Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Taking Off the Costume

on March 16, 2014

Every holiday, I look forward to making new memories.

I experience these little “newborn Jew” moments, or “firsts” as I call them in my head: simple kodak snapshots of a Jewish holiday or ritual that are meaningful to me because I am consciously experiencing them for the first time.

Then, I write them down, much like a parent keeps a scrapbook of her baby’s first steps, first solid food, first toy, first birthday. Not every Jew can remember the first time she went to services, had apples with honey, or plated challah, and these moments  are infinitely special because they can never be recaptured or seen from new eyes ever again.

Even though I’ve celebrated Purim before, I thought today’s “first” would be learning moment, a profound connection, a new food, or an eye-opening experience. But it wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Today was the first time I told a rabbi, any rabbi, that I want to be a cantor.

I’ve talked to my friends about my aspirations, other cantors and cantorial students, teachers, my parents (story on that some other time), and even my co-workers. But I’ve always had a deep-set fear of talking to a rabbi about it.

I don’t know why. Maybe I thought he would laugh in my face. Maybe I was afraid of denial or rejection or misunderstanding. But when the rabbi asked me why I was studying music in college, my heart prompted me for an honest response. My face flushed bright red, and I blurted out, “I want to go to cantorial school!”

I felt all the eyes of everyone around me, even though their conversations continued. And the rabbi? His reaction was priceless.

“Zoinks!”

He looked at me with shining blue eyes from under his felt turkey hat, and they were glowing with respect. A little incredulous too, but warm and encouraging. He began to ask me how my conversion process was going, and I told him that I’ve been studying one-on-one and begin formal classes in the fall. He asked which cantorial school I wanted to go to, and we discussed  the different options for women in leadship positions across the movements of Judaism.

It felt so good to be myself. Dressing up is one thing, but concealing your passion is a mask that no one should have to wear. I’d been hiding for a little too long, and today I just wanted a chance to be myself.

Maybe Esther was afraid to tell people she was Jewish. Wait, no, she was terrified. It sure wasn’t easy, and I can understand why. Even though she felt so comfortable in her own skin and she knew who she was, the fact that she would have to reveal herself to an authority figure who held power over her was daunting. I bet she blushed a little or her voice shook. But she couldn’t betray her heart, and neither can I.

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