became a non-practicing Catholic, and I started to truly feel, do, and become Jewish.
So, it all started with a boy. It will continue with this same boy, I hope for a long time. But it is MY choice for ME and for G-D. I make this choice because it is right for me- it is who I am and who I have become. I am so grateful that I have someone special to share this journey with, someone who puts up with all my naive questions. But I am also glad that I do not make this choice for marriage, for children, or for any other external pressure. This is my choice. And this is my story.