Project Conversion

Project Conversion


Weekend With My Jewish Mentor

posted by

No journey is complete without a map, and that is exactly what Michael Solender is for my month with Judaism. From the moment I stepped out of my car after a 2 1/2 hour trek to meet him, Michael had a plan for my 36 hour visit: immerse Andrew in as much Judaism as possible in the shortest amount of time before his head explodes. His wife, whom he calls “Sweetie,” is a convert to Judaism and was part of the game as well.

And what a fantastic game it was!

Two things were constantly present in the home of my Mentor: awesome Jewish recipes being either consumed or created, and Michael and Sweetie regaling me with stories of their families, pasts, and beliefs. Their home was warm and, from the moment I crossed the threshold I felt like family. They indeed treated me like an adopted son, and in doing so, the entire weekend was spent introducing me to my new extended family: the Jews.

After Michael buzzed me through a tour of Charlotte, NC at break-neck speed, we met up with Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Groner. Rabbi Groner had alloted 30 minutes for our interview. The meeting lasted for 1 1/2 hours.

Outside the Levine Jewish Community Center

The "Firebird" outside of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

Rabbi Groner

 

Rabbi Groner represents the Orthodox branch of Judaism and therefore adheres to the most conservative and traditional tenets of the faith. He is the senior rabbi of his synagogue and is heavily involved in inmate ministry/counseling. I have to admit that upon entering his office, I was intimidated. Rabbi Groner sized me up immediately and opened our discussion with “I don’t like religion.”

“It’s a filter,” he said, “that separates us from a relationship with God.” Indeed, he described our interactions with God as being threefold: emotional, intellectual, and practical. “Faith,” he said, “not grounded in knowledge is childish.” He described his job as rabbi as one that “elevates the soul.” There is more…so much more, that we discussed. The nature of God. What is the soul? The afterlife. What is our relationship with God/each other?

My Mentor’s eyes slowly crossed. Rabbi Groner and I had slipped into our element and the connection sparked. In fact, as he spoke about his work with prison inmates as helping them find God (not necessarily via the Jewish tradition) and helping them see that they are still part of society, I was reminded of stories my mother told me about my grandfather. He was a Baptist preacher, and every Sunday visited the local prison and took inmates on a country drive. There was no goal of conversion, just a relationship, a…”I’m here. I care. And God cares too.”

Michael and I left that meeting completely inspired and wiser than when we had entered. I was on a theological high…and there was more to come.

Next, Sweetie prepared a few Jewish dishes and brought out the challah, a type of egg bread that serves as a centerpiece for Shabbat (Sabbath) and other holiday meals. This was our Shabbat dinner before service at a local Reform synagogue.

Yes, challah tastes as awesome as it looks.

Reform Judaism, in the broadest sense, is the liberal wing of the faith. Rabbi Groner described the difference being that Reform Jews prioritize social action within the faith instead of strict adherence to a majority of the 613 mitzvot prescribed for religious and daily life. That isn’t to say they are less pious; just that their appearance is noticeably modern and their piety is expressed in different ways. The service was wonderful and fully engages the congregation. Birthdays, anniversaries, and honoring the passing of loved ones takes place every service. Prayers and hymns are sung by a Cantor, a professional vocalist fluent in Hebrew, along with the congregation during certain times. There is a brief reading of the Torah followed by a short commentary, and for the most part, that concludes the service. Conservative services are similar to Reform; the only difference is the dress code of the congregation involves every man and woman wearing the kippa/yarmulke, men wearing a tallit (a special shawl worn in the synagogue and during prayers). Women can be seen wearing them as well.

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, folks. I was dunked into the world of Judaism this weekend and now I must explore the traditions and figure out the best way to function this month. I asked Rabbi Groner how one might cope with being an observant Jew (in the Orthodox context) in a household where others are not Jewish. His advice? Don’t, because the difficulty is too great and frustration leads to ill-will. The rabbi described two relationships: The horizontal one we have with our fellow Creation, and the vertical one we have with God. We are called to live both with wisdom, humility, devotion, love, and balance. One cannot do that if there is persistent conflict inherent in the living conditions. Wise counsel. So I will spend the rest of today pouring over the mitzvot; what CAN I live by? How far can I go without causing discomfort and tension for everyone else in my home? What can I do to live as a Jew and walk this month in their shoes? This is my soul search–what will set the tone for my daily routine for the rest of the month.

