Unlike many conversion stories, Michael Hudson’s does not begin with romantic love. Instead, it was inspired by a radio show.
Hudson, 57, who converted to Judaism in 1994, used to listen to a radio program called “Religion on the Line,” hosted by author, speaker and now Jewish Journal columnist Dennis Prager. The show featured a rabbi and a Protestant minister, and Hudson always thought that the rabbi’s ideas were interesting. He was intrigued and took a class on the Bible at the University of Judaism (UN), now American Jewish University. It was in that class, which was taught by Prager, that he began to learn more about the religion.
He was introduced to formal shul services through Temple Beth Torah in Venice, where he spent Rosh Hashanah. And that’s when he decided he wanted to become a Jew. “I didn’t understand the Hebrew words, but I could see them carrying the Torah around, and the cantor was singing,” Hudson said. “I could see the joy in his eye, and there was a moment there that it seemed like the right thing to do.”
After choosing to go the Conservative route, Hudson signed up for an Introduction to Judaism class led by Rabbi Neal Weinberg at UJ. He started visiting synagogues and Jewish establishments and participating in group sessions with classmates. A spiritual circumcision was required of him, along with attending a Shabbaton and a final meeting and interview with the Beit Din of the Rabbinical Assembly, Western States Region, at the UJ.
One of the big issues that Weinberg and the rabbis of the beit din discussed with Hudson was whether his conversion would be healthy for his family, as the family would be a mix of faiths. He and his wife, June, had already been raising their children, 11 and 8 at the time, as Catholic, and planned to continue on that path. “It was an issue during my conversion, because Rabbi Weinberg said it was important that it be a unifying thing, and not something that would pull our family apart,” Hudson said. “One of the rabbis on [the beit din] said that, during Christmas, I would still have to be Santa for my kids.”
Hudson grew up in the United Methodist Church, and June is a practicing Roman Catholic. Even these two different Christian faiths had to be reconciled when they married. “It was viewed by her church as a mixed marriage,” Hudson said. “So we had to go through all meetings with the priest, and he married us on the hope of conversion of me, the non-Catholic party. After I converted to Judaism, I joked that he was right. I converted. It just wasn’t to Catholicism.”
Although June and Michael practice different religions, his conversion ended up bringing them closer together, he said. “I didn’t feel emptiness with my wife at church anymore, because I had my own spirituality,” he said. “I found the spirituality my wife had found.”
In January 1994, after six months of study, Hudson’s time to step into the mikveh arrived. He said that when he went in, “The water was a little chilly, but when I got out, I felt this warmth. It was like a blanket was covering me and warming me up. It was a very spiritual experience, coming out of the mikveh. I felt very welcomed and very fulfilled in that moment.”
His enthusiasm for Judaism has stayed strong since he converted 18 years ago. He is a board member at Temple Akiba and considers himself a Reform Jew. As he is black, he created a Web site, Black and Jewish, that lists some prominent black Jews (Drake, Rashida Jones and Y-Love, to name a few, are mentioned) and features links to his conversion essays, as well as information on conversion.
Hudson said that he sees religion as a grounding point. “I always look at ethical dilemmas and try to picture myself pitching my ideas to a group of rabbis. I think about what advice they would give me.
“The most important message of Judaism for me,” he said, “is knowing what’s greater than myself. It’s knowing that I should be serving God and not just looking at what’s best for me.”