By Netta Asner
I grew up modern orthodox throughout my life and it was obvious to me what my life looked like, what my practices are, what I believe in. As I grew older, my particular observances changed. I didn’t care as much about eating out at kosher restaurants, I wore clothes that were a little more revealing than I did before, I didn’t pray as much or say blessings as much. The traditions were still important to me but the particular observances had become less important.
And then I met John. John was on a trip to Israel with his college and I was an Israeli student on a panel. We connected but just became Facebook friends. I later visited the U.S. on a personal trip and we met once again at AIPAC. It was from then that we became close friends and stayed in touch despite being long distance.
But John was not Jewish. We were extensively talking one to the other, doing video calls and even watching movies together. I realized that I was developing feelings for him but I also knew how very passionately Jewish I am and how so important to me it is to have a Jewish family of my own. So I had a conversation where I basically told him that we have to stop talking completely or start a relationship and if he was interested in that as well, then he would have to convert. Surprisingly his response was ‘I know.’ I guess that our extensive conversations also covered my love and passion for Judaism and he had realized how important it was for me and my life.
The following day I connected him to an Orthodox Rabbi in Chicago, thanks to a close friend of mine who knew the Orthodox community there. This young British Rabbi in Chicago became John’s sponsor Rabbi on his journey converting to Judaism through an Orthodox conversion.
For those who don’t know, an orthodox conversion is not taking upon yourself all obligations with a snap of the finger. It is completely a process. Basically, you have three meetings of the rabbinic council (or a beit din) that John was told he could go to when he felt ready. What does that mean to feel ready? Well, there are a certain number of books you need to read prior to each meeting, but you also need to start practicing what you learn and read about. In addition, the idea is to continue studying with your sponsor Rabbi on a regular basis, while immersing yourself in a Jewish community and spending Shabbat and holidays there. This also includes learning to read Hebrew, for example.
John started his process in late May but only started going to Jewish families for Shabbat and holidays for the first time in August and then continued regularly. He only went to his first meeting in December and really went through a process to understand Judaism, understand the practices, observe people and their lifestyles, while slowly taking it upon himself and seeing if and how he could live this way.
That means for example that John didn’t keep kosher or eat strictly kosher food until his second meeting with the beit din and in fact, you are not allowed to keep Shabbat fully until you are fully converted. The conversion is really seen as a process and although John completed it within a year and a few months, someone could definitely take more time or less time, depending on who they are and their circumstances.
This process didn’t just affect John and his own personal life and relationships, but it affected my life as well. I met the Rabbis from the rabbinic council twice in-person and I shared about my own lifestyle, my outlook, and my experiences of Judaism . The Rabbis shared with me that the woman has an important role in the Jewish home and therefore they also had requests of me to become more observant in various ways. At the time it was weird for me to hear about these expectations (and no one checked me afterwards mind you!), but the idea that the Rabbis saw me going through a process as well was weird as I was born Jewish.
But this process for me actually and truly happened even without meeting the Rabbis and hearing from them. John, who was going through his learning and studying of all this Jewish law and sharing it with me, was taking upon himself this new lifestyle. I found myself learning more and appreciating more the tradition that I grew up with but also the tradition that he was slowly taking upon himself. Things that I perhaps didn’t care about when we first met suddenly became more important tome. I found that not only was he going through a process, but I really was going through one as well, exploring my Judaism and the way we would practice it together.
At the end of his process, John not only had to meet with the beit din once again, but he had to go through two more ceremonies. One is called ‘hatafat dam brit’, basically a prickwhich symbolizes circumcision, which he did as he was alreadycircumcised (if he was not, he would have to go through surgery and be circumcised). In addition, he ended the process entirely by immersing in a mikveh (ritual bath), which officially made him Jewish.
Today, we are both proud to be building a Jewish home together and constantly growing ourselves in our practices, belief and faith, but also dealing with new issues as our life progresses and changes. The conversion process was a journey for the both of us but a new journey began once John left the Mikveh and became Jewish. Our Jewish journey had just begun and is constantly continuing and will continue throughout our lives.
To learn more about the Orthodox conversion process and John and Netta’s specific journey, as well as look into consultation on the Orthodox conversion process to Judaism, reach out to Netta at: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/nettaasner/