Although you might think that Lisa, my Jewish-by-birth partner, asked me to take a URJ the Introduction to Judaism course with her to learn more about Judaism and Jewish life, quite the contrary is true.
I asked her.
Lisa had introduced me to Judaism through some holidays and rituals, but never with the idea that I would develop any independent interest in it. It was “her thing” that she sometimes shared with me, and that could have been the end of it.
As it turned out, though, I became a bit obsessed – reading Jewish book after Jewish book and even teaching myself to read Hebrew. The Introduction to Judaism class provided a structure to supplement the constant researching and exploring I already was doing on my own, and I saw it as a way to gauge my progress.
While I did learn new things in the class, the most valuable aspect of Intro to Judaism was that it offered a vehicle for new relationships to form and grow. For example, I met more rabbis than I had ever known before, each with his or her own interests and spin on our Jewish learning. These introductions gave Lisa and me somewhere to turn with our Jewish questions.
We also were lucky to be in class with several other LGBT couples, some of whom are still our friends today. My partner and I both are queer-identified, and I am transgender, and it was affirming to be welcomed into a Jewish space with others like us. We also met several other couples in which one partner had been raised Jewish and the other Catholic, which, as it turns out, is something of a pattern. We didn’t just meet couples, either. Some of my favorite conversations were with students attending the class alone, either out of curiosity about Judaism or because they were pursuing conversion. I felt a strong need to assert an independent relationship with Judaism, and I learned so much about how to do that from the solo participants in our class.
Most of all, the class gave us a structure in which we could discuss Judaism together. Sometimes, Lisa would react to a reading or a moment in class in a way that I didn’t expect, opening up a spaces for us to talk about the Judaism of her childhood. Together, we talked about her Hebrew school experience, her bat mitzvah, her parents’ Judaism, and more. I talked about the way I was coming to understand Jewish rituals and ideas that were completely new to me and why they did (or did not) resonate with me. Over time, we both went from seeing Judaism as “her thing” to “our thing.”
I later decided to convert, but no one – neither Lisa nor anyone in the Intro class – ever asked or expected me to do so. Happily, she and I also decided to get married. As I write this on the cusp of conversion, and one month before our wedding, I am excited about our Jewish future together. I know that the conversations we had during Intro to Judaism helped us start to build the foundation for that future.
Visit Introduction to Judaism for more information or to find a class in your area.