Only an hour ago, I sat crouched on my bed, the comforter flooded with direct sunlight, and spilled my heart’s guts over the phone to a complete stranger whom I’ve never met, a man who happens to hold the keys to my future. Pools of sweat were forming between my hand and the cell I clutched to my ear, and I had to keep dumping the excess moisture onto the ground.
This is disgusting, I thought. Why am I so nervous to tell someone a little something about myself? Am I really that unsure of my identity?
Now that the conversation is over, I think about the questions I was asked by the rabbi at one of the cantorial schools I hope to learn more about and possibly attend. What has your Jewish journey been like? How is your family handling it? What connects you to Judaism? I think about the sticky answers I gave- the beautiful unfolding of my very self and soul as I’ve delved further and further into Judaism, the way my mom expressed her unconditional love for me after learning about my decision to convert, the spiritual and emotional bridge I am building between this world and G-d using song. I realize now it’s okay to be a little nervous when baring one’s true self to another person. It doesn’t mean I’m uncomfortable, but I recognize my vulnerability when asked to discuss my conversion in conversation.
It’s funny because the words convert and conversation have the same Latin root: vertere, meaning “to turn.” A conversation specifically means to turn together, to turn to one another, or to face one another.
As a converts, we turn over new leaves. We turn our faces to the full sunlight of our new lives and let it flood our souls. We turn to a new community and away from some old traditions. We turn ourselves inside out and upside down enough times to make us dizzy. When it’s all said and done, we end up right back where we started. Same soul, same heart, same body and self. Just facing a different direction.
While I’ve shared bits and pieces of my conversion on this blog and with my closest friends, I remain mostly turned inward, leaning about myself and the way Judaism impacts me. I’ve never really turned outward, looked someone in the face, and told the whole story of my self. It’s very, very nerve-racking. I did the same thing last Thursday when I visited HUC and encountered students, faculty, and clergy who all wanted to hear “my story.” I almost wish I could write little pamphlets and pass them out so I wouldn’t have to do this face-to-face thing.
But an important aspect of conversion is your story. When it comes time to turn to those who are questioning and itching to hear your words, what do you say? How can you summarize and articulate an ongoing process that’s been happening for years in a matter of minutes?
My very definition of self is changing, and it will continue to change for a while yet. Above all, it’s been a fairly private process up until now. So forgive my stuttering and that darn red face that shows up every time I feel your eyes on me. If you ask, I’ll turn and face you. Because this is a journey that is meant to be shared.