a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Hanukkah, and other things I learned in Conversion Class

Posted on: February 9, 2011

Tonight’s conversion class was about Chanukah.  I gotta be real, I was sort of thinking about skipping tonight because I felt like I knew almost everything there was to know about Hanukkah, including different ways of spelling it.  Last trimester, our last class was on the first night of Hanukkah and we lit the Hanukkah Menorah together while saying the blessings.  Then we learned all about Chanukah and you know what, I learned more tonight.

I’m not going to regal you of all that we learned.  I will say that  what I did learn or gather was an appreciation for the people I’m in class with.  We’ve been together for a few months now, with a month in between and some of us come regularly and sometimes we miss a few.  The women who are converting get to spend only a half hour together before the others join us for the Basic Judaism class, but there’s something incredibly relaxing about Wednesday nights.

One of my friends, an Orthodox Jewish woman, commented on my Shabbat Challenge post that Shabbat was always spent traditionally for her, that it was a time for her to reset.  Shabbat still is so much about learning for me and while I love Shabbat, I look forward to it, and I enjoy my time in shul, I don’t feel like I’m resetting.  I feel like I’m learning.  I’m learning the rhythm of the chants, I’m learning the variations on songs, I’m learning the prayers, I’m learning the meaning behind prayers.  On Wednesdays, when I’m supposed to be learning, I feel like I’m resetting.

It is possibly because on Wednesdays I’m spending time with people who I’m getting to know more.  I’m spending time with people who are going through the same journey as I.  I’m spending time with people who get me and get what I say, even if they don’t.  It’s only a few hours, as opposed to the full day of  Shabbos but I really look forward to it.  It has me wondering, what will happen when it’s all over.

In a couple of weeks we’ll finish up this trimester and the last trimester will begin.  Sometime after that when the time comes for us to go to the mikvah and beit din we’ll all be Jews.  We won’t be Jews-to-Be or conversion students we’ll be Jews.  In our discussion of Chanukkah we talked about how it is celebrated and the sometimes very lost meaning behind the holiday.   Some people feel like it’s a time to spend time with friends and family.  Some people feel it’s a time to exchange gifts.  Some feel like it’s a time to remember the rededication of the Temple.  Some people feel like it’s all about the miracle of the oil.  But how is that relevant to what and who we are today, right now in 2011/5771

Our rabbi encouraged us to find meaning, our own personal meaning, behind the rituals and Holidays in the Jewish calendar so that they resonate with us in a personal way.  It sounded like an easy charge but it’s actually pretty daunting.  It’s something that I’m confident will change over time as I learn more and decide what’s best for me.  It helped me to realize that taking time to learn and figure out what works best for me is also a process.

There are so many aspects of Judaism that forever swirl in my head; kashrut, Pesach seder, tichel vs. kippah, do I really want to be reform or conservative (or orthodox), how to apply to rabbinical school, how do I really feel about Israel, when can I visit Israel, when will I check out a Sephardic shul, an orthodox shul, a conservative shul, a black shul…  The list goes on and on and there’s comfort in knowing that I won’t know the answers right now and that I don’t need to know the answers right now.

Rabbi S. gave us a packet about Chanukah tonight with the following opening quote that I found inspiring.  It made me realize that I’m not on this journey of Judaism alone.  It’s beyond amazing how much my love of Judaism has inspired Mirs and her Judaism.  I know that I’m doing this conversion with the people in my class and people around the world I’ve never met and I’ll meet other Jews throughout my life who I’ll learn with and from and hopefully those I meet and  may never meet will walk  this journey with me.

Rabbi Jose said : “I was long perplexed by this verse, ‘And you shall grope at noonday as the blind gropes in darkness’ (Deuteronomy 28:29).  Now, what difference does it make to a blind man whether it is dark or light?  Once I was walking on a pitch black night when I saw a blind man walking with a torch in his hands.  I asked him: ‘Why do you carry a torch?’   He replied, ‘As long as the torch is in my hand, people can see me and walk beside me”

Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 24b

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