For me, there aren’t daily Israeli-firsts anymore; it’s more like periods of firsts washing up on the shore. I pick them up and hold them to my ear and listen to the waves of meaning they try to offer.
At least, some of the time.
I participated as a support/witness for a friend undergoing conversion (of sorts). For the second time, I saw the insides of a Beit Din in Jerusalem; this was a specific Beit Din that specializes in conversion.
I’m glad that what I expected wasn’t exactly what happened; at least what I saw. I’m a harsh judge of bureaucratic Jewish process; so often it lacks heart and soul.
Anyway, it was an interesting, intimate and emotional experience that I feel pretty honored to have participated in. My friend has actually always been a practicing Jew, but since arrival in Israel, she’s been painfully aware that it is not according to the standards officially set out here.
I’m relieved that the rabbis didn’t let me down with any chilul Hashem action. I’m ecstatic that my friend can move on with her life. I’m also more appreciative of what I’ve had without ever trying…
Before it was our turn with the Beit Din, we saw a young couple and their baby walk out of the room. There was this aura of silent relief; but it was an exhausted relief, a relief that comes only after you’ve become red in the face trying to do what you know is true.
This man was just that, and he looked at us, wishing us luck. He said – really to God more than to anyone else – “two years“. Those words were so heavy; they carried so much. They carried his story. Two years.
I wished him mazal tov and when he said thank you, I could feel him meaning it. It felt good.
The rabbis had seemed to have already made up their mind by the time my friend’s adoptive family and me walked in to ‘testify’. They had a warm, yet serious demeanor. I thought that was exactly what this warranted: a cocktail of seriousness and warmth. I felt like I could trust these guys. The one who interviewed me had kind eyes; he reminded me of a Talmud teacher I had in high school.
Afterward, when we were all called in for the ‘verdict’, it hit me truly for the first time what I’ve always had. I’ve always had certainty, status. I’ve had the luxury of not being doubted. I’ve had a self-identity as solid as stone.
My friend was given the spiritual head-nod to ‘join’ Dat Yisroel by a panel of rabbis only after providing evidence of commitment. Commitment that had to be inspected, prodded and ultimately, judged. Commitment that – whether it mattered or not – had already been accepted on her behalf before she was born.
I’ve never had to affirm my belief or my Jewish commitment to another human; it never really much mattered to a panel of rabbinical judges. I’ve never had to say Shema Yisroel and accept this covenant in public. Before I was born – whether it mattered or not – it had already accepted me.