Waiting to hear back from your rabbi, who’s waiting to hear back from the sponsoring rabbinical court, who are busy dealing with their own congregations and coronavirus, is like sitting on hold with the IRS. You have to provide very specific information, and you have to remember it because the outcomes hinges on you having the right answers. You don’t know when you’ll get to talk to someone, which is tricky because the answer you get often depends on who you talk to. There’s no timely callback option, but whatever you do, you can’t hang up because you’ve been waiting for such a long time and you have so much invested in the outcome. The only difference is that at I have great hold music, thanks to Udi’s playlists, and that when I do occasionally get to talk to someone, they tend to be substantially more friendly and interesting than a government tax professional.
In all seriousness, the process of moving through the initial steps of the conversion is taking a long time. A. Very. Long. Time. I moved to Chicago at the end of January, and I don’t have my first meeting with my rabbi for another two weeks. He’s trying to arrange a first meeting with the Beth Din, but conversion hearings are delayed because of COVID-19, so it’s anyone’s guess on when that will take place. Generally, conversions take about a year so the convert has enough time to move through the cycle of Jewish holidays and experience an increasingly observant Jewish life, but I’ve been very familiar with Judaism for several years and began regularly attending synagogue right after Udi and I met. It’s unclear whether any of that time going to synagogue and observing holidays “counts,” nor whether my previous experience with Judaism will hasten the end, so to speak.
I understand the importance of the going through the process, but it’s hard not to get impatient with the wait. It’s not a frustration at any person or organization, but Udi and I have been engaged for almost six months and we still can’t plan a wedding because we can’t even set a date. I’m only 29, but Udi’s… ahem… a bit older. We’d like to start a family as soon as we can before we get any younger, and of course that can’t happen until after the wedding that we don’t have a date for. Naturally, in the last few months, several of our close friends have announced that they are pregnant. I thought The Universe was hip to the fact that my girlfriends and I wanted to be pregnant at the same time, but I guess not.
Thankfully Udi is a god of a man and has helped me keep an eye on our long-term goals. While we wait for the chance to meet with the Beth Din, we spend hours every week studying together, on top of the studying I do on my own. We research and review the list of conversion practice questions and read books from the conversion reading list. These books focus on the halachic minutiae as it pertains to things like the ritual washing of hands, observing Shabbat in the kitchen and throughout the rest of the home, and also on broader philosophical underpinnings of the Jewish faith as written by Maimonides, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and other prominent Jewish thought leaders. Today, for example, we spent several hours listening to a Crash Course in Jewish History by Rabbi Barel Wein, which is available for free on YouTube and is part of the conversion reading list. I worked on my quilt, and since Udi is teaching himself 3-D modeling, he worked on a groovy little 3-D robot he’s been designing. (Udi is an autodidact and remembers everything he hears and reads, which is sexy as hell, but don’t tell him I said that in public.)
There is light at the end of the waiting-studying-reading-quilting-podcasting-long-distance tunnel. I just bought tickets to visit Israel for the whole month of August, and, if we’re lucky and things begin to return to some semblance of normal, Udi will come out for a couple of weeks in mid-June to spend some time with my family.
Despite the long wait and all of the frustrations that it can entail, this whole process is turning out to be what both Udi and I were optimistic it would be: a chance for us to learn more about Judaism together, and in so doing, grow closer over something we both feel very strongly about.
Udi knows so much about Judaism, but he is also learning new things along with me, and I love watching Udi’s passion for his religion and culture. His patience and care for my movement into Judaism knows no bounds. He wakes up in the middle of the night so we can make kabbalat Shabbat together in my time. He writes me lists of the blessings I need to memorize, and reminds me to say them and practices them with me. I read the conversion list’s books out loud to him, and we have interesting discussions about some aspect of Judaism almost every day. I’d do the conversion without Udi in the picture, but I’m glad he’s a part of it.
In other news, I’ve been in my apartment for a month now, and it’s coming together really well. I waited for a few weeks to get a sense of where I should put things and how to organize the kitchen (since I use two sets of everything, one for meat and once for dairy, and although I haven’t done math since I took calculus in in high school, I’d say it takes up about twice the space). I also made a few loaves of challah that came out fine as hell, and my dog is almost done shedding his winter coat, so I’m eating lots of unhealthy delicious white bread and beginning to look forward to not having to vacuum every day. Chicago is slowly, sloooooowly considering ending parts of the shutdown, and Udi and I have talked about how weird it’s going to be when we tell our kids about how we not only did an intensely long-distance relationship, but that we did it while we lived through one of the strangest events the world has ever seen.