Becoming Jewish
One Girl's Journey

Effervescence is a state of mind. It's about choosing to bring sunshine to the day.
Every person I meet matters.

If it's written down, I know it (If it's not written down, I don't know it)
If it's color-coded, I understand it (If it's not color-coded, I don't understand it)

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Food, Philosophy, Language, and Dilemmas

Thoughts on Food - When I first started thinking, "What would the world look like if I'd been raised in a Jewish family?" I had a parallel thought, "What would it be like to keep kosher?" So, I've been becoming increasingly "more kosher" over time, if there is such a thing. At first, I just stopped eating pork or shrimp. Then I started watching out for dairy in a meat meal. Then I noticed that cream in my coffee made it a dairy meal, in my eyes. Then I started pondering whether it mattered to me if the chicken was kosher, not just whether it was served without dairy in the meal.

Occasionally strange things will derail me from a single meal. I'd already ordered an "appetizer sampler" at an IHOP once for dinner, before I noticed there were cheese sticks *and* chicken in the basket. So I thought, "Okay, that's the last time I order that." Or we were camping once, and having "food on a stick" and someone brought unbaked biscuit dough. We'd had fun wrapping it around some cooked chicken, and "baking" the biscuits on skewers over the fire, before someone mentioned that my friend Erika couldn't eat the biscuits because of the dairy. Once I again I thought, "Oh, that's the last time I eat biscuits with meat."

I went out with friends for sushi, and one of the guys offered me a bite of something that had eel in it. And I thought, "Hmm, I guess there are friends who don't know I'm eating kosher all the time, both in and out of the home." And it's okay, because I don't make a big deal about it. But I am finding myself leaning towards vegetarian orders in restaurant more and more, simply because I know they're going to meet my preferences. I'm still not completely sure where all the kosher observances are about fish, although I know which species are considered traif (unkosher, or literally "torn"). I've never heard someone say, "But is the fish kosher?" as if it came from a kosher butcher, but I wouldn't be surprised if were such a consideration for some people.

But in my opinion, it still boils down to the "emergency clause" for some people: That when lives are at stake, go with life rather than a rule that would harm your life. Internalized, I find myself relying more and more often on my own "emergency clauses," either (a) "Oh, that will be the last time I order that," because I just didn't notice how it wasn't kosher, or (b) "My [personal] religion is at it's core about hospitality: Are my guests comfortable in my home? Have I made my host/hostess comfortable?"

That last statement may confuse you, but it refers to how we approached Passover in my home. I "koshered" my kitchen as much as I was able before cooking the meal, with some obvious exceptions. My roommate isn't Jewish. So she owned (and had in the kitchen) plenty of leavened items, or ingredients that would normally be purged from your home for Passover. I got her permission to put them away from the counter during our two Passover dinners. On Monday morning, I took her items back out of the hidden cupboard, and put them back where they belonged on the counter. She was confused, "Isn't Passover a week long?" she asked me. "Yes, but you're not Jewish. So why should your food be put away?" So she asked about the weekend meals. And I had originally gotten permission to put things away, because I wanted all my guests to feel comfortable having a Passover meal in a home where all the chamitz (leavening) had been put away. And I said in summary, "My religion is about hospitality." And she laughed, and agreed she could support that kind of religion.

Put all this back into context of how I think about food. I can make all my own food choices, day to day, meal to meal. But when I'm eating in someone else's home, or going out to dinner, I'm constantly weighing what matters to me for my own food consumption and how I'm making my guests and/or hosts feel about my food choices. As long as I'm not being an imposition on them, I find I am keeping this all to myself. So, I figured I'd at least share the story here, since that's really what this journal is all about.

Latest Things in the Schedule - So I'm taking Hebrew language classes again. Last summer, I took a "5-week Crash course" about 6 months after I had tried picking up the Hebrew alphabet on my own. So I had been exposed to a knowledgeable instructor for the first time, which filled in many of the gaps inherent in self-study. As a class, most of the students had so much fun together, we stayed for an extra 5 weeks, and our instructor pressed on with new material, as if we were in a Level II course. The speed was really break-neck for those who'd never learned any of the letters, but it was a good pace for my first-time classroom instruction.

