“It’s also important for a person preparing for conversion to take time to process what they are learning and not treat the whole thing like studying for an exam in university. We have a lifetime of learning ahead of us, and our foundation has to be based in commitment to continue learning and living what we learn. That’s the only way we can expect to live as a responsible Jew.
In the heart of the Deep South, Mary Ann was born to devout Christian parents. She was instilled with a strong faith in God and grew up as an active member of her church. In her teens, she began to ask questions and search for meaning, something more profound. At the time, she didn’t realize that what was missing in her life was related to her religious beliefs.
In college, as she became more and more disenchanted with the church, Mary Ann began to search. She decided to go to a different denomination every Sunday to see if she could find something more satisfying. Just for good measure, she included the Reform Temple on Friday night. Eventually, she eliminated the churches and settled on the Temple, becoming active in the life of that warm, welcoming congregation. The attraction to Judaism was, for Mary Ann, the unity of God, the universal brotherhood of mankind, and the importance of family life. She associated these ideas with Judaism because of her contact with a close childhood friend, a Jewish classmate. Mary Ann’s understanding of these concepts at that time were the starting point of her journey.
After some months attending the Reform Temple, Mary Ann decided to convert. She made an appointment to speak with the “Rabbi.” His way of attempting to discourage her was to tell her that if she converted to Judaism, she would never again be accepted by the Christian community, and she would never really be accepted by the Jewish community. Undaunted, she informed him that she didn’t care, she wanted to convert anyway. One Friday night, Mary Ann stood before the congregation and answered some questions. “Do you reject your former beliefs?” Yes, she did. “Do you pledge your destiny with the destiny of the Jewish people?” Yes, she did. With that she was warmly welcomed into the congregation and given a lovely certificate, suitable for framing.
Soon afterward, Mary Ann moved to Illinois. For several years, she drove to Temple every Friday night and Saturday morning, learned to eat bagels, lox, and cream cheese; borsht; and blintzes. One Passover, for the seder, Mary Ann invited guests, and even ventured to make kreplach for the soup. She couldn’t understand why it was so hard to find flour in the stores.
After moving to a city where the Reform Temple was not nearly so welcoming as the ones where she used to live, Mary Ann decided to try the Conservative synagogue. It was there that she learned that she was not really Jewish after all. With the help of the Conservadox Rabbi, she found an Orthodox rabbi and his wife who agreed to learn with her and prepare her for conversion.
When everyone felt Mary Ann was ready, the rabbi made arrangements for her to meet with a rabbi who was competent to do conversions and, after several meetings, Mary Ann became Miriam.
In time, the local rabbi and his wife were arranging Miriam’s wedding. It was a joyous affair, as weddings are, with the entire supportive community in attendance.
Unfortunately, after a few years, Miriam and her husband moved away from that community for him to accept a job offer, and after the birth of twin daughters, Miriam’s husband left her. Faced with the prospect of finding a job and raising her children alone, she became easy prey for missionaries who convinced her that she should become a “completed Jew.” When her ex-husband heard about that, he kidnapped the twins and disappeared with them.
Too traumatized for steady work, Miriam went from job to job until she was able eventually to get a decent job and get back on her feet. Little by little, that empty feeling from her youth returned. Once again she began searching. Once again, with the help of a Conservadox rabbi, she found her way to Orthodox Judaism, this time returning to a Torah community and becoming more passionately and fervently observant than ever before.
By that time, Miriam’s daughters had grown up and married and had children of their own. Once they were sure that their mother was “safe,” they made a family reunion, and Miriam was reunited with her children and met her grandchildren for the first time. It was an emotional meeting with tears of pain mixed with tears of joy.
Today, Miriam reflects on those difficult, challenging years, on her journey to where she is today.
“Before my conversion, I hadn’t read so much because the Rabbi and his wife were teaching me what I needed to learn. I think I read all of three books, A Jew and His Home by Rabbi Kitov, The Sabbath by Rabbi Grunfeld, and The Path of the Just by Rabbi Luzzato, but that was enough to whet my appetite. After my conversion, I developed a passion for learning. I read some very basic, important books and learned from a great Rav. This gave me a firm foundation. Without that, I wouldn’t have had anything to rebuild on after my fall. My biggest mistakes were separating myself from the community and the Rav, and not continuing to learn. Besides having a Rav, it’s so important to have a close confidant, someone to learn from and share with, someone of the same sex so that other agendas don’t get in the way.
“It’s also important for a person preparing for conversion to take time to process what they are learning and not treat the whole thing like studying for an exam in university. We have a lifetime of learning ahead of us, and our foundation has to be based in commitment to continue learning and living what we learn. That’s the only way we can expect to live as a responsible Jew. There are so many good books now, so many outreach organizations and possibilities for learning from reliable sources. The trick is being able to know what is a reliable source and what isn’t, what is true to our Mesorah and what is a deviation.”
“Strange as it may seem, I believe that, all things considered, my husband’s taking the children was the best thing that could have happened. They were raised in a stable family with a mother and father and other children. They were instilled with the strong Jewish values I could never have given them at that time. It was so hard for me then, but somehow, deep down inside, I knew that was best for them. I’m so grateful today that they were taken away before I could destroy their Jewish foundation. Now, thank God, they are building stable, Torah-true homes, and our relationship has been restored.
“I’m also thankful for the prayers of those who knew me in the beginning of my journey into Torah-true Judaism. If not for them, for their loving me through those difficult times and in spite of my wandering, for leaving the door open for me, my return may not have happened.”
NOTE: The account of this Personal Journey is essentially true. The unessential details may have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals. Any resemblance to any actual person, location, or situation is coincidental.