The following is a guest feature by Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California.
There is one moment that stands out as the most sublime in a rabbi’s work. It is an encounter with a person at their most vulnerable, most open, most hopeful and afraid: the moment before immersing in a mikvah upon affirming a Jewish identity. It is an intense and unforgettable experience of fragile ecstasy.
Born Jews are blessed, tradition tells us. But even deeper to the Jewish People is the affirmation of its collective history and soul when a new sister or brother commits to a Jewish life. We have been blessed as a community to have so many new family members who have lost the ability to differentiate cleanly between the Jewish People and themselves. It is simply a deeper attunement to Jewish destiny than most born Jews have ever felt.
Just stand there with me: hear the trembling in someone’s voice as they recite the Shema for the first time as a Jew. They’re usually adult, and have worked hard to get here, learning more about Judaism than most born Jews though always concerned with their “right to belong”, despite all the rightful assurances offered. They are offering a gift they can no longer hold back. They are coming home to the most familiar and yet strange place they’ve ever found. You are their home, and you’ve been waiting for them for so long. You didn’t know how much you needed the gift of being part of their life. But now you’re sharing love with newly-discovered family.
Stand for a moment with me as I look into an almost-affirmed-Jew’s glistening eyes, their expectations swirling in their heart as they hope this journey they’ve worked so hard to navigate will feel “real” for them, that their family of birth will see their choice as a continuation of their whole identity just as their new community will see their whole story as an emerging facet in the story of the Jewish People.
The song, “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday,” by Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams names this emotion, and invites us all back to a moment when we found home.
This looks familiar, vaguely familiar, Almost unreal, yet, it’s too soon to feel yet.
Close to my soul, and yet so far away. I’m going to go back there someday.
Sun rises, night falls, sometimes the sky calls. Is that a song there, and do I belong there?
I’ve never been there, but I know the way. I’m going to go back there someday.
Come and go with me, it’s more fun to share, We’ll both be completely at home in midair.
We’re flyin’, not walkin’, on featherless wings. We can hold onto love like invisible strings.
There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met. Part heaven, part space, or have I found my place?
You can just visit, but I plan to stay. I’m going to go back there someday. I’m going to go back there someday.
We have a tradition of inclusion. But these moments of affirmation turn the story on its head. It is the Jew who is blessed to be included in a moment of rare blessing when a new Jew claims their destiny.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor is the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA. He is founder of ShefaNetwork: The Masorti/Conservative Movement Dreaming From Within, chair of Bay Area Masorti, international cochair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall, and author ofTheTisch, an electronic commentary on Jewish Spirituality. A popular speaker at synagogues, college campuses, and various Jewish communities around the country and in Israel on questions of Jewish Identity, Leadership, Inclusion, and Spirituality, Rabbi Creditor also continues to perform with Shirav, a Jewish folk-music group.
This article has been reprinted with the authors knowledge and permission.
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Thank you, Rabbi Creditor, for writing a heartfelt yet concise statement on conversion to Judaism.