My name is David. I am a Jew. Or strictly speaking, I am converting to Judaism. So, rather, I am, as they say, Jew-ish. Officially, I stand close to the beginning of my path to becoming a Jew, but in reality, the path started more than a decade ago. First, I began learning Hebrew as a bit of a side-bar while at university - cue the raised eyebrows. In rural England, where I live, you don’t find a great deal of Jews and I haven’t always been greeted with open arms when I have been to the synagogue.
Given that, why would I want to be a Jew? Writing this piece is far from the first time I ask myself this question, nor would it be the first time other people have asked me it, eyebrows slightly raised and with that ‘really?’ tone in their voices. I even got this question and reaction from the two Israelis I know in my town! Most converts will know how often they have to deal with this question along their journey, and I dare say that those born Jewish may even ask themselves this question every now and then.
Let’s cut to ten years after the first time I felt drawn towards Judaism and Jewish culture. It took all of those ten years for me to get to the point where the prospect of actually going to a synagogue and speaking to the rabbi no longer seemed like a foreign idea. That was the time this question first occurred to me. After those years of looking in from the outside, I coincidentally came across an online newsletter for our local Jewish community and it was more or less an instant decision to go to the synagogue that very weekend.
On the surface, my experience at the synagogue was much of what I had known from visits to church with my very Christian grandparents which, if I’m honest, had always made me feel uncomfortable (more than just raised eyebrows to come!) The decisiveness and certainty on such a subject as faith never sat right with me.
At the synagogue, there was praying as I expected, there were songs and there were lessons discussed from the weekly portion of the Torah, what I then learned was called a ‘parsha.’ In that week, I remember clearly, it was parshat Bechukotai and our rabbi did a deep dive on the pros of letting our fields lie fallow, how this applies to other areas of life, charitable giving and the ways we do that.
My synagogue, Cheltenham Synagogue, in Cheltenham, England, led by our rabbi at the front of the room
This experience, as unlikely as it may seem, is what opened the door for me to begin answering my question - why would I want to be a Jew? Let's face it, a large part of parshat Bechukotai tells of a vengeful creator. My experience could have been more of the ‘fire and brimstone’ to which I had become accustomed in church, but the fact is that I left that day without a clue as to how a Jew would deal with the harsher sides of G-d’s character.
The idea that I was able to ask some questions and actually engage with the Torah, and find out what I thought it meant, was definitely new for me and offered me my first foothold in developing my own relationship with G-d through Judaism. It’s no longer new to me, this approach to learning and interpreting the Torah, but I’ll be honest, I still get a bit of a thrill whenever I come across two Jews sharing their differing opinions. You mean I’m allowed to say I’m not comfortable with absolutely everything in the Torah? I’m allowed to make my own opinion? Finally, a religion that feels like mine!
This exhilaration remains with me today. It engages me, it inspires me, it pushes me forward. This formative early experience with Judaism definitely captures part of what makes me want to be a Jew. However, if I were pushed for a definitive answer, would I really say that this is why I want to be a Jew? Probably not.
When converts finish their conversion process, they are often congratulated with the words ‘welcome home.’ The idea that one has a Jewish soul and that one finds their way back to Judaism is something I would probably have scoffed at not so many years ago. Nonetheless, this is the only way I can describe it myself. There are a plethora of things that make every day on this journey to becoming a Jew a joy; but to want to be a Jew or not-- maybe I’m asking the wrong question. In the end, I think it’s just what I am.
Enjoyed reading this blog post? Stay tuned for future blog posts from David, about his conversion journey.
Author Bio: David Evans lives in Gloucestershire, England, where he studies therapeutic counselling. Having spent years engaging with Jewish life and culture as a ‘non-Jew,’ he is now making his way into Judaism, every day discovering new things about what ‘Jewish’ means for himself and others.