Together at our congregation we celebrate making transitions. Every week, we mark the transition from weekdays to Shabbat by the ritual of lighting candles. The transition from childhood to Jewish adulthood is signalized by the ritual of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
From time to time, we have the simcha of performing the public ceremony in which “new” Jews are welcomed into the fold of the Jewish people. It is a joyous occasion when they are called up the bimah to hold a Torah scroll, binding their destiny to that of the Jewish people. This ritual of welcoming is the culmination of a long journey-- in the case of some people it’s many years in the making. The formal process of their conversion begins with a meeting with the rabbi and their admission into the Introduction to Judaism class.
Our candidates have gone through a process that lasted almost two years. They studied together, attended services and Temple activities, and shared their path towards Judaism as a class. It is very rewarding to teach the Introduction to Judaism class, and I wish that all Jews could hear the commitment of these men and women. They are thrilled to learn about our rituals and traditions. They marvel at the depth and intelligence of our faith and the wisdom of our tradition. We could all learn from their passion and dedication.
After they completed the Introduction to Judaism class and passed the final examination, they were ready to be brought before the bet din, a three-member rabbinical tribunal. We travelled to Indianapolis where we constituted the bet din with Rabbis Pfeffer and Siritsky. Immediately after the bet din agreed that our candidates were suitable, all three candidates immersed in the mikvah at Congregation B’nai Torah, and they emerged as full-fledged Jews. It is now time for us as a congregation to welcome them.
Our tradition uses a beautiful idiom to express conversion to Judaism. When someone becomes Jewish, we say that s/he has been “welcomed under the wings of the Divine Presence.” As a congregation, we will provide a tangible representation of those “wings,” so it is very important for everyone to attend the service on Friday, November 22.
After the ceremony, however, we should not treat them differently. Judaism has always taught that people who convert to Judaism are just like those who were born Jewish and they should not be reminded that they chose Judaism as adults. In recent years, the distinction between “Jew” and “convert” has been replaced by “Jew-by-birth” and “Jew-by-choice” to teach that we are ALL Jews -- regardless of our unique life-path. Furthermore, one can say that we are all Jews-by-Choice because we are continuously choosing Judaism in our lives and the example of our “newest Jews” should inspire us all to want to make that choice tomorrow yet again.
Please, share how you have "chosen" Judaism in your life.