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Jewish Journal

Converting to Marry Her

by  Merissa Nathan Gerson

August 12, 2010 | 9:36 pm

Don't get lost when you look into her eyes.

Dear Yenta,

I am a 26 year-old WASP lesbian in love and committed to my loving partner who is Sicilian and Jewish. We have been together for a year and a half and we are raising her 2 children together. Suddenly, just before setting foot into synagogue, I had this feeling that becoming a Jew would be a path that I would embark upon. After being raised Protestant and hating organized religion in general, establishing a relationship with a higher power and participating in a religious ceremonies strangely seems to be what is right for me right now.

The congregation in our small town is progressive and many members are converts to Judaism. My issue is: we’re getting married in four months and we would like a Jewish ceremony. I inquired with a few senior members of the congregation and they put me in contact with the person in charge of classes that converted Jews take. The teacher said that the classes had already begun and unless I knew Hebrew, I couldn’t join until the next go around well into the future. He also mentioned that the process generally takes a year to a year and a half. This scared me, I didn’t know I had to learn that much Hebrew and that the process would take so long. I reported back to the senior members, they scoffed at such requirements. They encouraged me to spend time with the people of the congregation to make sure this is something I truly want. They also assured me that learning a few cardinal prayers and basic Jewish terms and customs would be sufficient in allowing me to be a Jew.

My problem is, I am truly and sincerely interested in becoming a Jew and raising our children in a Jewish household, but I would really like to be considered a Jewish at our wedding 4 months from now. Where do I go from here? From what I have learned, Jewish ceremonies can most certainly exist without the presence of a rabbi. Should we roll on our own? My instinct is to continue with how I see fit and absorb what I can about Judaism until the wedding and I’ll know that although my journey has just begun, I can get married as a Jew and continue blossoming long after the wedding has ended. What do you think oh wise Yenta?

-Jonesing to Be a Jew

Dear JTBAJ,

One thing I don’t understand is, why the rush? If you want to be married Jewish and it is that important to both of you, why not wait and do the conversion full throttle? Then, at least, you can enjoy learning and transmuting your religiosity. That, and becoming Jewish isn’t about, as you pout it, “right now.” Joining a tribe, unless you scorn your wife, is a forever kind of deal.

Those scant requirements from that synagogue are nothing compared to a childhood of Hebrew School, Shabbat dinners, services, funerals, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. What does it mean to you “To be a Jew?” And who decides, how and when? Does it matter if this congregation thinks you are Jewish at your Jewish wedding? This is an enormous undertaking, which you sound like you want to be a walk in the park.

I am of two minds when it comes to your question: the defensive Jewish mind, and the objective Jewish intellectual mind.

A 26 year-old Jewish woman is not born overnight. Your partner, myself, and other Jews in America have built an identity through familial influence AND endured the identity marker, culture and history of being Jewish for way longer than four months. That being said, you might need to be more patient. A lifetime of lessons cannot be filtered quickly into the mind of someone new to the religion. To be a Jewish American is no simple feat. It is a commitment, a beautiful multi-faceted often-tormented spiritual or non-spiritual convoluted implications-laden identity that should be approached slowly, cautiously, and if so driven, with intense conviction.

I asked an elder of mine, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, what she thought about your question. She couldn’t understand my defense, and said that Judaism is a cultural identity grounded in a lifetime of learning about Torah. She said if you want to align yourself culturally as a Jew and then embark on the spiritual learning that will carry you from now all the way to your grave, then why not call you Jewish right now.

I say marry that woman as yourself, and worry about being a Jew when and if the shoe suddenly fits. Ask yourself again the why, how, who and what of your decision to cross this religious divide. If you feel it fits now, and that you are Jewish, then start now.

If someone were converting to marry me, I think I would want them to be themselves at the altar, and with time and hard work, move towards an identity shift. Think about how long a sex change takes.

Maybe marry as “WASP lesbian” and evolve slowly into this religious shift. Take your cues from the biblical, and look at 40 days, 40 months, or 40 years as numerical markers of your Judeo-evolution. Also, look into creative Jewish ceremonies. Of the six weddings I attended this year, ALL were somewhat Jewish. One was a Jewish bride and a non-denominational minister, the next was intensely mystical and orthodox. After that a rabbi married a Jew to a non-Jew, and another was split between a spiritual Christian priestess and a rabbi as the conductors of ceremony.

Calling yourself a “WASP” isn’t the most positive self-defining moment. Don’t lose who you are in this new religious awakening. You might resent it later. See if you can walk the Jewish cakewalk while still remembering and respecting your own real and viable roots.

For more, try JewishConversion.com.


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