"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.
Related Blog Posts on B'nei Mitzvah and Conversion
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.
A common sentiment among Jewish-affiliated teens seems to be, after your b'nei mitzvah, religious school is over, right? Sure, you might come back for confirmation in a few years, but there's no real reason to stay involved. You're Jewish. You know that, your family knows that, and your friends know that. Staying involved is kind of a waste of time. Right? Actually, no. Even if you've had your b'nei mitzvah, there are benefits to staying involved with your Hebrew School and your religious education.
I love seeing how our students at Temple Shalom of Newton transform throughout the process of becoming BMitzvah. It's the end of my first year coordinating the BMitzvah program and my colleague Allison Lobron, an experienced leader in inclusion and social emotional learning, and I are hosting an end of year celebration for our BMitzvah students.
After two years of teaching remotely and watching far too many movies and television series on Netflix on the same computer screen I use to interact with these students, I wonder if I feel less connected to these "virtual" students than the hundreds of young people I taught in person over the past decades.