In my humble opinion, the LGBTQ Jewish community has to make a lot of choices. While we can’t choose our sexuality or gender identity, we can choose whether or not to embrace ourselves truthfully. There is not a more exemplary community than the LGBTQ Jewish community than those who have chosen to convert to Judaism.
I’ve been blessed on multiple occassions in my life with inspirational Jews by Choice whom I have come to know. It first started about 10 years ago when I witnessed my mother’s conversion in Northern California. She had spent 20 years of her life being married to a Jewish man and being the daughter-in-law to a Holocaust survivor. She had driven her two children on countless occassions to Hebrew and Sunday school. She’d sat through so many services that she knew the prayers in Hebrew by heart, having never studied the language or its meaning. That wasn’t enough for her. She decided, on her own regard, to fully embrace the “tribe” and went through a formal conversion process in 2000. I will never forget when my grandmother and I witnessed her dipping herself three times into a Mikveh (ritual bath). Bare naked and literally immersed in her Judaism, she made a choice that I will never forget.
This past week, I was given the extreme honor of being present as one of my dear friends (and Oy Gay contributors), Tera Greene, became a member of the tribe. I listened in the room when she defended her decision with the Beit Din (literally means “house of judgement”) and proudly recited knowledge, commitment, and spiritual connection to a community of faith she was not born into. Her octogenarian grandfather sat on her other side and together, we all cried as she declared her faith. That in itself would have been enough of an honor for me as a witness. Alas, I was there in the Mikveh with her as she recited the same prayers my mother did almost 10 years ago.
If you know Tera, you know that she has a voice that commands a room. She sings with such feeling and power. Imagine being in a room that echoes with that passion as she sings the ancient prayers of our faith and declares to her people that she is among them. I got chills then and have them now as I remember the sound of her voice. She chose the hebrew name Ashira Tova which literally means rich and good. Shira also conjours music and song. I couldn’t think of a more perfect name for her myself and can’t wait for you all to meet the newest member of the tribe.
Tera and my mother, as well as other inspiring Jews by Choice, remind me every day why I am a part of this community. I may not follow all the rules and I may not agree with you, but I am proud to be among you. And this week as I give thanks, I thank those of you who have made a great commitment to a people who welcome you with open arms. May your journey be a reminder to the rest of us that we have many choices to make, but that being who we really are is in fact the greatest and most important choice we’ll make.