I’m really looking forward to this journey and I hope you’ll join me. If you’re Jewish, please–I implore you–to contact me and offer your stories, guidance, and perspective. As I’ve mentioned before, I have one Mentor, but many teachers. Let us reason and learn together.

I want to thank Michael and “Sweetie” again for bringing me into their home. I hope our paths cross again. I also want to close this post with something interesting that happened during my visit. During a recent trip to India, “Sweetie,” who is a huge lover of religion as it is expressed in art, developed a connection and interest with the Hindu deity, Ganesha. Ganesha is that iconic and beloved elephant-headed god who is said to remove all obstacles. He is also the son of Lord Shiva.

Ganesha

I was a Shiva devotee during January.

Is there a connection? Is this divine providence saying “Hey old friend. Just stopping by,”? I don’t know, and such speculation can make you crazy, but I cannot ignore the fact that those little images of Ganesha comforted me and helped me remember my lessons so far. Afterall, forgetfulness is an obstical, and Ganesha is famous for their removal. 

Shalom.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(8)
post a comment
Anonymus

posted April 6, 2011 at 6:48 pm


So I decided this is meriting putting into a comment after all.

Regarding the matter of conversion to the Jewish faith: To my knowledge it is indeed frowned upon to Proselytize, that is to encourage possible converts.
I think this has a twofold reaoning, but I might be summarily wrong in my understanding of the Jewish faith. Please feel free to correct me.
The first one is that the Jewish faith includes a Concept of “Righteous Genitles”, which actually emphasizes the possibility of Salvation for those non-Jews adhering to a certain code of ethics.

Therefore I believe to be able to gather that a conversion can be argued (since it is not strictly necessary for salvation and, through the adoption of all penalties associated with disobeying a mizvot might even be counter-productive) to be unduly harsh for the non-Jew. Some communities, I believe, are closed completely to converts today.

Secondly I believe that as a traditional minority religion of the Diaspora, Conversion was severely penalized for a very long time making it culturally infeasible to gain converts. I think in this regard Christianity and Islam, the two majority Religions of the Diaspora, were both quite harsh in the Middle Ages. (Thoug what the Jewish perspective is called apostasy was not penalized at all, many were actually forced to convert… Which is a rather sad part of European history.)

I think in some ways that your (that is Andrews’) approach toward Religion might be, what Judaism actually envisions in its concept of a “righteous gentile” and therefore there might be fewer Issues with you appearing before the people as a person _not_ interested in conversion then as one with interest. But that simply is a thought and not grounded in muchf actual knowledge.

As a side of comparative religious studies let me close this lengthy tractate with a pointer that catholic Theology follows a different normative road. On the one hand the concept of “invincible ignorance” for those who have not had the chance to be evangelized (note that the RCC places emphasis on conversion as necessity for salvation) and a theological concept called “baptism of/by desire” for those in the conversion process but die before it is completed. Basically the reasoning is that through stepping into the process they already started a motion that is completed by divine grace in death.

As always: Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Anon



report abuse
 

Anonymus

posted April 6, 2011 at 6:48 pm


So I decided this is meriting putting into a comment after all.

Regarding the matter of conversion to the Jewish faith: To my knowledge it is indeed frowned upon to Proselytize, that is to encourage possible converts.
I think this has a twofold reaoning, but I might be summarily wrong in my understanding of the Jewish faith. Please feel free to correct me.
The first one is that the Jewish faith includes a Concept of “Righteous Genitles”, which actually emphasizes the possibility of Salvation for those non-Jews adhering to a certain code of ethics.

Therefore I believe to be able to gather that a conversion can be argued (since it is not strictly necessary for salvation and, through the adoption of all penalties associated with disobeying a mizvot might even be counter-productive) to be unduly harsh for the non-Jew. Some communities, I believe, are closed completely to converts today.

Secondly I believe that as a traditional minority religion of the Diaspora, Conversion was severely penalized for a very long time making it culturally infeasible to gain converts. I think in this regard Christianity and Islam, the two majority Religions of the Diaspora, were both quite harsh in the Middle Ages. (Thoug what the Jewish perspective is called apostasy was not penalized at all, many were actually forced to convert… Which is a rather sad part of European history.)

I think in some ways that your (that is Andrews’) approach toward Religion might be, what Judaism actually envisions in its concept of a “righteous gentile” and therefore there might be fewer Issues with you appearing before the people as a person _not_ interested in conversion then as one with interest. But that simply is a thought and not grounded in muchf actual knowledge.

