1. Describe the process that led you to want to become Jewish.

Jared and I have been married for 21 years. We briefly discussed the possibility of my converting at the time of our wedding. At that time, although the concept was discussed, I did not consider conversion in earnest since I did not then have any searing desire to be affiliated with an organized religion and could not at that time conceive of any change of circumstances in my life, which might make such an affiliation appealing. I had not been raised with much exposure to any religious community, aside from spending time with a local Christian Youth Group in my early teen years. My memories of that time are foggy with teen hormones, but I do recall feeling judged and pressured to dress and certain way, act a certain way and even speak a certain way. In all cases, it did not feel natural to me.

When our family lived in Larchmont, NY, Jared began to focus on the importance of raising our children in the Jewish faith because our daughters were at an age where they needed to begin religious school if they wanted to become Bat Mitzvahs on the same timeline with the other Jewish children in our local community. Our experience with the Jewish community in Larchmont left us cold. Although we did make a small group of friends, it felt forced.

When we began to spend time in the B’Nai Portland community, we had no specific plans to be active members beyond sending our children to religious school for Bat Mitzvah preparations. I certainly had no plans to study Hebrew or engage in any meaningful religious or spiritual activities beyond the High Holiday services. But then, something happened. I began to find myself drawn into conversations with Laura and Hester. Laura then established the conversion class (which I initially thought was merely a study group for language and culture). I began to go and was immediately intrigued. I found that many of the discussions were natural and easy for me. I also discovered that I was looking forward to discussions at class, services on Fridays and general social interactions with all the warm, friendly, genuine people I came to know as the B’Nai Portland community.

This community was a fit. Moreover, Laura clenched it for me when she cleverly asserted after services one evening that to convert to Judaism did not mean that I would be changing who I am but rather that I would be adding to my character. Indeed, I do not feel that I have changed my belief system, but simply enriched my understanding of how a group of people have historically approached (and the many ways in which they continue to approach) certain questions of life and existence and society. I have discovered new ways to consider these topics and it has all been additive. I feel I have grown spiritually and have been given gifts of strength that come only from love, acceptance and support. These things I have found within the Jewish community of B’Nai Portland. It is for this reason that I have decided to convert.

  1. Which Jewish values and beliefs do you find most appealing and persuasive?

I love the Jewish value of questioning and debating topics. As a former lawyer, I can honestly say that this value on allowing and even encouraging debate is extremely appealing. There are many times I hear a biblical story and leave class feeling one way but then over the course of considering what we discussed in class, I begin to have another view. The Joseph story is a good example. I have always hated that story and Laura loves it. It bothers me how Joseph’s brothers are painted in such a horrible light and he is presented as perfect in every way. My rational mind wants to point to the subtleties of life and dispute the accuracy of such a black and white story. However, at class, we discussed explanations for why this story exists in Torah. After much reflection, I realized that the details and very story itself may not even be purporting to be a real series of events, but instead could simply be a way to illustrate the magic of blessings. Joseph’s ability to forgive and bear such burdens that his brothers visited upon him might simply be a way to describe the reality of life. When we are blessed with gifts (prophetic dreams or simple loving support of family and friends), we become better people. I look to my own life and cannot deny the truth in this. Joseph’s brothers did not receive the gift of prophetic dreams and were possibly not even loved as well by their own parents. Their self-esteem and behavior suffered accordingly. The experience of debating the meaning of that story and my subsequent discovery of a new perspective on why that story exists was a great experience.

I also love the Jewish value of Tikkun olam (healing the world). We discussed this at class on a couple of occasions and it made me think long and hard about purposeful living. I believe that it takes a generosity of spirit to be able to heal others. One must feel some measure of safety and wellbeing in order to have the mental wherewithal to consider topics beyond one’s immediate daily life. I believe it is a great honor to be able to help others, in that the act of helping seems to bestow a strength of spirit on the giver. I don’t fully understand yet why this is, but I feel it. This is not so intellectual as it is emotional for me. But it is an appealing value nonetheless.

