Thursday, December 25, 2008

Guest Poster: Funny thoughts about my conversion to Judaism

By Kay Ariella McKown
When you’ve decided that you’re going to convert, the kavannah is there, passion is there. What really gets in your way, I think, is the little things. There really needs to be a book written for us (and the BTs) outlining Jewish words slipped into the everyday vernacular. How am I supposed to know, in my first or second trip to my “Local Jewish Community” (LJC) when it is appropriate and timely to slide a “Baruch Hashem” into the conversation? Or what a Kiddush is and when it is appropriate to crash one? We could call it “Schmear: A New Jew’s Guide to Talking, Eating, and Doing Both at the Same Time”.
Better yet, we could create hundreds of new jobs by appointing frum seeing-eye people for the spiritual toddlers. It would save a lot of well-meaning hostesses from having to say things like: “No, NO!! Put the fork in the OTHER side of the sink! Oh, I didn’t mean to yell, it’s just that’s a milchig fork and the sink…” while you stand there feeling like a total ass. And you will, potential converts, trust me. Or things like, “Ooh, actually, we can’t do that on Shabbos”, and then five minutes later, “Ooh, actually we can’t do THAT on Shabbos, either”. “Oh, you want to be a singer? Let me tell you about Kol Isha”. (Ok, that example was probably a bit more specific than you needed).

If you’re like me, and you found Judaism rather than being born Jewish, at first you can’t wait to get up in the morning. You’re going to do more mitzvot than anyone else has ever done! Who cares if it ONLY takes you an hour and a half to daven in the morning because halfway through you gave up on the Hebrew and finished in English? All of a sudden, you’ve got a purpose. Or maybe you had purpose before, but NOW you’ve got G-d purpose. What could be more important than that? Hopefully your friends and family are supportive of you. They’ll have to listen to a LOT of Jewish this and Jewish that, and please take a second to appreciate them, because they deserve it if they listen. You’ll find Jewish friends and you’ll hang on their every word because hey, they totally know what it’s like.

Just keep on studying. You’re not subscribing to your neighbor Moshe’s brand of Judaism; you’re subscribing to the truth. Go to the source. And, since you can’t convert without one, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a good Rabbi that you can talk to. There may be some Rabbi’s in your LJC who don’t do conversions, but if your community is large enough, you’ll be able to find a good fit. Remember, this is the man who will be shepherding your entire conversion process; make it a worthwhile shidduch.

And then it happens–six months or so after you start studying. It stops being exciting - Remember when you got all psyched and proud because instead of having the unkosher potato skin flavor chips, you picked the Utz brand with the OU on it? It won’t always be as inspiring; it’ll start to become common place. So you worry. Maybe this isn’t for you. It IS a big decision. Like a new romance, maybe the bloom has faded from the rose.

You freak out! You’re still making the same choices, still shomer Shabbos, still kosher, still pushing your way through the Hebrew. But it doesn’t have the same sparkle. You might sleep in an hour instead of jumping out of bed to daven right away. You still daven, but you appreciate that extra hour of sleep. What does that mean? Why isn’t it the same? What aren’t you doing right? Answer: Nothing. Calm down. Folks, this is when you should rejoice. Congrats. This has now become a deep-seeded part of your life. It’s all right to have doubts, and its perfectly normal. Converting is a huge step. If you didn’t have any doubts whatsoever, I would be inclined to say that maybe you’re doing something wrong. This is a forever thing, not to be taken lightly. And, if it’s right for you, you will know. And nothing will be able to stop you.

Potential converts, prepare to hear “why we wash our hands before we eat bread” fifteen times. Prepare to spend three hours in the grocery store (unless you’re lucky enough to have a kosher store in your LJC) and emerge with almost nothing. Bid your fond goodbyes to fastfood and learn to love cholent. If you’ve been invited out for Shabbos, prepare beforehand. Look up the Torah portion (better yet, go to Shul), look up some commentary, and prepare to contribute.

Read everything you can. Ask people for books and book recommendations. If you can’t always make it to a class, at least you can still study. Does your Rabbi have an email address? It’s okay to flood his inbox. He would rather you asked the questions. Keep a notebook with you at all times, to jot things down you want to research later. You wouldn’t make a decision like this without being adequately prepared. So read. Hop on the internet and find other converts. Start a support group or something. You’ll need it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow.... (poem)

There is snow,
Everywhere I go,

I am bold,
To go out into the cold

It's too cold too roam,
better to head straight home

So, I can drink something hot,
as cold beverages, I'd rather not.

Tonight I will go schluffy
In PJ's extra warm and fluffy.

Perhaps, I will write again tomorrow,
The end of the poem is a sorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vayashev-Michal's synopsis of the parshah

This is the first parshah I read while in the process of conversion. Two years ago, I was at Rabbi Buchwald’s beginner services and he was reading this parshah and inserting his scholarly comments. I can still hear him scraping his throat on the name of the city Shechem.

Early in the parshah, Joseph is having dreams that indicate that he is or will be above the rest of his family. Either their sheaves bows to his sheaf in the field or the sun moon and stars were bowing to him. I would like to stop here for a second. Why is the world did Joseph share this with his brothers? He should have kept his mouth shut!

