Have you ever wondered about converting to Judaism? Thought about how true Charlotte’s storyline in Sex And The City is? Several years ago, my friend Ben converted from Catholicism to Judaism. This is his story.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I was born when a peanut farmer was in the White house and grew up in Duluth, MN singing Gordon Lightfoot songs about sinking ships and trying to stay warm. After a brief sojourn in Vermont post college, I found myself back in Minneapolis working for the once glamorous department store community.
Then culinary school, which lead to Food Styling for a Ms. Betty Crocker. And I am now back in the retail world selling man panties to a ginormous chain of corner stores. My cube has an amazing view. What more do I need?
For fun I try to keep up with my food blog (of which I am a neglectful parent as of late), knit when it’s cold out, maintain my drinking goal of 52 bottles of wine a year and write Gossip Girl Fan Fiction. Okay maybe not the Gossip Girl Fan Fiction…yet.
Growing up, what was your relationship with religion?
My family attended a Roman Catholic Church on Sundays and Holidays. My activities within the church were mostly at the nonverbal urging of my mother and I don’t regret it.
I met one of my best friends while teaching a gathering of impressionable Catholic Youths. After my confirmation in my teens my attendance was purely out of respect for my mother and need for personal quiet time.
I knew God was a part of my life but also knew that it wasn’t with the direction of Vatican II. When I left my hometown at 23 I left Catholicism behind me.
When (and how) did you first become interested in Judaism?
My interest in Judaism actually began as a joke. There was an interest in culture (Fiddler on the Roof), Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. And then I realized I was just gay. But I still was attending Church on holidays with my family.
As I got older I knew there was a relationship with a higher power in my life – again not with The Vatican. So out of pure curiosity I started to research other religions.
What appeals to you about Judaism?
My initial draw to Judaism was the historical connection to Christianity. I wasn’t looking for a complete break from what I was raised with. I was looking for a better representation of myself. In the end it made more sense for me to go back to the drawing board (Judaism) rather than trying to fit in with one of the many newer branches of Christianity.
I also found a great connection with the fact that the Jewish People are constantly striving to learn and grow with people while still maintaining core beliefs. Plus I’m already used to paternal guilt trips and I never liked shellfish. Oh and the food is wonderful and always in abundance.
Was there a specific moment when you decided you wanted to convert?
My path to conversion took a long time. When I started there was a sense of urgency and eventually I came to understand that I was not ready. Though I was surrounded by a large group of like-minded people I didn’t yet feel like I belonged. And then life got in the way.
Years later I was lucky enough to connect with a friend who was also converting and that was enough to fan the flames of interest again.
How did the people in your life react to your decision?
The only reaction I was concerned about was telling my mother. I imagined her asking me how many more damn closets I needed to come out of. But in the end those closest to me were completely supportive. The only Judaism I push on people in my life is not ordering the shrimp eggrolls when out to eat. Shrimp eggrolls are just gross and nobody should be eating them.
Every so often when the conversion comes up I get that look of fear in people’s eyes that say, “Oh I didn’t take him as a really religious type”. Then I usually tell a really inappropriate joke and secretly tell the waiter to bring vegetable eggrolls and a round of shots.
I still miss just as many services as I did when I was a Catholic. And I break just as many rules. Except the shrimp eggroll thing. Seriously people. Stop ordering.
Tell us about the process one goes through to convert to Judaism.
The Jews don’t mess around with converting. I had to take a class at my local temple. Did a lot of reading and listening. After completing the classes, those wishing to complete the conversion have three steps to accomplish.
First (if male) circumcision. Thankfully circumcision was all the rage amongst the pregnancy crowd when I was born. So I had a ritualistic circumcision called a Hatafat Dam B’rit. Or as we called it “Pricking my Schmekle”.
Second I had to sit before the Beit Din. This is a rabbinical council that questions you on why you want to convert. I went in thinking it would be all CSI:Miami interrogation and walked out realizing it was more After The Show with Oprah.
Third I had to participate in a ritual immersion to Judaism using a Mikvah. Basically a giant hot tub where the Rabbi blesses you and asks you again if you are serious about this.
Fourth and from my understanding optional, was a conversion ceremony at the temple surrounded by my friends and family. It was here I had to recite some Hebrew, make a few promises and sacrifice a goat (I’m joking). And then BAM! I’m a Jew.
How did you feel after the conversion?
Honestly I felt no different spiritually. I once read that a soul may be Jewish but born into a non-Jewish body. And when you convert you are making yourself whole again. It felt more like a coming home than a change of address. Was there a sense of accomplishment? Yes. But as I told my mother, “Same God. Different building”.
And how did you celebrate?
When I’m a “good” Jew I go to services on Friday evenings and holidays. As for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and such) I hope to get to celebrate with my Jew Bestie for Life (my conversion buddy) properly next year.
2013 will be my first Hanukkah as a newly converted Jew. And THANK GOD it’s also on Thanksgiving. So the food orgasms have already begun in my mind.
And though I normally don’t make my family participate in Jewish holiday traditions we will be lighting the Menorah this Thanksgivukkah. I’m hosting so I get to do what I want. And who doesn’t like a show with dinner?
What advice would you give to others who are interested in exploring another faith?
I would say educate yourself. If you are honest in your intentions you will know where you belong when you come across it. But keep in mind that Jim Jones probably didn’t turn anyone away.
So if the door is open and the arms extended with no hesitation, don’t drink the Kool-Aid until you know all that comes with it. Historically Rabbis are said to turn you away three times so they know you are really sure you want to take the plunge (see Charlotte in Season 6 Episode 2 of Sex And The City).
Just like I ask myself three times if I need the gelato before I eat it.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Ben! How many of you guys are Jewish? Have any of your converted to a faith?