My journey to Judaism began when I was 16 years old. At that time, I was a practicing Methodist and I was very involved in my church. I was a member of the youth group and the choir, attended Sunday school and worship services every week, and volunteered to work every fundraiser.
One of the songs I used to sing in the choir was an old time gospel entitled, “Yes I Know.”
Come, ye sinners, lost and hopeless,
Jesus’ blood can make you free;
For He saved the worst among you,
When He saved a wretch like me.
And I know, yes, I know
Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean,
In temptation He is near thee,
Holds the pow’rs of hell at bay;
Guides you to the path of safety,
Gives you grace for ev’ry day.
One evening, during choir practice, I found that I was actually very disturbed by what I was saying: It is belief in Jesus that holds hell at bay. So then I started wondering, “But there are billions of people in the world … good, moral people … religious people even … who do not believe in Jesus. Are we really saying that all of those people are doomed to hell?”
When I brought these questions to my pastor, he was not too keen on the idea of entertaining my doubts. He told me that belief in Jesus was just that … belief. I was going through a crisis of faith and, according to him, the only way out of a crisis of faith is to have faith. (Kind of a Catch-22, don’t you think?) Admittedly, faith has always been something that I have struggled with; I started feeling like a hypocrite. There I was, singing every Sunday about the saving power of Jesus, but I didn’t believe the words that I was saying. So, I did the logical thing … I stopped going to church.
It was at this point in my journey that I began dating one of the two Jewish boys in my high school’s junior class. In an effort to better know him and his faith, I picked up a couple books about Judaism at Barnes & Nobles. Within the first twenty pages of the first book, I was hooked!
Here was a religion that encouraged its followers to ask questions. I came to learn that Judaism idealizes intellectualism, reason, and argumentation “for the sake of heaven.” And there are very few dogmatic doctrines. A person does not have to have faith in a particular set of beliefs in order to be right with God and the Universe. Judaism places greater emphasis on deeds than on beliefs, on the here-and-now than on the here-after. I had found a religion that I could follow without feeling hypocritical.
As a senior in high school, I immersed myself in Jewish life. I attended services at the local Reform temple every Friday night and Saturday morning. I volunteered in the Hebrew school. I took adult education classes. I joined NFTY (the National Federation of Temple Youth). I celebrated the Jewish holidays. And I was welcomed with open arms by the Jewish community.
When I moved to south Florida for college, one of the first things I did was find a local synagogue to call home. Since I was becoming more and more interested in the observance of halachah (Jewish law), it seemed natural for me to look at Conservative synagogues as well as Reform synagogues. I did ultimately find that my own approach to Judaism and Jewish law – that halachah is binding – fit better with the Conservative Movement than with the Reform Movement. In addition to believing that halachah is binding, I also find a since of comfort in the predictable observance of Jewish ritual. (Actually, I have always preferred high church, with its ritualistic services and ceremonies, to low church. It’s why, as a child, I preferred Methodist worship services to Baptist worship services.)
Finally, after two years of studying and living as a Jew, I completed my conversion with a Conservative bet din just before Passover in 2001. I was an 18 year-old college freshman.