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.
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.
It wasn't entirely different when I discovered Judaism. I fell immediately in love, and my love deepened over the years. Initially, the church continued to feel like family and I missed them deeply. Perhaps, though, the analogy ends here, because while I will always love and cherish those who nurtured the spirituality of my childhood and part of my adult life, every part of me is bound up within Judaism: my soul, my life, my identity, my spirituality, and my God.
For a long time, during interviews on radio shows, and during question and answer time at speaking engagements, I swore I had truly believed as a Christian, but that gradually, I had lost that belief. Soon, however, I realized that even as a young child, I had been deeply attracted to the God described by the Hebrew prophets – a God who never gave up on the people God loved. David mesmerized me. The stories in the Jewish Bible captivated me. Nothing else appealed to me.
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