I was raised as a devout believer in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – colloquially known as the Mormon Church. I am the second oldest and only girl out of eight children, and as a child, I loved my family and I loved my religion. But when I was 18, I had a faith crisis; I had questions that seemed to have no answers, or else the answers led in an ugly direction. Through a painful process of reading, talking to people I trusted, and desperate soul-searching, I realized I could not believe that the Mormon Church was what it claimed to be. So I left.
Despite previously being very involved in youth leadership and other church programs, I quickly became a pariah in the community I had once been such an integral part of. I never heard from most of my old friends or leaders again. I felt betrayed and deceived by my former faith, and angry that people seemed to be so willing to cast off friends and family for differences of belief and opinion.
Many difficult years of bitterness and frustration followed. Leaving the Mormon Church created a void that I tried to fill, mostly unsuccessfully. I examined other churches, but couldn’t find anything that didn’t have a dictatorial top-down approach or that didn’t discourage asking hard questions. I became very involved in Leftist politics but ended up feeling like that, too, was a religion in many ways, with many of the same ugly behaviors I encountered in Mormonism. I struggled to find a meaningful moral compass.
About seven years after I left Mormonism, I began working as a nanny for an orthodox Jewish family in Chicago. The family had no interest in proselyting Judaism, but through watching their family operate within Jewish values and seeing their supportive community work together during difficult times, I began to wonder if perhaps there was something of great worth in Judaism.
As I came to know more of the community, I realized that there were as many interpretations and beliefs about Judaism as there were members. Each person had asked their own questions and formulated their own convictions. Community members of various levels of observance attended the same synagogue without hostility or judgment. No one body of people is perfect, but the warmth and respect between community members was tangible.
During my time working with this family, I sometimes lived with them and was able to watch and participate in Jewish holidays and other traditions. T, the mother of the children, would often tell me at the start of my employment: “I know this is probably going to sound crazy to you, but this is how we do x.” I told her that I came from a religion where you can drink energy drinks, but coffee will send you to hell – nothing is weird. So I memorized children’s songs in Hebrew, learned how to keep a kosher kitchen, hunted for chametz before Passover.
Towards the end of my time working as a nanny, the thought of conversion was frequently on my mind. I spent a lot of time thinking about Israel and wondering what could make a land so wonderful and important over such a long period of time. I started asking questions and researching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and learning about the history of Israel and the Jewish people.
Ultimately, for various reasons, I felt as though Judaism wasn’t yet something that I could commit myself to, and after three years I left the wonderful family and community in Chicago and went home to Utah to attend graduate school and be closer to my family. I started teaching English at a public high school.
Two years later, the orthodox family I had worked for in Chicago asked me to travel to Israel with them over the summer. Because I was teaching public school, I had summers off and was able to spend a month in Israel, visiting ancient cultural sites and exploring different cities. While I was there, I met Udi – the most awesome mensch ever to walk the face of the planet. When I left Israel, we decided to continue a long-distance relationship and later became engaged.
I now had all the justification I needed to become a part of Judaism. It was an easy choice to make – less of a decision and more of a confirmation. I quit teaching in Utah in January of 2020 and moved back to Chicago so I could convert with an orthodox rabbi that I had worked with and known for several years. When the conversion is over, my fiancé and I will get married in Israel and build our lives there.
Shortly after I decided to convert, I also decided to write a blog about my experiences. When I was looking for information on the process of converting to orthodox Judaism, first-hand accounts that were not sensationalized for media purposes were difficult to find. I hope my blog provides insight and information to those who may be curious or considering doing the same.
Because I also write about other subjects that are more political and social, I’m going to keep this blog somewhat anonymous so I can separate the personal from the public.
If you have any questions or opinions, or if you’d like to contribute a guest post with your own experience with converting to Judaism, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment.