Conversion Classes Update

Our first class was on the 29th of May 2018, and it’s now the 31st of October 2018. Five months in to the official part of this process, and it’s been quite a ride! A couple of months ago I was talking with a friend who, when I explained what was involved over the next year (thankfully we have a very good idea of what religious life involves, so we are mentally prepared for what’s coming!), she likened it to a University degree! In some ways it is, as there’s a big mental shift, and also a big lifestyle change. 

I am still as excited as ever, and even though the process is not without growing pains, I am often surprised at how quickly we get ourselves into a new rhythm – taking on board the new things we need to do and practice. So here’s what we’re up to:

We’ve just finished learning about Kashrut, and are in a stage of practicing this. Our kitchen isn’t totally kosher – we’re in a practice phase. So if we (or our kids!) make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world – it’s just something to learn from. We had to do quite a bit of rearranging of our kitchen to accomodate a second set of… everything (!), and buckets to dirty dishes and washing up in to keep meat and dairy seperate. 

One of the things I didn’t fully anticipate in the conversion process was the cost involved. Not just in things like buying second dishes and kitchen tools (which I had anticipated), but in buying mezuzahs, tallit katan, various books etc. This isn’t a big thing, but we have had to save up for a bunch of stuff, so while we’ve already done the theory and on mezuzah, and tallit katan, we have to save for a few weeks before we can purchase these things. I guess it’s just about priorities, as in, we prioritised the kitchen stuff over these other things for now. All will get done in the next month or so, but for now we wait!

We’ve also been learning Hebrew. Our Rabbi took us through quite a few weeks of intense Hebrew lessons, and we practiced regularly (I’m not a linguist, so new languages are a bit of a challenge to me!), but we got trough that and now we’re just practicing in our own time. Time is ticking though, because we’ll be working our way through the siddur and praying soon, and we will need to be more or less fluent by then to make that process easier. I’ve been doing Hebrew on duolingo daily (okay, 4 times a week – but I TRY to do it daily!!) to practice reading Hebrew and hearing it, and spelling it, and interpreting it etc. And I also try to read parts of things in Hebrew when possible. For example, when I get lost in the Siddur at Shule on Shabbat I sometimes just choose something like the Amidah and just read through as much in Hebrew as I can. I should probably try and find my place, but I am in and out of the service so much with the kids that it’s a real difficulty.

We’ve been learning many prayers off by heart including the Modeh Ani, and the brachas before meals and benching. I really enjoy these because they all of a sudden make Judaism a very real and very tangible part of everyday life. The only problem is feeling a little self conscious when doing these around friends or family. People often don’t know what to do/say, and it can be a little awkward, but I suppose that’s just part of this stage of life. The children are very good at remembering the brachas, and also remembering to say them (not always so good at knowing which one to say – but they try hard, and they are getting better).

Speaking of the kids, that is another layer to this process – interpreting everything we’re learning and then translating that to the kids. I try to be pretty up front with them and treat them like the intelligent, spiritual people that they are, and that works well. We follow this process:

  1. Explain what we’ve been taught, and best practice, as in, how we ideally want to practice it.
  2. Talk about how they feel about taking this mitzvah on, and answer any questions they have about it.
  3. Work out the practicalities with them. If we choose to start at a lower level of observance and work up to something more observant later then we also talk about a time frame.

As an example of this, we have just talked to the kids about wearing tallit katan and kippot. So we explained what we ultimately want to do, and what Daddy will be doing. Lior expressed some hesitation about wearing these things at school, while Eli was happy to do it all the time, straight away. So we talked through Lior’s concerns and answered their questions like do they have to wear them swimming, doing sports, sleeping etc. All those regular questions kids might have (any even adults!). Then we worked out what level of observance they would be happy to do at this stage (for us that ended up being wearing them tucked in under their clothes so they can’t be seen, which is what was recommended to us anyone as people going through conversion and not yet Jewish), and getting ready to implement that once we have the tallit katan they need.

So I think that’s all I need to include in this update… I’m sure there’s other things I haven’t covered, but I can’t remember what I wrote in the last update (I did do another update, didn’t I?!). Ha! Oh well! We’re enjoying this journey, and I am so pleased with how well we are all going and how enthusiastic everyone is to take on these mitzvahs and get involved! I’m particularly thankful to Luke who is a real team mate in this process, especially with kashrut, as I would not want to be solely responsible for that!

Lessons I’ve Learnt – Tishrei

3rd of October 2018
24th Tishrei 5779

I feel so tired. Exhausted. My biggest lesson I’ve learnt standing at the end of this holiday season is that I need to be realistic about my capabilities at this time, and I need to prioritise the Yom Tov over other events.

So we went through Rosh Hashanah fine – totally observant, and really enjoying the time. We hosted family on the first night, and had a really special family time on the second night.

Yom Kippur went okay. Luke attended services and I was at home with the kids which was a bit hard. I felt myself getting really sick and flaring (Hashimotos style) towards the afternoon, and I realised that perhaps my health isn’t good enough to really fast a full 24 hours at the moment. This was a disappointing realisation, and one I will have to be mindful of with future fasts while I am in this healing period. G-D willings, I will be better next year though!

Luke left to go to Melbourne straight after Yom Kippur (like, that night), so then I solo parented for a few days, while also trying to finish up Sukkot gift shopping, Sukkot supply shopping and food prep. I did as little as I could, as I was pretty wrecked, and that meant that we weren’t super well prepared for the start of Sukkot.

The Yom Tovs to start Sukkot were still great, and we celebrated them well – taking time to rest and go to services and enjoy time in the sukkah. Same throughout the rest of the week – we had our neighbours over which was lovely, and had great family time. I was aware that next year I would like to have more activities in the sukkah with the kids during the week, but it was fine for now.

We hosted two “parties” on the weekend, and while they were both enjoyable, I felt really tired and drained after them and was too tired and worn out to properly observe the ending Yom Tovs of Shimini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. I deeply regret this, and realised that I should have prioritised these yom tovs over other events.

So the holiday season ended in a less than stellar way, BUT overall it was still really enjoyable. I learnt a lot, and enjoyed services so much more this year having gone through the Machzor beforehand with our Rabbi.

Things to be mindful of next year:

  • Prioritise the Yomim Tovim over any other events. Ideally host people on these days and not on other days.
  • Family events are nice, and I’m grateful that our family is so supportive that they’re keen to come to these events even thought they’re not interested in Judaism themselves, but just our family is also really nice. We don’t NEED to have other people over for for every holiday for it to special.
  • Have a budget and stick to it.
  • Put more effort into kids activities throughout the Chagim. I want to make this special for the kids, and I think that this stage it’s more important that we do those activities then do big fancy meals etc. Teaching my children and making this memorable for them should be my priority as a mother.

Our First Class! // Converting to Judaism

Today we had our first class for our conversation to Judaism!

first conversion class - converting to Judaism!

I feel like it’s a pretty momentous occasion! We sent off our application to the Beth Din in February, had our first interview in April, and our second interview in May. We were assigned a teacher, and have started classes! Nothing about this journey seems “quick” – I feel like it took an agonisingly long time to come to the decision to move to Brisbane and be part of the community, then just as long to get our act together and make some official decisions about converting, saving some cash, and putting in our application. Though some parts of that went quickly, in general this is something I’ve found we’ve had to be on top of, and keep pushing forward.

I was so glad that our first class involved an actual lesson, and not just chit chat about what we’re doing and why we’re converting (though it did include a bit of that!). We are started with the 13 principles of Jewish faith, and working through them one by one. We got about half way today, and will continue with the rest next week.

I feel really in two minds about the conversation stuff. On the one hand I am so excited about what we are doing, and on the other hand I feel the weight and seriousness of what we are doing. I mean, I feel the sense of commitment even more with this than when I got married! Perhaps in some ways it’s because I’ve been married for 10 years now that I have a more true understanding of what commitment is, and how it affects every part of who you are. I kind of hope that that sense of seriousness doesn’t leave me thought this process. This is truely not a light decision to make, and I want to make it with as full sense of its weight. 

Of course I love Hashem, and I truly do love Judaism as well, and my heart is completely all in for keeping Halacha, so all this seriousness is weighed up with excitement and joy!