Approximately 20 years ago, I went to the mikveh, after a year-long course of study with Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, CA. I had no idea what to expect, and I was totally unaware of the tradition of turning a convert “away” before allowing them entry. I was shaken by the interview with the Bet Din, which I took very seriously…they challenged me about my responsibility to my daughter, who was not converting – how could I raise her in her faith and still remain true to my new identity as a Jew? Great question, and one which persists for me, as my daughter lives her own life, and has little need for religion (in many ways this seems to me to simplify one’s life).
And, yesterday, my husband and I brought our two boys to the mikveh – they’ve lived more than a year in a more observant life and home than we have ever known…their presence has forced us to make choices that we had been half-hearted about. We now observe Shabbat from candle-lighting of Friday night until sundown of Saturday night. No computers, no TV, no writing, no driving (with rare exceptions for the last)…our lives have changed. We have been observant of just about all of the holidays for a few years now, but this past year+ has been notable for our increased understanding of some of those holidays, as we struggle to explain why and what we are doing. We are learning alongside our children.
This week, we brought our children to the mikveh, to finalize their identity as Jews – in the car on the way to lunch after their immersion, first older brother S, followed by little mimicking brother J, said “I am Jewish!” I don’t really know if they understand what they experienced, but they seemed impressed that something big had happened.
In preparing them, during the preceding week, and on the morning of, I had focused on the actual immersion, making sure that they were both comfortable, especially with the fact that they would be in the mikveh with their dad, whereas they usually go in the pool with mom. But, as with my own conversion, I completely forgot to prepare them for meeting with the Bet Din – even though I knew that would be part of the process. We walked into the entry hall of Adas Israel, in Washington, DC, and I am ashamed to admit that I wasn’t sure why I was being introduced to these two random yarmulked men until we all walked into the chapel, and I realize, OMG these are the two other rabbis of the Bet Din!! And then, I realized that I had completely forgotten to mention to the boys that there would be an interview beforehand…I needn’t have worried. The boys both stepped up, and genuinely displayed their comfort level with Judaism…at one point, one of them (I honestly can’t remember which, although I think it might have been J, the younger) asked “Why aren’t they wearing kippot??”, and all of the rabbis bent their heads down to show their yarmulkes…which weren’t visible to a child of 3 or 5 seated in front of them!