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.
As I grew older, doubts and questions constantly haunted me, but I was terrified to admit it. In most of the churches I attended as an adult, leaders discouraged us from reading anything that was deemed “heretical”. Friends had to be cultivated inside our small circles, and if we had any kind of “relationship” outside of these, it should be for the purpose of evangelizing.
I had virtually no contact with the outside world, and it had been drilled into my head for four decades that I would go to hell if I questioned the basic tenets of Christianity. When I finally mustered the courage to even question openly, I ended up in a psychologist's office for two years. These experiences describe neither my childhood, nor the church I was part of for the decade before I became a Jew, but it does describe much of what happened to me in between.
Memory isn't photographic and I can only reconstruct my life from my current vantage point, but I know I never explored my own heart. I feared hell and rejection and condemnation and loss. And when I somehow found the courage to rebel (hence, one of my chosen Hebrew names, Meri, meaning “rebel”), I discovered, finally, what I believed, what my soul yearned for... and who I am.
At some level I believe I had been crying out to become a Jew all of my life, and certainly in the years before I converted, I wanted nothing more than to be part of the religion that I deeply identified with – the religion where I personally found God in a way I'd never encountered God before. In other ways, it seems as if I've been nothing but a Jew all of my life. As Jews, we're fond of saying that some people have a Jewish neshama – a Jewish soul.
I'm certain I've always had one.
Meri Blye Kramer is an award-winning author of two books and more than 100 articles. Enrolled through ALEPH, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, she is currently studying to receive smicha (ordination) as a rabbi. Website: www.MeriBlyeKramer.com.
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