20 Years a Jew: One Convert’s Observations in Seven Installments

Contributed by Athena Derasmo

Installment #2 “Why Judaism? What made it special (to me)?”

As I mentioned in installment #1, the form and function of Judaism has always been hugely attractive to me. Who can deny the intellectual appeal, the turning of Torah again and again, and the Socratic method of study? Even for those of us who tend to be more spectator than participant, the questions and curiosities are there, and we are obliged to get involved with the process of Judaism. This keeps Judaism alive, vibrant, relevant, and ready to take on the modern condition.

Another attribute of Judaism that is very intriguing is the inherent disinterest in proselytizing and seeking the conversion of non-Jews. Because, as I see it, deeds are more important than faith, and what we do is more important that what we believe, there is no need for non-Jews to “join the club!” Living a good life is enough. Unlike other monotheistic religions that threaten soul damning repercussions for being a non-believer, Judaism is not in the saving business. I believe it has no interest in placing the yoke of Judaism on others. To me this is the ultimate expression of coexistence and tolerance. I could not resist learning more about a club that was not interested in having me as a member (with regards to Groucho Marx).

The test of time is a useful yardstick by which credibility can be measured. Judaism can certainly boast the attribute of longevity and the respect it commands. It is remarkable to me that after everything, which has occurred over thousands of years, Judaism remains strong and enduring. I recall a proselytizing group coming to my door to share “the word.” When I told them, “This is a Jewish home,” they politely smiled, nodded, and left without a word. I like to believe that their reaction came from respect. I think it can be said that Judaism is the closest thing the world has to an “O.G.” religion still operating in modern times. The permanence of Judaism is a powerful and impressive thing indeed!

When I was going through my conversion process one of the members of my Beit Din asked me about the fact that I was not baptized and that I had no affiliation with any other religious group. I explained that I was born in the 60s and my parents did not see the need to impose belief systems on their children. Furthermore, while they believed religious education was an important part of being an educated person, my parents felt that it was up to the individual to find their spiritual affiliation. As a young person, I did look around, study, and observe, but I was always something of a spiritual orphan. It was a struggle, and as a young woman, I often felt lost. It wasn’t until I was a mature woman that I realized I had been wandering long enough and that it was time to find a home. I was told by a Rabbi, “For you, this is not a spiritual conversion, this is a spiritual adoption.” And so, it was.

I cannot finish this installment without mentioning the resolve and humor of the Jewish people. This feature of Judaism is very endearing and attractive to a non-Jew, and as a conversion candidate, I was no exception. What’s not to love! After all the Jews have been through – to succeed, to persevere, and still have humor – who wouldn’t want to belong to such a family! And so, I do.

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