Posted on: May 23, 2011
“Nope, not a Jew yet.”
“Well, how long does it take?”
“It depends, really, usually at least a year.”
“So, how do they make you a Jew?”
Only a few days after pouring through Chicago Carless’ blog I found myself in that converation at work yesterday. Two months ago my sister asked the same thing, “You’re not Jewish yet? How long does it take?”
If you have ever attended a Baptist Church towards the end of the service the music will get a little lower, a little more somber, and the pastor will come down from the pulpit and ask if anyone listening to the service today would like to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. I remember the day when my sister and I accepted Jesus Christ as our personal savior-it wasn’t an option, it wasn’t a spiritual calling, I wasn’t moved by the message-it was discussed on the car ride to church. That day, my mother informed us, we would be accepting Christ as our personal saviour. When Mrs. Davis said something was so-it was.
Up we marched, along with crying men and women who’d felt something spiritual, emotional, a pull towards the divine to the front of the church. After everyone who was going to decide to accept Christ had done so we were taken off to a seperate room. I don’t remember what happened in that room but a few weeks later I was in the baptismal pool an hour before service waist-deep in the warm water with the pastor at my side asking me, once again, if I would accept Christ as my personal saviour. I didn’t, and I wanted to say so but you’ve all read this part before.
Thing is, there is no year-long study to become a Christian. Sure, if you want to become a Catholic there are a few hoops to jump through but you’re pretty much accepted as a Christian when you declare that Jesus is lord. Growing up, my sister and witnessed at least a dozen or more people every week “become” Christian. It’s not that easy to become a Jew, I like to remind everyone. You don’t march up to the front of the synagogue declare yourself Jewish and get thrown into the mikvah after two weeks or so. It takes time and it takes work.
The average time to convert to Judaism for a non-Orthodox conversion takes at least a year. In some cases, like my buddy Mike, it only takes 9 months. In that year you’ll read a lot. You’ll study, and you should be actively involved in a Jewish community and living a Jewish life. So where am I? I don’t quite know what my rabbis think and some mornings I wake up and I don’t know what I think.
Some of the things you’re asked by the beit din is if you will live a Jewish life, raise a Jewish family, and create a Jewish home. I can confidently answer yes to all three of those questions. I currently live a Jewish life. When I pray to God, I pray to God and don’t feel like I’m missing out on Jesus. Jesus holds a huge part of my past and will continue to hold a part of my future but not in the Christian way. My idea of Jesus was always counter to the world’s opinion of Jesus for many reasons. 1. I think Jesus married Mary Magdalen. 2. I don’t think Jesus was an only child. 3. I don’t think Jesus was the son of God, but rather a prophet with an important message. 4. I don’t think Jesus was the messiah. 5. I don’t think Jesus was white. 6. I agree with the movie Dogma and pretty much think Jesus was a black man and there was a 13th apostle left out of the Bible because he was black. Okay, that may be a bit far but the point is that my idea of who Jesus was and was not isn’t Christian.
The part that I struggle with, in terms of my Jewish identity, is the idea of Jewish community-specifically my Jewish synagogue community. While I belong to the synagogue that I’m converting in, I tend to attend service at various other synagogues in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I actually like to go to several synagogues to get a better idea of what I’d like out of my Jewish community and to be frank-I haven’t found it yet and I might have to realize that it might not exist. In my ideal Jewish Community, if I could create one, the message that “We accept all” would truly be embraced. I would walk into a shul and see other brown faces. I would see queer couples. People would be participants in worship and not spectators. The music would be engaging, meaningful, and inspire you to sing along rather than listen. There would be movement in prayer. There would be children running around. There would be people of color. There would be young people engaged in their Judaism. There would be old people. People who wear kippahs and hair coverings would pray next to people with bare heads and arms. It would be a space rather than a place where people connect with one another as well as with God. It would be just as much about what happens outside of the 4 walls of the shul as what happens within its walls.
Does this kind of Jewish Utopia exist? I’m not sure. Mirs keeps telling me to create it, and perhaps in the future I will. When I sat down in Astoria, Queens to chat with Lucian from Schmekel we talked about different communities-both queer and Jewish. The great thing about New York is that there is a large queer community, just as there is a large Jewish community. Those are sort of blanket terms though. Within the large Queer community of NYC there are smaller communities just like within the large bubble of Jewish Community you will find smaller sub-communities. So you feel like, especially in NYC you’re part of something, when sometimes you’re not. Lucian and I discussed how when you leave New York the communities become more tight-knit and lean on its members more because it’s really all that you have. I don’t feel like I should have to wait until I leave New York to find my ideal Jewish community and I don’t. My Jewish community is found in many spaces. It’s in the back yard of a friend’s house plotting a garden. It’s around a table in my apartment for Pesach. It’s on Friday night in Shul and it’s on a Saturday morning with my partner.