Conversion: A Leap of Faith
‘It has been both discomforting and rejuvenating in equal measure to wrestle with the questions ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who do I want to be?’ and ‘How do I want Judaism to change me?’
By Lindsay Banham
As the end of my time on the NNLS conversion course draws near, I have the opportunity to reflect and consider the ups and downs of the last 16 months, before looking forward to first becoming Jewish and then my wedding in the new year. Since I began the process in autumn 2009, my knowledge of Judaism has increased manifold, but what I know about myself seems to have grown so much more. In order to really change oneself and to embrace a new identity it is essential to understand who one is in the beginning. It has been both discomforting and rejuvenating in equal measure to wrestle with the questions ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who do I want to be?’ and ‘How do I want Judaism to change me?’
I think my greatest concern about undertaking conversion was the impact it might have on my family. My father died when I was a teenager, and my mother did an amazing job raising me and my younger sister. I worried that she would see my decision to change religion as not just a rejection of my nominal ‘Church of England’ background but as a rejection of the values and traditions of my own family. When it came down to it though, as ever, her concerns were of the more practical sort. If Dan and I had a family, would she be a “second-class grandmother” and be unable to participate in their upbringing if she was not Jewish? We discussed at length the importance of respect for both tradition and parents in Judaism, and she was reassured. I think the most important thing was to ask what she was worried about early on, and to keep on asking, and listening. It is a huge thing to ask a parent to support their child’s leap into the unknown. I have found it immensely helpful to be open about what I was experiencing right from the beginning.
Now, near the end of the course, I can see why both candidates and their partners are asked to participate; dealing with both the spiritual and practical aspects of conversion is an opportunity for some essential marital teamwork to take shape. And teamwork is certainly what is required to plan a wedding, especially one to bring together two families from different backgrounds. I think that our mission has been to create something that everyone can relate to and enjoy, and that will emphasise similarities as well as differences. Becoming Jewish cannot and should not erase my own cultural heritage, and out of respect for my own family, our wedding will be a celebration of English as well as Ashkenazi traditions. Trite as it may sound, when juggling these things becomes stressful, Dan and I try to keep in mind that however the details pan out, the success of our married Jewish lives together will not depend on canapés or colour schemes, but rather the sincerity of our commitment under the chuppah.