Today is May 23rd, 2017 -
“For Those Interested in Converting to Judaism”
by Rabbi Andy Vogel
At Shabbat services on a Friday night coming up this summer, two people will step forward to the Bimah in our Sanctuary, stand before the Ark, and they will recite the Shema. They will embrace the Torah, accept Judaism as their religion and the Jewish people as their people, and complete their conversion to Judaism. This will be a beautiful and holy moment for them and for our community, as we embrace them.
As a rabbi, one of my greatest joys is working with many people who are setting out on the journey of choosing to become Jewish. At present, I am currently working with no fewer than eleven adult conversion students (and new people approach me all the time). Each of them is embarking on a personal journey of exploring Judaism in their own unique ways. Each of these adults studying to convert to Judaism is discovering his or her own relationship with God, exploring his or her relationship to the Jewish people and Jewish history, and taking on Jewish practices and ethical teachings in his or her own ways. Conversion to Judaism is a wonderful, transformative experience.
According to Jewish tradition, on the festival of Shavu’ot, the whole Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai, where we were offered the Torah, and accepted upon ourselves the blessing of Torah and relationship with God. During this month, on Shavu’ot (this year, it begins on Sunday evening, June 8), we all choose Judaism once again. I want to highlight those who are involved in this personal exploration, and gently encourage all who might appreciate this journey to consider choosing to be Jewish.
The process of converting to Judaism is very private, and happens quietly and behind-the-scenes, but it is so powerful and meaningful. Why do people choose to convert to Judaism? There are as many reasons as there are individuals choosing to be Jewish. Many of the students I am working with are involved in a relationship with someone Jewish and want to share Judaism with their partner. Others are on a spiritual search, having had a meaningful encounter of some sort to Jewish ideas and practices – some of these people have been living in a Jewish family for years, making Passover Seders and lighting Shabbat candles, when they discover that they want to actually become Jewish. Whatever the reason for entering into the process, the journey unfolds in new and unexpected ways for each person.
Is conversion the right choice for everyone? No. I know that choosing to become Jewish is a very personal decision. There are many reasons why conversion is not the right path for many people who are not Jewish, but may be married to, or partners of, Jews in our congregation. As I’ve written in the past, the non-Jewish members of Temple Sinai are an important part of our community, and I hope they always feel comfortable at Temple Sinai, which strives to be diverse and inclusive. But for those who do choose to become Jewish, for whom the decision does feel right, it is a meaningful experience.
Conversion is a unique and personal experience. I meet regularly with each conversion student privately for no less than a one-year period. Conversion includes study and reflection about Jewish theology, identity and relationships, Jewish history, prayer, community, personal practice, Jewish spirituality, Israel, holidays, and God. I urge all students to participate in one of the Union for Reform Judaism’s “Introduction to Judaism” courses (we’ll host another course at Temple Sinai next winter), another rich path of Jewish learning.
After the study and preparation are complete, we go to the beautiful Mayyim Hayyim mikveh (ritual bath) in West Newton, and the convert immerses in a pool of water, symbolizing the womb, a ritual spiritual “re-birth.” This is another holy and beautiful moment. Once a person has immersed and emerged from the waters, he or she is considered fully Jewish. Hearing the three splashes of water and the convert reciting the blessings from the other side of the door at the mikveh, I am always moved knowing that a new person is entering the Jewish community. And then… we celebrate! Family members rejoice, and we pronounce the new Hebrew name the convert has chosen. Their Jewish journey, of course, continues.
Our entire community is strengthened by having so many people recently choose to become Jewish. We embrace all of them. I want to extend the invitation to anyone who is ready to take the first steps on this meaningful journey. It will be my honor and blessing to stand with you each step of the way, as you join our community and people, through this rich, unfolding and holy experience of discovery.
– Rabbi Andy Vogel
What to do if you want to convert to Judaism:
Step 1 – Call or email Rabbi Vogel to make a first appointment.
Step 2 – Enroll in the Reform movement’s 16-week “Introduction to Judaism” class, offered four-five times per year by the Reform Jewish Outreach Boston (RJOB). You can call to register, at (617) 928-0012. Also, please check out their website, which can tell you more about this excellent “Introduction to Judaism” class, and all the other courses they offer, and also more about choosing Judaism: http://www.
Step 3 – Read, as your first assignment, Anita Diamant’s wonderful book, “Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends”
Step 4 – Consider joining us at Temple Sinai to attend Shabbat services on a Friday night (check the schedule to see if services begin at 7:30 p.m. or at 6:00 p.m.), where you’ll meet members of our congregation, including other people who are in the process of converting to Judaism. Click here for directions to Temple Sinai. Our services are always open to the entire community, and we look forward to welcoming you!