Over twenty years ago I became friends with a couple I’ll call Rob and Angela. They were newly married; Rob and his siblings grew up in the congregation I was serving. Angela grew up nearby; her family were deeply committed Catholics. Angela and Rob had become regular attendees on Friday nights, and through that connection started getting involved deeply in the synagogue both as individuals and as a couple. Rob eventually served as co-president of the congregation. Some years later they relocated and connected with their next Conservative congregation. One Shabbat morning the rabbi offered Angela an aliyah to the Torah. Angela demurred, shocking my colleague with her statement “I’m not Jewish”. I smiled when Angela shared that story, knowing that for years I had made it clear to her that the minute she was ready to make her appointment for the mikveh, it’d be my privilege to arrange it. It has been years since then. Recently we were out for dinner as couples. Angela turned to me and said, “Guess what, Dave?” Yep. After all these years Angela was actively engaged in the process for becoming Jewish, and she was inviting me to be part of the process. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Angela shared that the hardest part so far was when she had to broach the subject with her devout Catholic father. She was really nervous about his reaction; her reluctance to formally become Jewish before was in large measure a concern about her parents’ reaction. She didn’t want to hurt them or lead them to feel that she was rejecting them, their values, or their love over a lifetime. When she expressed that exact concern to me all those years ago I affirmed her commitment to “Honor your father and mother.” Her mother has since passed, and for her own reasons Angela knew the time was right. Even so, she was completely unprepared for her father’s gruff but loving “Well it took you long enough.”
Because of distance, another colleague will be guiding Angela through this process. I will be part of that special joy and celebration serving on her welcoming committee. I am thrilled, knowing that I opened the doorway to the path she’s been on all these years, and that soon her incredible trajectory to Judaism will be formally concluded. Had there been a becoming-Jewish equivalent to “common law marriage”, Angela could have been declared a member of the tribe years ago. Her desire for formal recognition and welcome is a mark of her seriousness and sincerity and makes my soul sing.
While Angela’s personal experiences are hers alone, I appreciate that there are possibly any number of similar stories in development within Congregation Sha’are Shalom. If you are wondering about the possibility of becoming Jewish, rest assured I welcome the conversation.