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The perils of converting in your hometown

I just remembered that several people I went to high school with go to the Reconstructionist shul whose rabbi I just met. This would not be an issue if it were as large as the Conservative one I’ve been attending, but the Reconstructionist congregation is around 100 families, with only about 30 people showing up any given week.

First of all, since it’s such a small congregation, they’re holding Shabbat services in someone’s house. “Oh,” said Rabbi Reconstructionist. “I think Ty grew up near there, if I remember correctly. It’s at Hippie Von Communityactivist’s house.”

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Ty did, in fact, grow up near there. His mom occasionally works in the garden of that house. I’ve been in it twice–once to keep her company while she was house-sitting for Hippie, and once to play Settlers of Catan with Ty’s friend, the son of Hippie. I’ve also met Hippie several times, though I’ve only spoken to her at protests and street fairs. I doubt she remembers me. I’ve noticed a depressing trend in that social circle to, upon meeting me with Ty, relegate me to a mental box labeled “One of Ty’s Girlfriends, Probably Gone in a Year.” It’s been two and a half, but still, the old hippies seem to forget who I am as a rule. They do generally remember me if I show up with him–which is okay with me, sometimes you need a remind of how you know someone before you remember who they are. But Ty has not been coming to Shabbat services with me, even at the Conservative shul, because I AM NOT CONVERTING FOR MY JEWISH PARTNER, GUYS.  So if he, again, doesn’t come with me this weekend, running into Hippie at her house could be horribly awkward.

Furthermore, at least two of the members of this synagogue are people I went to high school with and was friendly with, but to whom I haven’t spoken since I graduated. They… do not know that I am converting. I am not sure how that conversation will go. Wait, yes I do. “I didn’t know you were Jewish!”

Yay.

So at any rate, I’m pretty nervous this weekend. But I feel like I really do have to give Reconstructionism a chance, given what Ty has told me about it, and that I am kind of a wishy-washy hippy-dippy liberal activist type and all. I love the Conservative shul a lot, but I know that I need to give fair consideration to other denominations. And, as I have had to keep reminding myself recently, I’m still really early in this whole process.

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A Very Large Vocabulary

So I had a meeting with yet another rabbi today–this time a Reconstructionist one. He’s the one Ty and Pastor Joe both recommended to me in the first place (Pastor Joe being everyone’s favorite wheelchair-sporting, kung fu practicing, mantra chanting, Lutheran minister, for those who are not intimately familiar with my life).

I of course continued the trend of critical transportation fail on rabbi meeting days. This time, I decided it would be a good idea to walk Ty to work and then take the bus down to the coffee shop on campus where I was meeting said rabbi, of course without checking the time table or remembering to wear socks. Oh Lord, how I missed my socks. You have never seen blisters like the blisters I got after the hour long walk in the rain.

Fortunately on returning to campus, changing my clothes, and calling the rabbi in an ALL OUT PANIC because I thought I was FIFTEEN MINUTES LATE OH GOD HOW COULD I SURVIVE THE EMBARASSMENT, it turned out that our meeting was at quarter to 11, not quarter after 10. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I CAN tell time.

As I arrived at the coffee shop, I remembered that it was the sole coffee shop in existence that takes only cash, no checks or credit (thus leading me to believe that it’s a front for some sort of elicit drug operation, but whatever, it’s still better than Starbucks) and I had a grand total of 95 cents in  my pocket, which is not even enough for a freaking cup of coffee anymore, apparently. Damn recession. However, the father of someone who someone else once cheated on me with happened to be there, and he lent me enough for a cup of delicious jasmine tea.

It’s…. a long story.

The rabbi got there a couple minutes late and apologized profusely, which I had to prevent myself given what happened last time I tried to meet a rabbi on time. Then I launched into the great long story of how I decided to convert, which I have finally condensed into a relatively short version that doesn’t make me feel like I’m reciting War and Peace. He nodded and smiled and seemed genuinely interested. He even remembered who Ty was, and even where he lived when he was a child, since apparently the house they’re holding shabbat services at on the 24th is a block away from Ty’s childhood home. It’s the house of someone I met through Ty’s mom actually.

Judaism in general has been making me feel way more like part of a community recently, but that sheer amount of Jewish coincidences in one morning really took the cake.

The Reconstructionist rabbi described basically the same process as the Conservative rabbi, and even indicated that he would be happy to sort of co-sponsor me with a Conservative rabbi if I haven’t decided between the movements by the time the conversion class starts up again in February or March.

You guys, I REALLY liked this rabbi. He used words like “psycho-social” and called my last name “vaguely Hebraic, maybe you should look into that.” It was AWESOME.

So yeah, all in all it went pretty awesome. I’m going to switch back and forth between Conservative and Reconstructionist shul for a few weeks and then… we’ll see how it goes, I guess. Should be no problem. My life seems to be going pretty awesome except, you know, finals.

