|Taken August 18, 2004 in my old room at my parents' house. Yes, that's a Fiddler on the Roof shirt.|
The way I tell it -- and the way I remember it -- is that sometime in 2003 (even this is fuzzy), a friend and I were talking over religion in what I like to call the Great Gatsby Room of Neihardt Hall in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's the Honors Dorm, and conversations tended to roll around religion and politics and the typical geekwad stuff you'd suspect. That night, as it was a night, amid studying, it turned to religion. I had a lot of new friends who were very seriously religious Christians (as many of my high school friends had been), and many of them were more of the proselytizing bent than I was used to. Thus, we talked religion. For me, at that point, I'd already stepped out of the role of a Christian and had turned toward being agnostic with my own "subset" of beliefs about the world, religion, and G-d. Having explained all of this to this friend, he suggested I look into Judaism and the rest, as I tell people, is history.
But is that how it went? Well, I can't peg the moment, unfortunately, when the light of Judaism was turned on, but I can peg some other significant moments. I want to blog about these over the coming days, weeks, months, whatever, in order to piece together perhaps how I got to where I am and perhaps shed some light -- for you and me -- on how I ended up an "Orthodox Jew."
Consider this Phase 1. A note about this post below. This was well over six years ago, and probably more than a year after I'd discovered and fell in love with Judaism. It took me a long time to get to a synagogue because I had ZERO Jewish friends and no direction in which to go. It took me a long time to even realize we had a synagogue in town. What I don't remember about this time, however, is struggling about what type of conversion to have. Evidently, I was cognizant of this before I even started studying for conversion. I'm going to insert some comments as I go, so look out. Man, I wish I could go back and talk to 2004 me.
Date: August 14, 2004
Current mood: Grateful
Post title: First time at Synagogue!
OK. So Temple was amazing. I went last night to 7:45 service, hung around for the Oneg, chatted with many of the members, then got up this morning and went for the 9:30 service and stuck around for Torah Study which lasted till about 12. Then I went to lunch with J and D (a convert) at Open Harvest. Talk about a delicious meal with good Jew-related conversation.
The service began and I felt terribly relaxed. I had no problem reading the prayer book (as it went from back to front, you know) and sounding out the words was no problem. There was a lot of people there last night because Rabbi Stiel was in town, so tons of people came. There were children wandering around, and men had on their head attire. The songs were beautiful, and the Hebrew flowed so fine through the synagogue. The windows had beautiful, colored stained glass, and the ark with the Torah was a beautiful wood. The star of david was everywhere and the candles were lit. But the building was completely, and utterly simple. It was beautiful, but in the most simplistic of ways. During silent prayer, the building was echoing of thoughts, it was the strangest thing. Everyone was so still, so silent, but there was this constant echo. I felt so at ease reciting the verses and singing the songs. And I loved the old-world feel of the voices singing ... it was so ... historical and omnipresent.
Afterward was the Oneg. We ate challah and chatted over fruit and nuts and other things. B, this little 4 year old, was running around all over the place and his sister was chasing him. Their father introduced himself to me and shook my hand. He was VERY Jewish. [I wonder what I meant by this exactly. Then again, I'd encountered around 2 Jews at this point, so ...] There was an old man who had a button that said "Cancer Sucks" and lots of other children and families. Not as many as I was hoping though ... and not as many yarmulkas as I was hoping for either. But I reminded myself it was a Reform Synagogue. And this, is something I struggle with. [I wish I had elaborated here. I don't remember being frustrated -- at that time -- with the observance or numbers or anything. How bizarre.]
Last night I came home and went straight to bed at 11. I slept and was going to go to the Farmer's Market, but slept in instead. J picked me up 'round 9:20, so we were a little late for service. There wasn't enough for a minyan, which stunk, but it was a nice intimate service. Afterward LOTS of people showed up for Torah Study. There was 2 other people there who are in the conversion process, E and J. E had her husband J with her -- and he was a hoot. We were reading something from Deuteronomy today ... and I kept fairly quiet. Though I wanted to speak up when Rab. Stiel mentioned Maimonides and while we were talking about Orthodox Jews. But we had good laughs. [Wow. Huh? Orthodox Jews and what? Why laughs? Where were the details!? I'd slap me in the face if I could.]
After the study we went to lunch at Open Harvest for lunch. It's a grocery store/co-op/deli, and it was delicious. I bought some overpriced vegetables and fruits, but damn they looked good. I intend on going back to Open Harvest to buy produce when the farmer's market closes for the year. I'll probably become a member of the co-op ... 10 bucks a year isn't much for the good food. AND ... they sell a LOT of kosher items, which rocks. ... [I don't remember kashrut even being on my radar at this point. I'm kind of proud, but upset I didn't embrace kashrut until nearly four years later.]
But one last thing ... I can't explain how connected I felt last night. It's amazing how at ease I was with the people, with the prayerbook, the words and the space. And this morning I made myself at home in the kitchen making coffee for everyone. I just felt ... like I belonged there. It wasn't a you and them thing, it was an "US" thing. And that is how I know this is for me. Now it just sucks because I have a whole week till services again ... but the problem is this: Friday night I said I'd help out at the stadium for this STUPID stadium walk they're doing. So I could go to Saturday service and torah study ... but I enjoy Friday night service. It's a nice culmination to the week.
So I think that the change in my priorities will be set now, changed and set. And I'm completely, COMPLETELY, happy with that. Now I just have to figure out ... do I want to convert Reform? Or do I want to convert Conservative/Orthodox where there is more halakic focus. Le sigh. This is a huge consideration, folks. [Hold the phone. What? I recall wanting to visit the Conservative shul to figure out whether that was a better route, but I don't remember *seriously* considering it. I also remember the huge turnoff the Conservative shul was for me. I guess the deal was sealed, but I'm happy to know that I was trying to educate myself on all avenues.]
OK. Time to walk ...
Looks like I'll have to go farther back in time. Clearly by August 2004 I was well on my way to converting. Heck, I was battling over what derech and thinking about kashrut and Shabbos observance as serious things. I give me some props for being aware. But "when" is the question here. So back to the annals ...