In Judaism, I Finally Found My Spiritual Home
My foray into Judaism came unexpectedly with a gift from my mother – a menorah. My grandmother's father was Jewish, but none of our family members after him was raised Jewish. The beautiful menorah, intended as a symbol of our lineage, led me to celebrate Hanukkah for the first time. Reading more about what the holiday meant and the rituals associated with it became the starting point of my relationship with Judaism. I wanted to know more.
Once I knew I wanted to convert to Judaism, I wanted to share my decision with my friends and family in what I now call “my second coming out.” I started with my mother, who was very encouraging about my decision – and even remarked that she might have made the same one! Next was my grandmother, the one whose grandfather was Jewish; I knew she would be thrilled. As time went on, I told more and more people, all of whom were very supportive.
Next, I attended an Introduction to Judaism course, which laid a solid foundation for me. From the moment I started this journey, I noticed a positive change in my life that only can be attributed to my study of Judaism.
I began to see how important it is to take time to rest and recharge. As I learned about Shabbat, I became aware of the importance of slowing down in life and being present. My new Shabbat observance created an opportunity during my week to rejuvenate, relax, and regain focus on what’s important, like friends, family, and my community. Saying goodbye to Shabbat through Havdalah also prepares me for the week ahead by creating a sense of peace; I look upon the lit, braided candle and keep that image in my mind when the work week proves challenging.
I’ve created a Jewish home that serves as my sanctuary, one with menorahs displayed on shelves and books from my Intro to Judaism class neatly stacked on my coffee table. Also on display are the Shabbat candleholders my mother gave me, as well as a challah cover she made for me, alongside my Kiddush cup. As I continue my journey with Judaism, I hope the stack of books will grow and that I’ll start a small collection of Jewish art to hang on the walls. I hope to one day be able to host Shabbat dinner with friends and family – gentile and Jew alike.
I’ve also begun to acknowledge my responsibility to make the world a better place through tikkun olam (repair of the world). In my study of Judaism, I began making a conscious effort to evaluate interactions in my daily life, a direct result of attending Selichot services during the High Holidays. I’ve become more compassionate toward others and have realized the importance of tzedakah (charity), prompting me to make contributions when I am able.
I decided on the Hebrew name of Yehoshua David, which isn’t much of a leap from my secular name, Joshua David. The name I was given at birth was already quite biblical, and it’s one I wanted to carry forward. After reading up about both Joshua and David in the Torah, I’ve come to see that both exhibit characteristics of leadership that I admire and hope to achieve. Yeshoshua, the protégé of Moses, became the leader after Moses’ death and led the Jews into the land of Canaan; David was a warrior and is believed to be the writer or editor of the Psalms.
A menorah brought me to Judaism, so it was fitting that the date of my conversion fell on the third day of Hanukkah. Early in my conversion process, the idea of sitting in front of three rabbis to talk about my journey made me anxious, but the rabbis were warm and welcoming; there were no trick questions.
Ultimately, I was warmly welcomed into the tribe and was asked to read aloud the Declaration of Jewish Commitment. It was an exciting and emotional moment, followed by my immersion in the mikveh (ritual bath). Never did my conversion feel more real than when I was told, upon my final immersion, that when I came up, I would say the Sh’ma for the first time as a Jew.
During this journey, I’ve been asked: “Why?” In Judaism, I found meaningful rituals in which fire and wine are sanctified and made holy, where good deeds and freedom of thought are encouraged. I found a history of peoplehood that I have taken on as my own. From the time I left the Christian church, I sought a spiritual home – a place of tolerance and acceptance. In Judaism, I’ve found exactly that.