These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Tribal gowns and knit kippot

Posted on February 13, 2014 by Sam Stern

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From my blog:

She believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them. When Prince Charming didn’t come along, she went over to the palace and got him.

Sam SternFor anyone who hasn’t already heard the play-by-play (or can’t wait to hear it again) of the Beit Din/mikva experience, click HERE and enjoy.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Who’s in my village? There’s the mikva attendant who bear hugged me while dripping wet and naked to give me a proper welcome to the tribe. The bus driver who insisted on a proper “good morning” before taking my money to get back to Jerusalem. The rabbi who essentially lied to the beit din because he recognizes my commitment and passion for Judaism. The woman I met at Yedidya who made sure that there was a cake in my honor during Shabbos kiddush at shul. The gabbai who intends to look up a proper mishaberach to be included during next week’s service and his wife who insists that they could have done more when, in reality, they were the perfect support system.

And then there’s the Pardes community. The rabbi who sat with me Christmas morning while I cried about not being home. The friend who felt such nachas when I said motzi that first time. The roommates who threw an almost surprise pool party. The teachers that held my hand, gave me hugs, helped give me a sense of direction, insisted on going for manicures, and always had time to listen. The peers who let me learn with them, let me learn next to them, let me into their spiritual journeys, and let me make all the (anti)frum jokes I needed to. The rabbi who helped me fight from the beginning, saw the pain, heard me curse, pushed me to my limits, and will never understand the need for “happy tears.”

And then there’s chutz l’aretz. The guy who made me aware in the first place and (indirectly) pushed me to do this. His mom who showed me that I could find a place in Judaism that encompassed all of my needs. The friends that had connections with the Rabbanute, let me complain for days on end, and gave me the support I needed regardless of the distance between us. The Hillel eboard members that were willing to take over during Shabbos dinner because I was too angry to be in such a Jewish room. The director and rabbi that sent out countless emails to their networks and continue to be so invested in my life. The Chabad staff that were willing to go above and beyond because they recognized my passion. The shul community from home that, regardless of me going to the “dark side,” will forever be a part of my family. And, above all, the parents that support me even in such foreign territory.

Words will never begin to explain just how blessed I feel to have such a large village standing with me.

This past week, everyone has been asking a set of questions: How are you going to celebrate? Do you feel any different now? How did it feel in the mikva? Do you really think you weren’t Jewish until now? Everyone received the same answer: I don’t know, I’m still processing. Ask me in a week. It’s been a week and no one has asked me again. But I suppose I should share anyway…

How am I going to celebrate?

This question was one of the more difficult. Was this really a celebratory moment? I was raised Jewish. I’ve been doing kiruv since forever. All I really did was go to a couple of lady learning classes, fight the Israeli government, fight the rabbis (or the shin-dalets), answer some difficult questions, and cannonball into a tiny pool of water. I did all of that in less than six months. It takes most people at least a year (usually much longer) to go through this. How could I look at all of that and feel comfortable celebrating my shortcuts? But that’s the thing- it’s not about celebrating what happened. That final dunk brought about the realization that I have a ginormous, ever-growing village on my side. There’s no need to do anything (right now) to rejoice. The rest of my life will be one huge celebration. What more could a girl ask for?

Do I feel any different?

Nope, I’m still me. The only difference is that I don’t have that inner machloket going on anymore. I feel 100% at peace and I can honestly say that I haven’t felt that way in years.

How did the mikva feel?

Well, it was a little uncomfortable wearing the tribal gown with 5 people standing there staring at me. It was super warm, but I HATE putting my face underwater. So that was kind of sucky. But you know what was really fascinating? The timing of everything. There’s a mishna that discusses a situation of a man in the mikva at the exact time to say the morning Shema. When learning that in class, we all wanted to know when this situation could possibly occur. It didn’t make any sense to us. However, let it be known that I was in the mikva at the last possible time that one could fulfill their obligation of saying their morning Shema. THEN there was the walk to the bus. First thing I heard upon walking outside? There was a rooster crowing. Every morning we recite a bracha thanking Hashem for giving the rooster wisdom to distinguish between night and day. It was a really powerful thing to hear that sound and think about the meaning behind this bracha.

Did I really think I wasn’t Jewish?

This is a loaded question. There’s a good argument to be made as to why I wasn’t a member of the tribe. Torah came from Sinai, our Sages were able to pass down the lessons, we need to take them as truth, and therefore this is the only true way to become a Jewish. Just kidding, that was my brain washed answer. But in reality, why would anyone have to go through all of this if they were always considered Jewish? How could I really believe that my status was 100% yet an Orthodox rabbi wouldn’t marry me and my kids’ status would be questionable. It’s not possible (in my humble opinion) to be “half-Jewish” so it was a yes or no question.

But then there’s the other side of things. Judaism isn’t only bound by halacha. It’s composed of a rich culture and sense of community. I’ve had both of those since I was old enough to figure out how to sit on the floor during minyan and put money into the pushka. I may not have been a “halachic Jew,” but I sure was an integral part of the Jewish community. So what was the need to go through this “extra” conversion? *Dvar Torah Alert* Last week’s parsha was Parshat Tetzaveh. It’s really an exciting parsha full of lots of adventure. If you haven’t read it already, stop what you’re doing and go check it out. If you have read it, then you’ll know that it discusses the preistly garments worn by the kohanim while serving in the Temple. Maimonides writes that a kohein wearing fewer garments than he is required to wear will invalidate the service performed and he will be subject to punishment by death as if he were an alien who served in the Mikdash. When they wear their priestly clothing their priestly status is upon them. When the garments are not being worn, their priestly status is removed (severely paraphrased from Hilchot Klei HaMikdash 10:4). Going off of this, it seems like I was wearing most of my “Jewish garments” but there were still a couple missing. In order to be fully dressed, I needed to get the Rabbanute to sign a document and then go for that swim. Now that I’ve completed these tasks, I’m “properly dressed” and can perform my “Jewish service.”

So which opinion do I agree with?
I’m done.