Now excuse me while I pull an all-nighter in order to turn in three papers by noon tomorrow…

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It’s the Most Obnoxious Time of the Year

I’m fine with Christmas. I really am. I like the idea of any midwinter festival involving lots of lights and warm food, because screw you, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I like sitting in my father’s pretentious living room eating pretentious hors d’oeuvres made by my stepmother while her not at all pretentious family sits on the floor and tells stories about things that have caught on fire at parties they’ve thrown. I even like the extremely complicated arranging that happens between my dad’s Christmas, my mom’s Christmas, Ty’s paternal grandma’s Christmas, and his mom’s Chanukkah/Solstice. It may be complicated and difficult to work out without offending anyone, but the fact that we have to do it in the first place makes me so happy that I’m welcome in so many families. I may not be actively celebrating the religious roots of Christmas, but I am celebrating my extended family.

I mean, I don’t mind Christmas gifts either. But that’s not the point.

The point is that even though I’m not a Jew yet, I’m also no longer a Christian. I’ve been spending every Shabbat morning at synagogue for weeks now. I feel more comfortable in Judaism than I ever did in Christianity, and Jewish theology matches my theology more thoroughly than Christianity’s did even with years of study. And I know, like all non-Christians know, that there is going to be some conflict during the Christmas season.That conflict, for me at least, has already begun. So, without further ado, here is a list of things that are obnoxious about being a conversion candidate during Christocentric Commercialism Season 2011:

N Things that Suck About Christmas This Year (Or, I’ll Pick a Number Later, Okay?)

1. Having to explain to even more people than usual that I’m converting.

I’m not ashamed of my status as a conversion candidate. I mean, much. I still haven’t mentioned it to the nice family who befriended me during kiddush after services when their son realized that he knew someone at college that I had gone to high school with. I just want them to liiiiiiike meeeeeee. But anyway, way more people than usual have been interested in my religious affiliation for the very simple reason that Christmas season–and Chanukkah season–is the time of year when every Christian knows something about Judaism, as soon as I mention my extremely complicated Christmas-Chanukkah-Solstice plans, anyone I’m talking to me immediately asks if I’m Jewish. To which I answer, “MmmrkljsdfjdgnobutI’mconverting.” It’s super eloquent.

2. Trying to figure out who it’s appropriate to buy gifts for and who it isn’t.

Admittedly this is not a unique convert problem. But I have a lot of people with a lot of complicated religious situations–and relationships to each other–in my life, and I honestly have no idea who wants a present and who does. The obvious ones, of course, are the parents, the stepparents, and the boyfriend. They get gifts whether they like it or not. But what about the boyfriend’s parents? Does his mom want a Chanukkah gift, or is she not the gifts during Chanukkah sort of Jew? If she is that sort of Jew, should I still get her a Christmas/Solstice/Festivus gift? What about college friends? What if I offend someone by not getting them something? OH GOD OH GOD THE SOCIAL ANXIETY.

3. My conversion is affecting my mom’s Christianity.

Now I can only write about this because my mom doesn’t read this blog or even know that it exists, since I am one paranoid bird, but the Christmas season is making her… a little wacky. She’s always been the tiny Christmas tree with lights and no ornaments type, midnight mass and maybe an advent calendar but with a generally casual attitude toward the whole thing. But every time I visit her house this year, the decorations and the baking and the planning get a little more intense. I’m starting to think that she is reacting against my conversion by becoming as Christian as she can herself. It’s… a little awkward.

4. The Talk

I don’t mean the sex talk. I have been alive for more than two decades now, thanks, I think I’ve familiarized myself with the reproductive system well enough. I mean the Talk. The one that every convert still on good terms with their non-Jewish family dreads. The “I know I said I was fine with it but  actually there are some issues.” Talk. This talk sucks for many reasons, but the foremost for me is that it confirms all the suspicions I have in my anxiety-riddled brain that everyone is secretly judging me and only pretending to be okay with my life decisions and secretly hopes I will be eaten by wolves. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, people seem to bust out this conversation a lot more often as Christmas gets closer and closer. Every family interaction has kind of become an emotional minefield, and it’s getting kind of stressful. All of these conversations are riddled with “I just want you to be happy, but..”s and “Of course I support your decisions, but…”s. To be honest, I’d kind of like a break from it.

So… yeah. N=4, I guess. I was trying to think of a fifth thing for the sake of a nice round list, but I couldn’t really think of anything to follow up how obnoxious I find that last one there. So on that note, I’m off to wrap Christmas gifts and teach myself how to make latkes without skinning my knuckles on the shredder.

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The Beginning

Today’s the day: my first for real meeting with the Conservative rabbi. I’m sitting in the campus cafeteria eating Rice Krispies now, but in an hour I will be approaching the synagogue, waiting in the rabbi’s office, and finally making my first real steps toward converting to Judaism.

