Before Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959, Cuba was home to over 15,000 Jews. However, by the time I was born in 1988, that number had dwindled to approximately 1,500. For most Jews, Cuba had become a transit point on their way to the United States. Nevertheless, a few families, like mine, chose to remain. When he rose to power, Castro imposed restrictions on religious practices. Although these policies were not specifically aimed at Jews, we were still negatively impacted. My mother and Aunt Lulu would whisper "Ma’oz Tzur," share stories of the Hanukkah gifts from Abuelo Abraham, and tell us about the delicious apple walnut charoset their Bobbe used to make. My sister recently reminded me that we used to ask Mami: "If that charoset is so delicious, why don’t we make it?"
Related Blog Posts on Conversion, Hispanic Heritage, Introduction to Judaism, and Jews of Color
During the Spanish Inquisition, there were plenty of ways that one could be identified as a Jew. One way people would identify their neighbors as Jews was observing whether they would eat non-kosher food that was popular with the Christian population such as pork, sausage, or fish without scales.
"What are you?" was a question I was often asked in New York City. At first, I did not understand. Having grown up in San Antonio, Texas during the Jim Crow era, there was no doubt in my mind. During Jim Crow, Americans were defined by their skin color. I was not Black, but neither was I white. Therefore, I reasoned, I must be Mexican.
Even before I finalized my conversion to Judaism, I was preparing to celebrate my adult bar mitzvah. In a sense, my conversion preparation became a precursor to bigger plans: for a bar mitzvah and a Jewish vow renewal ceremony with my wife Laurie later this year.
On Shavuot, many of us study the Book of Ruth. Lauded by Rabbinic tradition as a righteous convert, Ruth’s story continues to resonate with the experiences of many Jews-by-choice today.
I’m feeling very peaceful today. I went to the mikvah this morning. I was a little nervous, just because official rites of passage can be a little scary. But I knew everyone was going to be super nice and supportive (and they were!).
My grandmother once told me about her father's family, and we bonded over learning about one of our most famous ancestors, Mary, Queen of Scots. Years later, I did some genealogical research while on maternity leave to keep my mind sharp and give me something to focus on outside the realm of taking care of a newborn.
Our tradition teaches that once someone has converted to Judaism, they are as Jewish as a Jew by birth and we are not to speak of it again with them, or with anyone else. It should be as if they have always been Jewish. To not speak of it is to fully honor the person who chose Judaism by not making any distinctions between them and the born-Jewish members of our communities.
As I stood at the top of the steps of the pool of warm water, I could feel my feet tingle with anticipation. The feeling slowly enveloped my body, moving steadily up my legs, to my core, my heart and my mind. The feeling did not agitate or annoy, it was like a blanket of calmness and serenity. I stood at the top of the steps looking down into the mikvah. I took a breath and descended slowly until I stood fully in the water.
Amy Albertson (she/her) is a Chinese Jewish advocate and online educator living in Northern California. She works as a social media consultant for Jewish organizations.