It’s something hard to describe. A journey is a process, a change of heart, a decision…and so much more. A period of time when you change your life—forever.
I hope that by sharing my personal story here, I can give an insight about the thoughts, feelings, emotions and moments which I experienced throughout my journey. Throughout my process.
I’m aware some might never understand…or rather, they don’t want to understand. I know some might judge me. But I write this for those who might be inspired by my story, by my journey. For those who feel misunderstood and alone. And for those who want to understand and be aware.
People have asked me before when I decided to convert. Expecting me to give them the exact date or time when I mysteriously felt a calling toward the greater good. That’s not how it went. I could tell you when I had my first interaction with Judaism, and how I grew up in a Jewish environment, how the community wasn’t “new” for me. But I would much rather focus on the “why”, instead of the “when”.
I had a choice—I could either walk away and do what I’d been doing my whole life, or I could change the whole course of my life.
You see, it doesn’t really matter when I became religious, and I doubt how my first visit to a synagogue at age 11 would inspire someone. I’d like to think that what inspires people is how it happened, and why I came from one place and then elevated myself to another.
We have free choices, right? Good or bad. So in life, all the choices we make lead us to where we are today. That’s the beauty of it. G-d gives us the option to do whatever we think we desire, but then He also gives us the option to connect with Him and live according to His rules. Coming from a place where you think everything is allowed (unless maybe you consider the law, but even that is up for discussion at times), you may think this lifestyle is suffocating because you’re putting boundaries—His boundaries—and limitations on your life.
But in reality, it’s freeing. I used to always think I was “relaxing or taking time off” by intoxicating myself with a few drinks, and then dancing it off. Never allowing my body or soul to rest. To just be. Always feeling the pressure of society and others…but mostly my own. “Do I look good enough to go to the club? Does this top make me look bad?” I never actually took the time to take a step back and reflect. Sure, I went on vacation, or had these moments of “relaxation”. But I just wasn’t aware. It’s not something you realize you’re missing when you’re not shomer Shabbat.
And that’s not really how I started down this path, anyway. These thoughts—and this mindset—only come after. After you realize what you’re doing is good. So, how do we create this mindset?
Let me first tell you that I’ve always believed in G-d. I can’t remember a day I didn’t. Which is extraordinary, since I grew up in a non-religious family. Sure, I’ve been baptized and everything, but to be honest, we never really spoke about it. Even as I’m writing this, I’m truly wondering what my mom’s thoughts on G-d actually are. I’ve never asked her about it before.
Anyway, after my few experiences with Judaism, I started wondering what it would be like to truly be connected with your religion. How it would feel to really know you’re doing okay. Because the truth is, I always knew in the back of my mind that I didn’t do enough. I knew G-d existed, and I believed in Him, but what was I doing to honor that belief? To honor Him?
I didn’t know what to do in order to honor Him. I didn’t know how to connect. I’d talk to Him from time to time, but then I would mostly feel guilt, since I’d only ask Him for things, but wouldn’t do anything in return. And furthermore, I had no one to ask these questions to. I didn’t connect with the religion I had grown up with. So who was there to guide me? I didn’t have anyone to turn to, since this isn’t exactly something you tell your parents back home: “Hey, I know I’m young and all, but I am really interested in a different religion, so can I change now?”
Life happened, and I got busy doing other things. And then a couple things happened which changed the direction of my life, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
I met my husband in 2016. And I know what some might think—“Oh, this (great) story is just about a convert who converted to get married.” But no, it isn’t. My husband plays a significant role in my story, my journey, my life, but he plays this role because G-d put him there. I needed him in order to be where I am today…and he needed me to be where he is, as well.
I remember one of our very first “dates”—if you can even call it a date, since all we did was sit on his couch and talk about life. We were discussing beliefs, and I told him my story. He was very clear—he couldn’t be with someone who was not Jewish or would not consider becoming Jewish. He might not even remember saying this now, but it was a sentence which changed my life. A sentence that was put there.
I had a choice—I could either walk away and do what I’d been doing my whole life, or I could change the whole course of my life. Walk the same path or explore a different one. I had to think hard and deep. It wasn’t an easy decision at all. Maybe I took it more seriously than how he meant it, since he never, ever—let’s be clear on that—asked me to convert. He desired to live a religious life in the back of his mind, yes. But he never pushed me into doing anything.
So, I chose to take a different path. Explore. Since I knew I was missing something. But it wasn’t until some years had passed that my (and I think I can even say “our”) journey really began. As I said, neither my husband nor his family needed me to convert. We married by law, and for awhile, we thought we were fine. Living a secular life and not knowing what great things we were missing.
Then, after moving around a lot, life led us back to my hometown, where we have quite a big Jewish community. And another amazing thing happened.
I bumped into an old colleague of mine who was learning with a pre-giur (conversion) teacher. I took down the teacher’s number. And I have to say that this weird feeling of giving up my life for the unknown came back. The feeling I thought I had already overcome had returned. I was now struggling with myself about making this huge step. This could change my life forever. I was going up against myself, my husband, everything I knew. I understood that at some point, I’d have to completely change if I really wanted this.
This is when I realized that all the things I had been through in my life—my rough childhood, which made me work a lot, bumping into this colleague, having a grandma who lived in the Jewish neighborhood and meeting my husband, who happened to be Jewish—were leading me up to this moment.
That’s when I knew. This was my choice. All that I had experienced in my life made sense. All my decisions had led me to this—right here, right now.
I could have walked away. Out of fear of the unknown, out of the desire to keep my life the way it was. But I didn’t. I accepted that I would change, and I was now ready to start my process.