On my 48th birthday I converted to Judaism. Little by little, I broke the news to each of the seven ministers at my Baptist church. My senior pastor cried.
One of the ministers, along with a few other friends, from my former church came to my conversion ceremony, sharing my joy as they joined the crowd who gathered with me that day. My ex-husband offered to help me start a business and he became my first client. Other family and friends were always there when I needed to talk.I received speaking engagements from all over the country.
I still struggled to get through the days, in large part because I hoped M and I would reconcile. It didn't seem likely, though, and everyone began to push me to move on. In my agony and confusion, I mistakenly took that to mean I should move into a new relationship. I had been seeing a man who cared deeply about me, and he managed to convince me that I would love him in time. “Marry me,” he said nearly every day. “I'll help you heal.” It didn't work out that way.
Countless times I’ve been asked the question, “If you could go back and do it all over again, would you make the same decision?” Would you still choose Judaism if you'd known all the loss and pain you'd have to endure?
While I understand my friends' curiosity, the question belongs in a world of fantasy, of science fiction. How can I possibly answer that question? That converting to a new religion was worth losing the only man I'd ever loved, a marriage of 30 years, friends, a church that had saved me when I was in an abusive relationship with fundamentalist Christianity? How absurd.
Yet how can I not answer it? Yes, I would make the same decision – not because a religion is more important than those I loved, but because giving up your identity creates an abnormal relationship. Nor can I live as a hypocrite; belief is something that happens to us, not something that we choose. Had I asked M or anyone else in my life to change their beliefs, they would have deemed the request ludicrous. Nor could we ask of one another to give up our growth or identity. There can be no real relationship when that happens.
How, then, did this life-altering change occur? How did I, a seemingly devoted Baptist for 48 years, come to embrace Judaism so completely that it became inseparable to my very identity and resulted in so much pain and devastation to myself and to other people?
My first encounter with Judaism was during an interfaith service which my church held with the local Reform synagogue. In my first book, A Baptist Among the Jews, I wrote that from my very first “date”, Judaism felt like the passionate love I'd found as an adult. As I became more engrossed in services and rituals and holidays, my love deepened just as love does in a happy marriage.
That my heart felt ripped into two parts isn't unusual. When I first married, I didn't want to be away from M, but during those first few years, hundreds of miles away from my family, I missed them intensely. But M was my love and my priority. With my family I shared the connection of birth and biology. With M, I shared the very essence of my soul.