[18 years after a "conversion" to Judaism by a rabbi serving a Conservative synagogue, I confronted the knowledge that the conversion had not been kosher. I chose to persue an Orthodox conversion. And what does the experience feel like? ...]
Once I lived in that house: The really big one. The one where Uncle Abe is tending to everyone's needs. The one where Aunt Sarah is giving the just-baked cookies to all the little and not-so-little members of the family.
Once I lived in that house... Where David is singing songs. Aunt Miriam is weaving her wondrous stories. Grandpa Moshe, beloved and revered Grandpa, reminds everyone of who they are, and how they should behave, and to Whom they are answerable.
It was a great place to live. I moved in when I was already a little older -- there were some folks who arranged the adoption and told me to pack up and move on in. It was very nice in that house. I came in through a back door. I found room in one of the wings. I was there many years. It became the only family I knew. I found my husband there. My children were born there and came to know the family as their own.
Every year there was a great family reunion. We came together as family like never before. It was just for family. A big sign on the door announced: "Out of respect for the elders of the family, out of respect for who we are and to Whom we answer, please be welcome if you are family, but please, don't enter if you are not." Every year the family was together at the big reunion.
This year there was a reunion. This year I was not there. This year I stood outside the window and peered in like a hungry child. This year I did not celebrate. This year I cried.
I found out about the adoption. It was never official. I had to move out. Out of respect for the elders of the family, out of respect for who the family is, and to Whom they answer: I had to leave. But I couldn't go far.
I had nowhere to go.
So, I stood on tiptoes peering into the open window. I listened, whispering along with the hopes and dreams of those inside. It was not much of a connection, but I treasured it, believing that somehow I was still a part of it.
Then you asked that question:
"Can a non-Jew be Jewish?" Why did you ask me that question? How did you expect me to react? Did you expect it to affect me as it did? Did you know how painful it would be to deal with it? Did you know that after answering without thought, I would be forced to roll it over and over in my mind, to deal with it at a level that tore at my very soul? Why did you ask me that question?
With that question, the window has slammed shut on my hand. I pull back in pain and find myself out on the street. There are so many houses out there with welcome mats. I desire only this one. Yet I know I cannot enter until the door is opened for me. Life seems uncertain. I feel frightened, not knowing if I will live to see the time when I can come home.
Listen to my heart:
Everything that I must learn, every prayer, every action done or not done, every bracha, every tradition observed -- to you they bring joy, to me, along with hope, they bring confusion and pain.
How could I pray as a Jew? Had I every Siddur ever written, I could not do so.
With every "v'elokei avoteinu" I am reminded that I am not part of this family. How I wish that I were. On Yom Kippur, I've always imagined that as each Jew approaches Hashem in judgement, behind him stand Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, that Hashem thus remembers the merits of the Avos as He passes judgement. This year there was no reason to look behind me. I felt so alone, so small -- nothingness in the face of the Judge of all living things. And there could be no plea to look beyond me, to remember the Promise, for it was not made to me. I remember crying. I cannot say where the tears fell.
"...she lo asani goy." I don't even know whether I should be saying that blessing. And if I do, do I take the name of Hashem in vain? Do I lie? Or do I say it with a vision of hope for what, G-d willing, may someday be?
In almost every prayer are painful reminders of who I am not.
How can I observe mitzvot? Would that it were possible--
The mitzvot that make one truly Jewish are commanded only to Jews. I cannot fulfill a command that has not been given to me. I can do (or abstain from) the physical action, but at the deeper level, the spiritual level, it is not effective. It is like a child playing with dolls. She can do every motherly act, but she is still not a mother.
I am not even permitted to keep Shabbat in its entirety. Am I allowed to be at a Seder? Is the wine cooked -- or do I have to somehow manage to avoid touching it as the glass is passed to the end of the table? I could not help light the Chanukkah candles this year.
I say a bracha and separate out a piece of challah, knowing that this bread should be forbidden to Jews, for I baked it. My husband will eat it. Am I doing him wrong by offering it to him?
And I don't even know if I can call him my husband: Are we even married? I know we must marry again when, please G-d, I have converted for real. Is he my husband? I love him as deeply and closely as I ever have. Two precious children have grown out of that love, but now I am told that the marriage was not valid, and I don't know -- what does that mean? Rather than being his partner, am I causing his downfall? Have I kept him from growing as a Jew? Is it wrong for us to be together, to have a physical relationship?
I took a class in kashrus. I understand, enough, how to do it. I also know that dishes must be immersed in a mikvah-- and I know that I can't do that. And the books tell me that I am not permitted to do the cooking alone, anyway, lest the kitchen be considered treif again. Perhaps there is a way around it, but the fact remains that it would be at best a concession. Kashrus is for Jews. It is, in part, meant to keep Jews and non-Jews separate. I can do everything "right", but, in the final analysis, I can only come close. My kitchen cannot be really kosher until I am.
But all these are the little things.
The most difficult thing of all is not knowing what Hashem expects of me. How do I, as a non-Jew, express my love for Him? You have prayers, mitzvot. You have Shabbat, and Kashrus and times and seasons. You have a covenant and a promise. Without these, how does one approach their Creator? I shake in silence and tears at my inability to come any nearer to Hashem. And my heart pleas in that silence to be allowed to come back home. And I pray that He will hear.
I look at my life. I have been blessed with so much, and I am very thankful for it all. The blessings have come, unearned on my part. I do not believe that things just "happen", but that Hashem directs everything for His purpose.
I don't understand this path, why I have -- or have been -- chosen to travel it, but for all the pain, all the confusion, and all the tears, I consider myself blessed beyond measure to know where, ultimately, "home" is, to be given the chance to learn what this "family" truly is, and to have someone who is, at once, a friend, and a teacher, and a trusted guide, to bring me, G-d willing, in through the front door as a real member of the family.
That I will truly understand--
Respect for the elders of the family, respect for who the family is, and to Whom we all must answer.