If there is something greater than ourselves, what is it? How do we fit into the ever-changing world that surrounds us?
How can an individual find peace of mind, a center, a foundation from which to build and grow when they have no established place?
These questions went through my mind as I sought the answers over my life’s course. This is a journey that encompasses personal beliefs, as well as causes one to question what they feel they already know.
It is a search that led me to a place of comfort and peace within the synagogue, a place of learning, of prayer and of community.
Family encouraged personal discovery
Raised in a family where one’s beliefs are left to the individual to pursue and develop (where no system or dogma is pushed on you), I had the opportunity to explore and discover and was encouraged to do so.
Over time, I developed a deep desire to become part of something more than myself that allowed me to grasp a better understanding of the world, who I am and my place within it.
I developed a deep desire to become part of something more than myself that allowed me to grasp a better understanding of the world.
My eclectic and unstructured religious and spiritual upbringing meant that I carried no baggage from instilled belief systems.
However, it also meant that amidst my searching and confusion, I had developed no specific foundation to in which to take solace.
I found myself struggling to find answers as to why certain obstacles in life and periods of doubt had befallen me.
Self-doubt persisted over the years
Instead of finding inner peace and a place where my thoughts and beliefs best fit, I found myself filled with self-doubt and depression, for years living a less than fulfilling spiritual existence.
Fortunately, I found a wonderful wife and family who loved and supported me and my endeavors.
With each day, I took a few steps toward becoming the person I ultimately wanted to be.
Eventually, with that help and support, I found the courage to make the necessary changes to become a person I could truly be proud of.
Over the next several years, I spent much time rediscovering who I was. Every day, I seemed to learn something about myself. I learned what it was to laugh, love and to enjoy what surrounded me — both the ups and the downs.
With each day, I took a few steps toward becoming the person I ultimately wanted to be. But even then, I knew that a crucial element was missing.
Judaism provided a spiritual foundation
It turned out what I was searching for was that foundation. For years, I considered how I “fit” into different spiritual and religious paths, before finally coming (somewhat) full circle looking into Judaism — an “ism” that had lain dormant in my family tree for generations.
I began to explore everything I could find about Judaism, understanding it had been several generations since anyone in my family practiced Judaism or claimed to be even “part” Jewish. Regardless, as I began to search, read and learn, something began to feel very natural to me.
Patricia asked the question that would ultimately become a turning point for me: “Why don’t you convert to Judaism?”
With this stirring feeling, the idea of attending the local Kabbalat Shabbat services was inching toward the forefront of my mind as a real “next step.”
Then one evening (as I was sharing with my wife, Patricia, yet another new belief that resonated with me from whatever text I had been studying), Patricia asked the question that would ultimately become a turning point for me: “Why don’t you convert to Judaism?”
I immediately liked the way that sounded and decided to embrace the idea.
URJ led the way
I set out initially quite determined to comprehend, learn and absorb thousands of years of history and tradition. I was quickly overwhelmed.
So, I looked to the internet and bookstores to attempt a more orderly pursuit, and began to voraciously consume books about God, Shabbat, history, customs and everyday life and philosophy of Jews past and present.
Along the way, and with the suggestion of members of our local congregation, I discovered the Union for Reform Judaism Introduction to Judaism course, which proved invaluable to both Patricia and me during the pandemic as a source for learning and discovery at the start of this journey.
Day after day, I unpacked boxes from the mail, reading, taking notes and pondering ideas both new and oddly familiar.
These resources taken as a whole (with the friendships I was building at my local congregation while attending services and Torah study groups online during the pandemic) helped me establish a more solid idea of the world I was entering.
Also at this time, and possibly to the chagrin of Patricia, the books I kept ordering began arriving in a near endless stream. Day after day, I unpacked boxes from the mail, reading, taking notes and pondering ideas both new and oddly familiar.
Discussions with rabbis, friends, various Torah study groups and family members strengthened these new concepts I was embracing.
Study led to a new understanding
It was not just the history and tradition I was learning and longing to add to my daily experience — it was an intensifying drive to understand and feel the world around me.
I was beginning to develop the entire mindset, both actively and passively, that I had been missing and seeking for so long!
Judaism is growing and evolving and thus stays relevant and alive today and for each day stretching forward.
Judaism allows and even asks me to consider and question what I see, read and experience. It gets me to appreciate the small moments by uncovering and then sanctifying the extraordinary in the mundane.
It provides me a place to learn, grow and continue to discover and truly accept that there is something more vast and far greater than ourselves.
It has taught me that this something is not far off, and I can find it in Torah, prayer, quiet contemplation or just in simple observance of the world around me.
My Jewish story will be uniquely mine, while simultaneously sharing a link with all the stories before and those yet to come.
Judaism, while steeped in a deep understanding and appreciation of traditions, is growing and evolving and thus stays relevant and alive today and for each day stretching forward. It allows me the space to be me, within an established structure, while accepting me for who and what I am, want to be and will become.
The Jewish story is becoming my story; and my Jewish story will be uniquely mine, while simultaneously sharing a link with all the stories before and those yet to come.
The journey has no beginning or end
This story began long before the moment Patricia asked me that fateful question, “Why don’t you convert to Judaism?”
The Hebrew word I have learned that best describes how I feel at this moment in time, and this step of my journey, is hineni — here I am and here I will always be.
It began the moment I first truly questioned where I belonged, when I sincerely wished to find my inner peace. It was from that moment I knew I needed to understand this world and my purpose within it.
It is a story of discovery that began with myself, by myself and for my …. self.
It is a journey that will never end, but will arrive nonetheless at personal discovery, a sense of deep fulfillment and the establishment of a true foundation from which I can continue to build and grow.
I am grateful to have found my place and been accepted into this wonderful tradition, people, religion and community.
The Hebrew word I have learned that best describes how I feel at this moment in time, and this step of my journey, is hineni — truly, here I am and here I will always be.