When I woke up this morning, the city was covered in such a thick layer of fog, I couldn’t see anything outside my window but the very tips of the trees. Here’s hoping the fog will be lifted soon.

Post on the actual meeting will come later. For now… it’s time to get down to business.

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Critical Bus Fail

You know how I had a meeting with the Conservative rabbi last Tuesday? And I was really excited about it and also kind of terrified? And I was going to get there by bus like a real live grown-up?

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

So first of all, Google Maps sent me to a westbound Rapid stop when I needed the eastbound rapid. Then once I had managed to outrun a train, like the motherfucking Flash or something, and get on it and ride it all the way to the correct stop without incident, I found that the bus stop I needed after the Rapid was a needlessly obtuse roundabout sort of guy. I do not like.

I was running early at that point, because again, I was totally going to be a grown-up and take the bus all by my damn self  without even an internet connection to depend on and to do that I obviously needed to leave for every step of the journey at least 15 minutes before Google Maps told me to arrive. The bus stop was oddly secluded, and there were enough people there that there was no room on the bench, and I sat awkwardly downwind of a trash can until finally, finally the 49 showed.

Which would have been great, if I had remembered which direction it was supposed to be going.

So yeah, the moral of the story is, I spent the time I was supposed to be meeting with the rabbi getting lost in my city’s labyrinthine bus system and winding up many miles north of anywhere resembling where I was supposed to be. But I rescheduled for tomorrow so… there’s that at least.

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Something something convert something

I’m sleepy because it’s Wednesday and I just ate too much junk food, but I am writing anyway, because that’s how much I love you, Internet.

I have an actual official meeting with a rabbi now and everything. There’s even a time! And a place! And the time is next Tuesday at 11 AM and I have no idea how I’m going to get there given that I don’t drive. I think we’ll go with either a) bum a ride of someone, possibly a member of my family, or b) The Bus.

I just don’t understand how The Bus works outside of the actual city. In the suburbs the stops are all small and confusing and not covered or anything and I can never tell which side of the street is eastbound because what, are we carrying compasses with us now? And it would be just like me to show up to the meeting with the rabbi all, “YES PLEASE CONVERT ME TO YOUR RELIGION I AM TOTALLY SERIOUS SO SERIOUS IN FACT THAT I AM AN HOUR LATE BECAUSE I MISSED THE BUS AND FELL IN A PUDDLE, SORRY.” And then I would drop some stuff and probably fart.

Sometimes my charm amazes even me.

So anyway, this is the Conservative rabbi that I’m meeting on Tuesday, because the Reconstructionist rabbi never got back to me and the Reform movement reminds me of Methodists and Orthodox rabbis are scaring and I don’t want to be made to stop touching people in order to convert. I’m pretty excited. My sources inform me that he’s a good guy and I’ll like him a lot. Apparently his sermons are sort of congregation-interactive. That sounds like a healthy philosophy.

Also I was reassured to discover that at this synagogue there is already a system in place for converts, so it does not look like they are going to turn me away on the basis of “You look funny” or anything. There is a class at the college of Judaic studies I’m supposed to enroll in, which is worrisome because I’m a few weeks late, but oh well. Either way I’m pretty excited. Progress!

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Literary abandon

Today I’m distracting myself from Ty leaving. I’ve tried video games–whenever my life starts getting shaky, I turn right back to my old friend Dragon Age–and I’ve tried planning for grad school and I’ve tried figuring out the bureaucracy involved in registering for the conversion class, but the only thing that has worked so far is that particular sense of panic that arrives when planning for NaNoWriMo.

Since starting college, I’ve been feeling like my creative writing ability has gone down the drain along with my sense of normal personal hygiene and my ability to eat an entire box of Cheesy Taco Hamburger Helper without gaining weight. I can’t remember what it’s like to write the literature, only what it’s like to criticize it. But you can’t apply reader-response criticism while writing. Or formalism, or deconstructionism, or any other method from my toolbox of tearing texts apart. Instead, you have to just make shit up. You would think college would be making me better at that, given how often I’ve written five page papers in the hour before they’re due. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Now, whenever I try to write something that isn’t a paper, I feel similar to the way I felt on that high school exchange trip when my French host sister tried to take me out dancing. All her fashionable friends were boogieing down, while I just stood there awkwardly flapping my chicken arms and waiting until we could go find a bathroom that was still open so I could pee.

It was not a pleasant night.

But you know what I mean? Writing is hard and it makes me feel like a dummy. This is why Ty leaving is good: it means that I am in that state of depressive emotional abandon where everything I do makes me feel like a dummy, so I can do anything! I can rule the world! I pulled a title out of my ass this morning and I stuck a plot up there in the NaNo form without any consideration for what anyone else would think about it. It’s almost kind of liberating.

Now if only I could decide whether that’s healthy or not.