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A bump in the road.

In Salt Lake City we made a lot of friends and had a very positive experience with the Jewish community. I started teaching sunday school (7th grade; and found out I am not good with middle-schoolers). My wife became a "kosher cop" of sorts. She would go to various establishments and verify that they used only kosher ingredients and therefore could be used at the synagogue. We went to adult education classes in making Shabbat. We helped organize events for Jewish students at the university. We went to services every Friday night and Saturday morning. I also went most Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays; and I bought my first pair of t'fillin. Basically, we were enjoying being active members of our synagogue and the Jewish community.

We also learned how to make a Jewish home by spending times with Jews in their homes... especially Shabbos and holidays. One of those Friday nights out (we drove on Shabbos in those days) while discussing our family history, I mentioned that my mother had had a conversion (Reform) when I was six. "So your mother wasn't Jewish when you were born?", my host asked. "Right.", I said. "So then, you aren't Jewish.", my host said. "Oh... right.", I responded.

I had known somewhere in the back of my mind that "Jewishness" goes through the mother; I had just never applied that idea to myself. So agreeing that I wasn't Jewish wasn't so much expressing a new idea as it was simply acknowledging long known but unexplored truth. Like saying the american flag has thirteen red and white stripes. True but relatively uninteresting until you want to make a flag and can't remember whether the top stripe is red or white (it's red). The fact that my mother wasn't Jewish and therefore I was not Jewish wasn't so interesting until now... when we were trying to build a Jewish home.

So here I was, starting to keep kosher, go to synagogue, observing the holidays, and I wasn't even Jewish! Of course I could take care of that by simply converting. On the other hand, it also gave me an opportunity to ask myself what was I really doing and why. I think that is an important thing for anyone to do, but we (I) don't; or, at least, didn't. Actually this was only the first time that I had to confront my motivations, and it wouldn't be the last (more about that later).

I'd love to say that this pushed me to really consider my motivations and look deeply into my beliefs... but it didn't. I don't mean to say that I didn't think about it. I had a few weeks of thinking that this was kind of cool. I discussed with friends the sort of surrealism of the situation -- "knowing" I was Jewish but having the opportunity to choose to be Jewish. Going through different arguments about why I should or shouldn't do it; but, in truth, there was never any question. Through it all there was no doubt in my mind that I would do it. The sky didn't open, no chorus of angels, nothing but the fact that I knew I was Jewish. Of course I intended to go through with the conversion.

Now all I had to do was convince the Reform Jewish Rabbi to let me convert. What was the problem? Here is someone who wants to make a real commitment and the Rabbi is balking? Of course, because his religion -- the Reform Jewish Religion -- had declared that Judaism can also be transmitted through the father (see, for example, Reform Movement's Resolution on Patrilineal Descent). I was cirucmcised, had had a Bar Mitzvah, and attended synagogue regularly... nothing else needed be done. So the conservative cantor and a few other knowledgeable laymen and I all argued with him. In the end, the Rabbi did not participate in the conversion, but did officiate at the ensuing marriage.

By the way, this was not the last time I would have to argue with a Rabbi to allow me to convert. More on that later; but first... my first conversion.


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