Thursday, May 7, 2009

Happy Birthday to Jew...Part 2

When last we left our Shiksa Goddess, she had successful "passed" her bet din - the court consisting of three rabbis. We now continue with "Happy Birthday to Jew...the conclusion."

With the bet din discussion over and my profession of faith read aloud and signed, I was ready for the part of the conversion process I had been dreading, literally, for months. The mikveh.

For those of you unfamiliar with a mikveh, please let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. The quick and dirty answer is it is a lot like an immersion baptism for Baptists (or some Universalists) except, well, you are naked. Not a stitch on. You immerse in the water the way God brought you into this world (only with more cellulite, which is my whole issue, here). Not all Reform rabbis require mikveh immersion to convert, but I am glad mine did. It felt as if I was humbling myself. So here is what happened.

You are required to be as clean as humanly possible when you enter the mikveh (I assume this is so you don't go fouling it up for the rest of those who wish to be ritually pure). So I showered in a small room next to the "pool." Everything - nail polish, makeup, lotion, perfume, lint - must be washed from your body in order to enter the mikveh pool.

After sanding myself down, I wrapped in the largest towel I could find (I brought a bath sheet from home) and knocked on the door to let Emily and my witness, Mel, know I was ready. I stood at the top of the stairs with Emily and Mel behind me. I removed the towel and Emily held it way up and way out, so she could see nothing. If this rabbi gig doesn't work out, she would make a great masseuse. They have that same trick in their book for when you roll on over on the table...but I digress.

As soon as the rabbi mentioned that I would be facing away from my audience for this ritual, I immediately felt better. But I was still naked in front of people so, you know, I was not 100% comforted. Emily had said that I needed to take each of the five steps into the mikveh pool slowly so that I could really soak in the experience (pun intended? Not sure.). However, once the towel was off and my naked tuches was exposed in the direction of both my spiritual leader and one of my best friends, I forgot everything and hightailed it down the first 2 steps. Remembering Emily's instructions, I slowed it down for the last three steps. But it wasn't quite the soaking in that she intended. because, literally, here are is my last thought as a shiksa as I descended those final steps: "Mel can see my tushy. Mel can see my tushy. Mel can see my tushy." Way to sanctify the experience, right? I'm pretty sure I sucked all the holiness out of the experience before it had even begun.

In order for the immersions (you do it three times) to be kosher, all of you must be submerged, with none of you touching a wall, floor or another part of your body. This is trickier than it sounds. Especially in a pool that is about 4 feet wide, 15 feet long and maybe 4 feet deep.

I dunked myself the first time, Emily approved and I recited the blessing for the mikveh. It was framed on the wall, so I didn't have to memorize that one. Dunk again. Emily approves and I say the Sh'ma - the most important prayer to the Jewish people. "Hear, Oh Israel. The Lord is Our God. The Lord is One." Dunk a third time. Emily calls kosher and we recite the she'hecheyanu blessing, thanking God for sustaining us and bringing us to this moment.

Poof. I am now Jewish.

For my first act as a Jew, I try to concentrate really hard on walking, wet and naked, back up the mikveh steps toward the rabbi (once again, spreading the towel in an incredibly modest manner) and my witness. I can think of nothing more embarrassing that falling headlong (and I can't underscore this point enough) wet and naked, into your spiritual advisor. That mission accomplished, both Emily and Mel wish me Mazel Tov and I go dry off and get dressed.

Once rejoining the crowd in the waiting area (the bet din, Mel and my husband Osi), Emily reads a statement that calls me by my chosen Hebrew name - Rahav Leah. I think THAT is the moment in which I feel Jewish. I have a name among these people, now my people. I am now a daughter of Abraham and Sarah.

Poof. I now feel Jewish.

Hugs, pictures and congratulations are offered and we exit. The rest of the day is mellow. Osi takes me to an incredibly cool restaurant (Luce -try it if you are in Columbus!) and I nap. We pick up the cake ("Welcome to the Tribe!" it reads) and a deli try for the party for the evening. Many friends join us to celebrate. Some of them say how proud they are of me. Which is nice.

I can't say I feel tremendously different, which is good. But I am so at peace with finding my place in the complicated mishmash that is religion. Judaism is all about "deed over creed." They really don't require you to believe in anything (not even God) as long as you ACT like you do. It is sort of the religion of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps if you act like a believer, you will believe. I prefer to think of it as even if you don;t believe, you are still acting like a mensch, which I am pretty sure a higher power would want us to do.

So that is my conversion tale, for those of you who asked. I am sorry it was so long, but I really didn't want to leave anything out of this exciting, moving experience.


Tammy Howard said...

Wow, I had no idea conversion left one so - vulnerable.

You are brave - truly brave - to be so committed!!! I am seriously doing a Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" bow right now.

Sheesh - still shaking this one off... good on ya, man!

Pam said...

Wow! No wonder you were dreading the "baptism". YIKES! You are very brave and very funny! I must say I am very intrigued about how you described Judaism as the religion of "cognitive dissonance" and being required only to "act as though you believe". I think that is a wise way to live.