  1. How is Judaism more appropriate for you than your former religion or lifestyle?

My answer to this question will be brief. My former lifestyle was non-religious, although over the past 10 years, had become increasingly spiritual. I had developed a particular interest in the Tao and the notion that we are all connected as parts of the universe. The concept of the flow of life and the “way” things are had increasingly captivated my thoughts. I do not actually feel like Judaism is much of a change from the spiritual direction in which I have been heading independently.  More importantly, I feel like Judaism reinforces my spiritual belief that having faith in the universe (whether in a salient being or an ever-present, all connected force) and accepting my place therein is a fundamental and critical basis for a peaceful existence.

  1. Describe how your personal and home life has changed because of Jewish tradition and how it may yet change in the future.

My personal life has changed in that I have begun to experience a new awareness and appreciation for many Jewish cultural traditions as well as the B’Nai Portland Jewish community. We have always participated in High Holiday services and attended celebrations held by extended family and friends relating to the High Holidays. I have always enjoyed these gatherings, although at times have experienced them much like I experience Thanksgiving, with some combination of joy and impatience. In recent years, all Jewish holidays we have had the opportunity to celebrate, including Shabbat services, have become more important to me personally. I have begun to approach the High Holidays as well as Shabbat as opportunities to contemplate life, refresh my spirit and renew personal resolutions. It could be that I did not have the mental energy as a younger person to still my mind enough to experience these things. But in recent years, I have found that I long to have these experiences. In addition to the inner mental processes, I have also found great companionship amongst the other congregants at B’Nai Portland. It is such a comfort to know that everyone comes together when one person or family is in need. It puts our shared humanity is sharp focus for me and helps me to find courage when I need to ask others for help.

Over time, our family has begun to pay closer attention to and observe with increasing regularity, Shabbat. We are not consistent in our observance, but it is now a consideration for us when we deliberate over family activities on Friday evenings and even Saturdays. This time has become more sacred to us as a family and marks the passage of time in a way that I believe creates in our entire family a sort of awareness of the joys of life that we might not otherwise have. I also believe that the gathering monthly with other members of B’Nai Portland is creating lasting positive memories and bonds for my children as well as for Jared and me.

  1. Describe your sense of identification with the local Jewish community and synagogue.

I feel strongly bonded with the B’Nai Portland community. I feel honored to be a part of such a warm and open group of people. My husband and I joke (although with a kernel of truth) that Maine Jews are the best people. They combine what I believe are the best qualities of Judaism (emphasis on healing the world and learning) with the best qualities of our nation (casual approach to life and acceptance of others). Although we have done our Friday Shabbat with many non-Jews, there is something so special to me when we are able to gather together with shared reference points to enjoy Shabbat. I also get warm fuzzies when we decorate the Sukkah tent, unroll the Torah and light Hannukah candles together as a community. All of these things keep me grounded spiritually and emotionally.

  1. Describe how you intend to fulfill the mitzvah (commandment) of Tzedaka?

My favorite way to give is anonymously. I have made it a habit to stop when I drive through Freeport and buy lunch regularly for whoever is begging at the traffic light. I am not comfortable giving them cash because I don’t know what that money would be used for. So instead, I stop and ask whether they would like lunch. I have never been refused. I know that these people are somebody’s child and it pains me to know that they have not been given the right gifts in life to make them mentally and spiritually strong. I believe that unconditional love and support is the only way that a human spirit can grow strong. While I feel in my gut that it is most effectively provided by parents, I also believe it can come from strangers. My hope is that this caring gesture translates as unconditional love and can help these people grow a bit stronger and someday be able to take care of themselves and their families.

I am also always open to assisting those in need in other ways, whether contributing through Laura to the Locker Project, or putting money with my daughter Phoebe into every animal rescue jar she can find, especially those designated for programs that focus on cat rescue.  Phoebe has recently told me that she’d like to do a bake sale at Chilton to raise money for a school in Africa that her elementary school teacher helped to found. I plan to assist her in that as well.

  1. What are your desires for future Jewish study?

I would love to continue to study the language. For me, it will make the prayers and Torah reading much more meaningful if I have some level of understanding in the moment as the words are spoken. Of course, I would like to continue to study the history of Judaism, by discussing significant events and cultural phenomena. In addition, I have always been intrigued by the idea of Kabbalah. I don’t know enough about it to understand if one needs to be devoted fully to it in order to gain any knowledge or benefit from the meditations. However, I’d certainly like to learn more about it. Finally, Laura has introduced us briefly to the numerological theories that have been studied in conjunction with Torah. That is also interesting to me.