So Jacob’s brothers stuff him in a well but, change their mind and sell him to the Midianite Arabs, instead.

The next exciting discussion topic in this parshah is the discussion of spilling seed. I remember sitting through a discussion of this part of G-d’s word back when I was high school-aged and I was in church. The pastor there talked about how some people interpret this to mean spilling seeds ever. I wonder if he said it was the Jewish view. I don't remember but, every time I read this, I wonder. The point was that this man was spilling seed to avoid having children in the name of his brother and widow Tamar. These children would not have carried his name at all so, the man didn't see it worth it to have children. Garbage collection: Hashem takes him away.

There is one more brother available to fulfill this obligation to give children to Tamar and this first husband of hers, Shelah. Only Shelah must have been really young. Judah, the father of all these boys told Tamar to wait until he grew up. Really Judah thought that somehow giving Shelah to this woman, as required would cause Shelah to die. So, pretended to be a religious prostitute and got pregnant by the withholding father.

Isn’t the Torah juicy? Can you imagine a “religious prostitute”? We don’t have any of those today. Well, she kept some of his stuff and when he was upset that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, she whips out his stuff… like saying, “Ha, busted!”

Living in this time, we may not get this. So, I will break it down. This father was obligated to have her become pregnant through his family, the family of her first husband. The normal choice was to do so with the youngest brother. He made excuses in order to impede that choice. So she tricked the father and had a child by him. It’s still weird, right? We don’t do stuff like this today. Baruch Hashem. Oh, yeah, and she had twin boys.

So, then we’re back to Joseph. He was Potiphar’s assistant in Egypt. Potiphar’s wife got greedy and wanted some of young and handsome Joseph. I guess Potiphar was too old or busy to keep her happy enough. When she couldn’t get what she wanted, she accused Joseph of trying to rape her. Author comment: she wishes…

So they throw him in prison. Hashem causes him to be able to interpret dreams of the baker and the wine guy. That’s the end of this week’s parshah…

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Judaism versus the other guy...

Judaism and Xtianity: The Differences by Trude Weiss-Rosmarin dissects the differences between the two religions. Some aspects of this include: the G-d idea, miracles, sin, earthly pleasures, faith vs. law and J. I intend to mix book summary with personal experience to discuss this topic. Therefore some may find things in this discussion that are not in the book.

The Jewish G-d idea is monotheistic. The Xtian G-d is the trinity. If you talk to a Xtian, they will tell you they are monotheistic, however this is not accurate. Their argument is that G-d takes three different forms but, that it’s still one G-d. However, one of these forms is supposed to be a human form. If you take that away, there can be no “father” and thus you just get one G-d. A kindergarten math lesson would tell you that if you take away two so that you get one, you did not start with one, but three. Not too mention, if G-d is Omnipotent and Eternal how can He allow Himself to take a form that is power-restricted and transitory?

In Judaism, miracles are a foot note. In Xtianity, especially Catholicism, they are central to the religion. Weiss-Rosmarin points out that many have been duplicated by “black magic.” Thus, they do not seem to be that great of a litmus test upon which someone would base their faith in which version of G-d is our Creator. Another point to be made is that if faith is more important than works in Xtianity, why then, do they need their god to prove himself to them? What happened to the importance of faith?

In Judaism, sin is the result of choices made against G-d’s will. You atone for it by changing your behavior or asking for forgiveness and meaning it. In Xtianity, sin is something with which you are born in your soul. You atone for it by belief in J who was god’s son and also god, according to them. This god was then crucified for everyone’s sins. How can G-d be Eternal and yet die? How can G-d hate the sacrifice of one’s children and yet do what he hates? Does it make sense for an Omnipotent being to do what he hates?

In Judaism, earthly pleasures are something G-d gave us to enjoy while we are here, in moderation. In Xtianity, the ideal is the monk living in the mountains having given everything up. He does not get married and have kids. He has no money. He does not wear nice clothes. He does not eat steak or hot fudge sundaes. He does not drive a convertible on a sunny day with the wind in his hair. The only thing he gets that the Jewish guy does not get is a ham and cheese sandwich. Is this a sensible trade off?

In Judaism, the law rules over faith. In Xtianity, faith rules over law. At least that’s how it seems on the surface. The author of this paper sees it another way. In Judaism, you follow the law that the Creator laid down for you because you have faith. If you didn’t have faith, you would not think that He gave the Torah, so you would just do what you want, no? In Xtianity, they work on faith. They are on step one. The Jews are on step two.

In Judaism, views of J vary. Some hold that he is a false prophet. Some say that he was a rabbi. Most certainly, he was a mortal. The author of this paper has nicknamed him
”the hustler,” because those who believe in him have obviously been hustled. In Xtianity, he is the cornerstone of the religion. He is god-incarnate. He was both god and a mortal. Again, how can a mortal also be god?