Fast forward almost a year later, and I haven't been doing much self-study on the language in a while. But I'd written a song for the alphabet (and a separate bridge for the names of the vowels), and even taught it to a few friends. Adrienne sings it to Benji, which tickles me pink that my darling "nephew" is hearing my compositions from infancy. Back to class: Several friends from my "Intro to Judaism" course are taking the Hebrew I class, so naturally I was interested in joining. This class is geared as a "start from scratch" course, with a Primer that is more like what you see in Elementary school courses (as opposed to the "Adult Crash Course" method in my last class), and it's designed to go for 8-10 weeks. So, half the speed, different teaching methodology, and we're talking about a paid course ($80) rather than a free course.

Obviously I'm going to be a little bit ahead of students who've never sat down to learn to read Hebrew. But lately the struggle is that some of my former classmates act indignant and playfully mad at me for being too sharp, too fast, or too smart for them. Look folks, I paid to be in the class for a reason: I feel I need the instruction. I *know* I've studied this before, and with my degree in Linguistics I see some language things you don't see. But please! I would rather not feel guilty about having learned some Hebrew before. I'd rather be an enthusiastic fellow classmate and enjoy the instruction with you. (sigh)

I hope I haven't offended anyone with these comments: I just came away from this week's class feeling bummed. I'll work on fixing my attitude, and having as much patience for my classmates' frustrations as I'm asking them to have patience with me. We're in this together.

And I *love* our instructor. (grin) I came home from the first class and told Jeff & Adrienne, "I think I've seen myself in 10-15 years. I want to be just like her!"

Studies with the Rabbi - Besides Hebrew class, I'm finally meeting with my (sponsoring) Rabbi regularly, for additional studies. I'm almost done composing the answers to my "final exam" from my "Intro" course (yes, I'm behind schedule for turning that in). Rabbi Laibson wanted me to have the exam =done= before we met, but since I'd gotten nearly 80-90% of it done by our first meeting, AND finished the homework for our first meeting, he seemed satisfied. I still need to finish the last question for the exam, but I think that will be done on Sunday evening this weekend.

My studies with Rabbi L. are a more in-depth survey of some of the topics from my Intro class. The first assignment was to bring questions and comments from one of the books in my Intro class, a book about Conversion. So I went through the book and wrote some notes of my impressions based on each chapter, and a few comments on how I liked a different conversion book better than this one. There's still the issue of eventually telling my family (sigh) but part of my fear is my Grandmother, and how she'll take it. I'm actually spending this Sunday with my grandparents, and going to the Zoo with them in September. I'm just trying to spend time with them regularly, to build the relationship in general, not because I'm worried about telling them. But it is often on my mind, since they are very "evangelical missionary Christian" type grandparents. Once, in conversation with my grandmother, we were talking about a Jewish holiday. I had said something like, "I'm not sure how much you know about XYZ holiday on the Jewish calendar..." and she responded, "Oh yes, I know a lot about Judaism, because in the End Times, when all the Jews come to Christ..." (sigh) Ah. So that's where she's at. Okay. I can see some of the problems we're going to face.

So the real reason I haven't told my family is that it would be supremely unfair to them to say, "So, I'm converting, and don't tell Grandmother." And there's no guarantee someone wouldn't something slip to someone, so oddly enough, it feels unfair but I currently believe I cannot tell any of my family, even though many of them are likely to be supportive. (sigh again) I'll get through it somehow, and find my solutions.

My Rabbi rightly pointed out there may be a few college friends who will also have difficulty with my conversion (some of the Christian fellowship friends), and it reminded me that although I told my former pastor, he hasn't answered my email. Communication just stopped. Maybe it was nothing, but I can't help but wonder why he said nothing. I'll probably follow up some day. I'm just not sure how, right now.

Anyways. Didn't mean to end on a down note. Things are going well. I went to Torah study and services last Saturday, and truly enjoyed myself. Saw one former classmate there, and got to introduce her to some of my friends at the synagogue. Had one meeting with the Rabbi this week, which went very well. All is going nicely. Thanks for asking. *grin*
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Today's Blessing That I'm Thankful For: Janet, who makes language learning so darn accessible

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