Well, it’s over. Between the hustle of getting the conversion finished, packing everything up, and spending time with my family before leaving for Israel, I’ve neglected writing. General space-cadetness is also to blame.
In any case, at the end of April I had my last meeting with the rabbinate and was approved to finish the conversion process. They had some concerns about Udi and I in Israel, in terms of whether we had sufficient religious support in our immediate community. A year and a half ago, Udi started taking conversion classes with an Israeli rabbi, and we were able to have the rabbinate to meet with this rabbi and speak about his relationship with Udi. He assured the rabbinate that he would be willing to offer me and Udi any help we need throughout our early years together, and to get us married as soon as possible.
Once that was done, I visited the mikveh near my home for the first time and was dunked into the fold. Getting there that morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Typically, you can have attendants of your choosing, but because of Covid I had to go by myself. The attendant who works there in the official capacity of the mikveh was very sweet and helpful, but I wished I had been able to have my favorite Jewish women mentor me through the process.
Going through the mikveh was hardly what I had expected at all. The mikveh pool is gorgeously tiled and stands in the center of a number of dressing rooms that all lead to the inner chamber where the mikveh is located. The pool itself is placed quite far down below the main floor level – probably eight feet or so – so you go down a series of steps into the heated water.
Because the immersion in the mikveh has to be complete in order for the conversion to be valid, the beit din had to be present and observing at the time of submersion. In order to maintain modesty, the attendant had me step into a large, heavy brown sheet with a hole for my head. The sheet covered my body and floated somewhat awkwardly around me when I got into the mikveh.
Once I was in the water, the attendant made sure I was decently covered and placed a small hand towel over my head. I assume this was to cover my hair, but I’m not sure – I forgot to ask. Once the rabbis came into the room, they looked down at me (their heads were about 10 feels above mine, due to the sunken pool), and asked me some questions. Would I observe Shabbat? Would I be modest in my behavior and dress? Would I keep all the mitzvoth? And so on. I answered yes to each question, and then the attendant whisked the hand towel off my head and I was instructed to go under completely.
The water was comfortably warm. I waded into the deeper part of the mikveh and went under. You can’t plug your nose, so I blew air out my nose, used my hands to propel me downward, and hoped for the best. After what seemed like enough time for everything to get properly sanctified, I came back up and the attendant said, “Mazel tov!” The rabbis were already gone, having turned away from me the second they saw everything had submerged, in order not to accidentally see anything untoward once I came back up.
So that was it. I dried off, got dressed, and traded the rabbis two passport photos of me for my conversion certificate in exchange for a blessing after conversion. It was all very lovely and somewhat impersonal. I think that if I had gone to the mikveh a few times and had been able to slow down and pay more attention to the process, I would have had a more intimate experience; as it was, I felt somewhat dazed and it was over almost as soon as it had began. Nevertheless, it was a good experience, and – most important – it was a finished experience. I am a Jew.
I celebrated by packing up the rest of my stuff and leaving to take a road trip around the eastern U.S., the western U.S., and lots of time in Utah with family I wouldn’t get to see much after going to Israel. I visited with my evangelical step-grandmother, who is thrilled that I was finally going to ze Holy Land.
And somehow, just a short time later, I am in Israel! I came on a trip with Birthright, because individual tourists still can’t get in. I’m still on that trip, and wow – I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s an experience every American Jew should have. Udi has been able to briefly stop by and say hello a couple of times, which has been great.
Birthright ends in about a week, and then we get to intensive wedding planning. Covid restrictions are starting up again in earnest, and we’re partly hoping that they’ll be serious enough that we can scratch the entire wedding and just do it all on Zoom. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to be that lucky, and instead will probably end up spending months choosing a venue, planning the wedding, and eagerly looking forward to the point when it’s all over and we can get on with real life.
Until then, I remain your favorite newly-minted Jew,