In conclusion, Judaism is obviously a more advanced religion. Jews can do math and grasp that one god minus two gods equals negative one for the religion. Jews do not need miracles to prove their faith. The Jewish G-d does not call His People “sinner” until the sin has happened. The Jews are encouraged to enjoy life (with proper moderation.) The Jews follow the law since faith is already there. Additionally, J was not our Eternal G-d, since he was not eternal, he was a mortal.

From my old stand up routine...

Some of it had to be edited out, either because it has to be performed or because it wasn't appropriate for someone who's become a religious Jewish girl to post....

I have to warn you up front…. I may be a little hyper tonight… I you see… I…. um…. Well… I couldn’t find my Ritalin before I came.

Guys and their bad pick up lines crack me up. I’m at the Laundromat folding a sheet. This guy asked me if I was going to Atlanta. Yes, because they only use sheets in Atlanta, so, if I’m folding one, I must be going there…. imagine look-90 percent perplexed, 10 percent annoyed.

This guy sent me several Emails asking me to call him because he said he was too technically-challenged for Email. But, he was able to send those Emails. But, hey, I’m blonde, I couldn’t possibly figure out what he was up to.

Some advice to the ladies: When guys ask where your father is, they are about to run game on you. They want to make sure he’s not around to have your back. I like to tell them, “don’t worry about where he is. I was in the Army and I know how to shoot an M16. It's me you have to worry about.” At which point they usually walk away. Some who are particularly dumb, don't get it and I walk away.

Or how about when you're walking down the street at night and the men drive real slow next to you? "I have your license plate number and I'm calling the cops." ZOOOOM, they take off.

For the Latin crowd: Don’t you love when white people try to speak Spanish? Yo hablo es-pan-olo The "H" in "hablo" of course being pronounced.

I may be a cracker…. But I’m not a boring WHITE cracker…. Like a saltine…. A chez-it is much more accurate choice. Since I’m a cheesy cracker myself.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

ADHD and Judaism come together....

So, there's this thing from the Aruch Hashulhan instructs you in the "Jewish" manner of tying your shoes. For those of you who aren't familiar with this, you are supposed to don the right shoe, don the left shoe, tie (or in the case of my boots, zip) the left *then* tie (zip, velcro whatever) the right.

When I got home today the right boot was unzipped. That means I had one unzipped boot for about five hours. I'll be alright... I thought I had more kavanah than usual davening today... I suppose it came from the lack of kavanah while donning my shoes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Everyone wants to set me up but, no one really wants me to get married

I want to beef about the Orthodox Jewish manner in which mates are selected for you. Unfortunately, most of what I have to say has probably been said so very many times. When one is looking for a spouse in the Orthodox Jewish world, they go to a matchmaker known as a shadchan. If the match gets married, this is known as a shidduch.

One problem in the Orthodox world is that EVERYONE wants to be a shadchan. I mean, yes, it's a mitzvah to make a match, but, it's not so simple. A real shadchan spends hours pouring over their laptop looking at their spreadsheets trying to find two people who seem like they belong together FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.

At best, these amateur wannabe shadchans try picking out someone they they want to marry off and they put them at a table for a meal with a bunch of people of the opposite gender hopefully are age appropriate and remotely compatible.

Unfortunately, more often than not, they are trying to set people they don't know well enough to determine if they are compatible. Someone recently invited me over for a meal. When I was there, it comes out that they invited someone for my benefit, but they didn't say it outright. He wasn't even Orthodox. He was Conservadox.

Another type of attempt at a shidduch that I would like to vent about is what I call the "Beauty and The Beast" type. This is where a man women don't want, usually a dirty old man, persuades people to try to coerce a girl into to dating him. They usually use some awfully grimey tactics, too. They try to make you sit next to the person. They will get together a whole shul and make sure that the seat next to him is the only one available. They will invite him over when they've invited you over. When you're in the kitchen washing for bread, they will have sent him in behind you and no one else is waiting to wash. They pretend they are interviewing you for a job then they bring up how they have someone for you. They scream and yell at you. They tell you if you don't settle for one of these HORRIBLE HORRIBLE men, you'll be alone for the rest of your life.

I will gladly take the trade off. When you marry someone you spend the rest of your life with them. You touch them and do other things with them. You bring children into the world together. If I don't want to be in the same room with a man, he's not a good candidate to be my husband.

I miss the good ol' days when I was still in conversion and I could just say, "I'm not allowed to date."

Self Introduction

I thought it would be appropriate to start my blog off with an introduction.

I'm Michal. I grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo as Nicole. Now I live in Queens. I started studying for conversion on the 26th of Elul in 5766. I completed it 2 Hebrew years later, on the nose: 26 Elul 5768.

I studied very hard. I learned to read, speak and write Hebrew. I read 32? 33 books? I read all kinds of stuff online, mostly when I wanted specific information. Early this year, I found a shul where they let me daven there in the morning before work. The rabbi there actually answers my questions. This was very good because before that I had a rabbi who agreed to be my conversion rabbi but, he didn't really speak to me so much.

Through someone from this shul where I have my question answering rabbi, I got my final conversion rabbi. Although, those last months still seemed like an eternity.