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JewishJournal.com

December 5, 2012

Challenges and celebrations

http://www.jewishjournal.com/religion/article/challenges_and_celebrations

Andromeda Stevens studying the Torah with Rabbi Mel Silverman.

Andromeda Stevens studying the Torah with Rabbi Mel Silverman.

When Andromeda Stevens, 46, found herself falling in love with Judaism, she knew it was time to convert.

She and her husband, Glenn Stevens, who live in Beverlywood, started living a Jewish life together years before they were married, and Andromeda converted after the wedding. “I liked the traditions, and the meaning behind the traditions,” she said. “The symbols were very logical to me and very supportive of humanity and living a justified and good life. I found that really appealing. It was very contrary to my Catholic education.”

In 2010, Andromeda decided to take the leap and begin studying for her conversion. The formal process involved an 18-week class at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, attending a Shabbaton, participating in a mock seder with Rabbi Spike Anderson at Stephen S. Wise Temple, writing a journal entry every week, attending Shabbat services at a variety of synagogues and taking a formal written exam. The exam included 18 questions, covering everything from why she wanted to convert and how her family felt about it to facts about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the destruction of the First and Second Temples. 

Glenn’s parents are Holocaust survivors, and his father was thrilled when Andromeda told them she was planning to convert. Andromeda’s own mother, who lives in Sherman Oaks, became so fascinated with Judaism that she took an introduction course at a college. At Andromeda’s bachelorette party, her friends gave her Jewish-themed gifts in anticipation of her conversion. 

Andromeda took her final test under the guidance of a family rabbi and met with a beit din in Palm Springs last April. But she didn’t complete the process and go into the mikveh until May, when she traveled to Tel Aviv with Glenn. There, however, she found it wasn’t easy to convince the people running the mikveh to let her in. “They didn’t want to do it, because it was a Reform conversion,” she said. “It felt like a huge bummer. I had gone through all this trouble. Israel was set up as a place [of] refuge for people coming from all walks of life. To turn around and shun somebody for any reason seemed like an oxymoron and didn’t make me happy.”

With determination and the help of a friend who lives in Israel and speaks Hebrew, Andromeda nevertheless found a mikveh attendant who would do it. “The mikveh was an amazing experience,” Andromeda said. “It wasn’t like anything else. I don’t even know what to compare it to. I don’t know if I can put that into words. People overuse the word awesome, but it was awesome.”

Although the conversion process was a positive experience, Andromeda said she still faces her share of challenges. “It’s very hard to follow services when everything is in Hebrew,” she said. “I’m slowly learning, but sometimes I feel kind of shut out.” 

And completing the conversion process didn’t make Stevens automatically feel like a new person either, she said. “It’s kind of a process for me to actually feel Jewish. I expected to feel different or something magical. Obviously that didn’t happen. It’s been a process for me to identify. I think that it’s going to take some time.”

These days, Andromeda celebrates Shabbat every week and attends services at Steven S. Wise Temple. She continues instruction with Rabbis Anderson and Yoshi Zweiback. Last fall, for their first time, Andromeda and Glenn put up a sukkah for Sukkot, and they participate in all of the holy days. Last year she lit Chanukah candles with her mother, and this will be her first year giving up Christmas. 

Andromeda said she hasn’t grasped all of Judaism’s traditions and rituals yet, but she continues to try her best. With the help of Glenn, who she said supports her 100 percent, Andromeda has been able to maintain her optimism: “Glenn was never dating Jewish girls,” she said. “He liked the shiksa girls. Then all of a sudden, that’s not what he ended up with, was it?”

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