On Monday, September 10, I had the honor of giving the appeal speech on the first day of Rosh ha-Shana of my congregation, Leyv Ha-Ir. Here it is:
I am a Jew by Choice.
I grew up in a small township upstate in Pennsylvania, where I attended a small Methodist church in the countryside. It didn’t connect with me, all that Sunday School teaching didn’t take with me; I could never accept the idea that THIS was the only way to get to Heaven. I always had a fascination with Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel, and I always wondered what it would be like if I was Jewish.
In early 1990, I began the process of converting. At the Israel Independence Day festival of that year, I found a booth for people interested in joining a Reconstructionist congregation coming together in Center city Philadelphia. The reason I chose Reconstructionism is its belief in being both traditional and modern at the same time, and the belief that being a Jew is not just about religion but being part of a culture, a “tribe.”
My life in Leyv Ha-Ir has been important in this conversion process, taking part in the discussions of the congregation, taking part in services, and being adopted by the members. For my Jewish education, I took a series of courses, the Reform course out of the UAHC, and the Reconstructionist course, “Jewish, Alive, and American,” run out of the Rabbinical College in Wyncote. I discussed also with the rabbi, Geela Rayzel Raphael, and she outlined an informal plan of education-reading the Encyclopedia Judaica in the Paley Library of Temple University, visiting a variety of synagogues to see the variety of Jewish worship (along with the commonality), studying Kashrut, and reading the book Basic Judaism by Rabbi Milton Steinberg.
On the Sunday after Yom Kippur in 1994, I went through the Mikveh and emerged a full-fledged Jew. Four years later, I joined in an adult B’nai Mitzvah class, and I received the Bar Mitzvah in March 1998. Last year, I fulfilled my dream of visiting Israel. I took the plane to Tel Aviv, and took the bus to Jerusalem. The driver pointed out to me the various spots in Jerusalem, and then drove me close to the entrance to the Kotel. I washed my hands, put on my kippah, wrote the little note to place in the cracks in the Wall, and placed my hands on the Wall-I had no other prayer, that was my prayer. I look forward to going back again.
Leyv Ha-Ir has been, as I always say, better than a family to me. We have our Friday evening services, with our wonderful Rabbi Julie, our lay led services for Saturday morning and Friday evening, and our educational programs that Julie leads, to further our vision of our Jewish life. we hope you can support us and join us as we continue the journey.