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.