I was not born Jewish. I chose to be Jewish in a way that I guess is very familiar to those who have taken this path. I met and fell in love with a man who is Jewish (that he considers himself more Israeli than Jewish was something that took me a while to understand). And I chose to move my life to Israel, at least for a 3 year period – as I learnt the language. If I remember correctly I had a notion that if we did not start our lives in Israel, I would never be able to do it at a later date with children. It would just be too difficult. Anyway, 4+ years later I am still here, and am likely to be here for some time.
Some background information. I had always been drawn to Judaism as a child. I really liked visiting my friends who celebrated Shabbat and loved the deep roots for the celebrations of Pesach and Rosh haShana. I like the mezzuzot on the doors. It was something that felt very comforting to me. I guess I also really liked my friends who were Jewish.
My first inkling of how hard it is to be a woman who is in love with a Jewish man came as an adolescent when I fell in love with my best friends brother. My experience with their mum was so strange. She was not at all happy about me being with her son. Now I am not so sure it was about me being Jewish or not, but the notion that I was not an appropriate choice if I was not Jewish became a notion in my mind. A notion that I have also learned is not universally held by all Jewish families, well both sets of my IL’s could not care less. And I had to overcome considerable resistance to go through with the conversion.
DH and I had a civil wedding in Cape Town, South Africa with close friends and family and I moved to Israel to start my married life, and a process that often had me in tears with frustration, deeply hurt by the system that did not want me. The Israeli Interior Ministry proved to be a place where we even got friendly with the clerke who renewed my visa each year, but the bottom line was that if you are not Jewish, you are not too welcome. Of course it is illegal to say an outright ‘no’, the High court gave my husband the right to marry a non Jewish person and have his marriage recognized in Israel. But, the overall feeling is not one of ‘yes, we want you here’.
Throughout this process I was in a deep conflict. One the one hand I wanted very much to convert to Judaism and ensure that our children would be unquestionably Jewish and on the other hand I did not want to bow to the ‘pressure’ to conform. I winced every time someone at work said something derogatory about non Jewish women and their offspring. I was very taken aback at the level of complacency in the Israeli society that said that it is OK to judge someone for not being Jewish. I was very very angry to be honest. I did not understand how a people who for so many generations have been subjected to such discrimination, I did not understand how this same people could be so comfortable discriminating against others themselves. The would not be the first conundrum I had with Israeli’s.
I found a path that felt right for me and started to convert in the Reform Movement. I was familiar with the Reform Judaism from my childhood and felt like it was more in line with my values than the Orthodox Judaism that I was getting to know in Israel. The only problem was that the Reform Movement is not recognized by the state of Israel. For all things bureaucratic, Orthodox Judaism is the only accepted religion. In a way this suited me. I could convert to a Judaism that I felt matched my values, provide a community for my family and not bow to the state pressure to be Jewish.
My actual conversion was a wonderful experience of getting to know Judaism and becoming familiar with Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbat itself, Havdalah, the festivals, the food, the traditions. And meeting Rabbi’s. A particular rabbi from the US totally captured the essense of why I chose the Reform movement instead of the Orthodox. The Reform Jews are inspired by the Torah and the Othodox Jews beleive that the Torah was revealved to them by G-d. I can work with being inspired. I am not comfortable believing any sacred text came from G-d.
So, back to my present situation. I have converted. I have my Jewish name and 18 months later I became a mother. The State of Israel has classified my son as ‘other’ when it comes to nationality and religion as I have yet to process my conversion for acceptance by the Interior Ministry. Another ruling by the High Court that requires the Interior Ministry to register me as Jewish in my ID if I provide a certificate of conversion from the Reform Movement. (my children just will not be able to marry in Israel and myself and my children will not be able to be buried in a state cemetary). Do I want my son to grow up as ‘other’? I am not sure. At home he will grow up as Jewish. He of course will know that my parents are not Jewish, but our home life reflects a Jewish way of life. So, how can I justify not giving him the security of being formally Jewish, when this is what his home environment will be?
I just do not know. Maybe I am just lazy and do not want to deal with the lawyers. But the issue remains, that I am not sure I want DS growing up thinking he is something that the state will tell him is not true. Gosh, I often come back to this. At loggerheads with the state. Overall I have a good life here and I am finding ways to make peace with the highly unlikely reality that I would live in Israel. What should I care whether the state will call my son Jewish or not? Does it really matter? I keep coming back to how wrong it is that religion is so entwined with state and this goes to really really hard places. Places I have no answers for.