Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Circumcised Heart

on January 14, 2015

You know how people have second thoughts about marriage the night before their wedding?

I’m having second thoughts about converting. And I haven’t really felt unsure since I first started considering conversion.

It all started when I lost my keys today. I had the key chain, but my ID had fallen somewhere. I was on a tight schedule and would be late if I didn’t find them soon. I peered into the trash, retraced my steps, and checked all my bags and pockets, until I finally emptied out my purse and there it was, slipped into the middle of my planner.

A prayer flashed across my mind before I could stop myself.

“Thank you, Saint Anthony.”

I tried to cover up my thought with a quick Baruch Hashem, but it was too late. No matter how much I chose to ignore it, I had just muttered the Catholic prayer that my mother always taught us to say whenever we find something. St. Anthony is the patron saint of all lost things, so you pray to him when you want to find a missing item and then you thank him when you find it.

The idea that a small part of me still clung to Catholicism really made me question myself. Am I still Catholic, deep down inside? Is there a Catholic woman under all this Jewish stuff? Or a Jewish woman buried beneath a lifetime of Catholic tradition?

Little by little, I’ve felt Catholicism fade from my life. Sometimes, it really hurts to let go. I know I’ve shared all the wonders about conversion with you as I revel in new Jewish experiences, but there are also a lot of dark moments and self-doubt. Sometimes, it feels like a part of my soul is dying. And death, for us overly attached, immortal-loving humans, is painful.

I first felt this loss years ago during Mass at Palm Sunday, the Sunday before the most important holiday. I was by myself in a brand new, unfamiliar parish. I had fallen in love with Judaism, but I was still torn as to where I really belonged. Halfway through Mass, Catholics recite a prayer called the Our Father, and they all join hands. As I clung to hands of complete strangers, I felt incredibly disconnected both physically and spiritually from the chain that linked our hands and souls. I realized for the first time that I no longer believed and I no longer belonged. I almost started crying right there for the loss of that interconnected feeling and for the ostracization from something bigger and more beautiful than myself. I realized that my very self had changed and I no longer identified with everyone around me.

I experienced similar feelings the day after Christmas this year. I participated in some of the same traditions- spending the day with family, exchanging gifts, enjoying a festive meal, and watching Christmas movies- but at the end of the day, I failed to connect to the true meaning of the celebration. It was like I was role playing someone else’s life and could not truly celebrate with joy and gladness this foreign holiday that no longer contained any special reverence for me. And I mourned for the loss of self, that part of a little girl’s heart who sang that Jesus Christ is Lord loud and clear in church and truly meant it. That part of me was gone.

I know this sounds dismal. But if we are honest with ourselves, conversion is painful. Look back to the first converts, Abraham and Isaac. G-d asked that Abraham undergo circumcision at the age of 99. NINETY-NINE, people. That was not a painless proess. He could hardly walk afterwards. While men who convert today also can undergo hatafat dam brit, a symbolic drawing of a drop of blood, women do not have any physical ritual to undergo.

However, all converts must circumcise their hearts. They cut away a part of themselves with which they no longer identity, whether they come from a religious or agnostic or mixed background. G-d removes a part of the heart so that can choose us as his own. And it hurts. It is painful at times, especially as the process is happening.

At this point, my prayer to St. Anthony is nothing more than a habit, like someone who curses or someone who always leaves his keys in a specific place so as not to lose them. It’s okay to still be a little Catholic underneath. You shouldn’t cling to your old ways, but you can still feel the need to genuflect when entering a Catholic church or have a little hand spasm when 6 people around you cross themselves after a prayer. Old habits die hard. Especially the ones sewn into your heart.


5 responses to “Circumcised Heart

  1. Sophie says:

    I can completely relate to how you feel and what you’re going through. Your post hit the nail on the head for me and was so beautifully written. I think all converts go through this – we all have something that we find hard to let go of. For me, it’s gospel music, I’ve always loved worshipping to music – which is why I find it hard that there isn’t much Jewish worship music. I also had the same experience over Christmas, of joining in physically with the day but emotionally and spiritually, I felt nothing. Keep strong, keep reading, praying and examining your thoughts and feelings! All the best 🙂 x

    • Jenn says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Sophie. 🙂 I know, music is very powerful for me too. There is a lot of different Jewish music out there- you’ve got Debbie Friedman (folk), Blue Fringe (rock), Dan Nichols (also rock), Shlomo Carlbach (a blend of folk/Chasidic), the Maccabeats/Six13 (pop a cappella) and other various Israeli artists, to name a few. There’s nothing quite like gospel music, though.

  2. sjewindy says:

    Transitions are interesting things,

    Two thoughts of comfort. First, old habits die hard, and traditions can mean a lot–even when the thing that motivated the tradition originally no longer calls us in the same way.

    But more important, no one is only one identity. I’m Jewish and humanist. Others are Jewish and Catholic at the same time; culture is powerful!

    All of this makes you who you are–and none of us is the same person from moment to moment.

    • Jenn says:

      Thanks for your kind words. You’re right, none of us are just “one thing.” I recently listened to an interesting TED talk by Ash Beckham about holding multiple identities within yourself, and your thoughts really resonate with hers. I’ll try to keep them in mind as I move forward.

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