As a side of comparative religious studies let me close this lengthy tractate with a pointer that catholic Theology follows a different normative road. On the one hand the concept of “invincible ignorance” for those who have not had the chance to be evangelized (note that the RCC places emphasis on conversion as necessity for salvation) and a theological concept called “baptism of/by desire” for those in the conversion process but die before it is completed. Basically the reasoning is that through stepping into the process they already started a motion that is completed by divine grace in death.

As always: Thank you for sharing your experiences.

Anon



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted April 5, 2011 at 9:30 am


Not at all Christopher! I’m glad to have you around.

I’ve heard of this rumor as well. It also relates to a similar Buddhist temple custom. I’m not sure if it’s true, however because Jews do not seek converts, there may at least be an attitude of dismissal.
As for the community issue, yes, it feels great knowing that there are Jews around ready and happy to talk about their faith and community. It feel similar to my Hindu month in that, I’m a welcomed outsider who must earn the trust and comfort of the community at large.



report abuse
 

Anonymous

posted April 5, 2011 at 9:30 am


Not at all Christopher! I’m glad to have you around.

I’ve heard of this rumor as well. It also relates to a similar Buddhist temple custom. I’m not sure if it’s true, however because Jews do not seek converts, there may at least be an attitude of dismissal.
As for the community issue, yes, it feels great knowing that there are Jews around ready and happy to talk about their faith and community. It feel similar to my Hindu month in that, I’m a welcomed outsider who must earn the trust and comfort of the community at large.



report abuse
 

Christopher(Guest)

posted April 5, 2011 at 2:08 am


Andrew-

I’m excited for this month! I’ve always been really intrigued by religion in general, but also by Judaism in particular. I feel like I’ve already commented too many times on your blog, but I have a couple of questions:

1) I heard once upon a time that, within the Jewish faith, there is a “custom” (for lack of a better word) to discourage potential converts a few times initially before welcoming them into the conversion process. It doesn’t seem like that was your experience. Had you heard anything about this?

2) I’m glad to hear that you had such a warm welcome! How does it feel to have such a sudden rush of community after having had a month of relative solitude? Do you think you have a greater appreciation for this sense of community after your experiences in March?

I look forward to reading more!



report abuse
 

Christopher(Guest)

posted April 5, 2011 at 2:08 am


Andrew-

I’m excited for this month! I’ve always been really intrigued by religion in general, but also by Judaism in particular. I feel like I’ve already commented too many times on your blog, but I have a couple of questions:

1) I heard once upon a time that, within the Jewish faith, there is a “custom” (for lack of a better word) to discourage potential converts a few times initially before welcoming them into the conversion process. It doesn’t seem like that was your experience. Had you heard anything about this?

2) I’m glad to hear that you had such a warm welcome! How does it feel to have such a sudden rush of community after having had a month of relative solitude? Do you think you have a greater appreciation for this sense of community after your experiences in March?

I look forward to reading more!



report abuse
 

Michael Solender

posted April 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm


Andrew,

Harriet (aka: Sweetie) and I enjoyed having you in our home and serving as your host over the short time spent. I’d like to note that we also attended Saturday morning service, prayers and a special B’not Mitzvah (double Bat Mitzvah) ceremony was held marking the traditional rite of passage that young Jewish men/women experience as they read from the Torah and become full “adult” members of their congregations. We experienced this in a Conservative shul where the service was warm and the young ladies did a remarkable job not only in their readings but in taking on a large part in leading the service for more than two hundred worshipers on the particular Saturday. Mazel tov to the young ladies and their families on their simcha. A mazel to Andrew too for lasting through the marathon service which tipped the scales at about three hours! Oy Veismier!



report abuse
 

Michael Solender

posted April 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm


Andrew,

Harriet (aka: Sweetie) and I enjoyed having you in our home and serving as your host over the short time spent. I’d like to note that we also attended Saturday morning service, prayers and a special B’not Mitzvah (double Bat Mitzvah) ceremony was held marking the traditional rite of passage that young Jewish men/women experience as they read from the Torah and become full “adult” members of their congregations. We experienced this in a Conservative shul where the service was warm and the young ladies did a remarkable job not only in their readings but in taking on a large part in leading the service for more than two hundred worshipers on the particular Saturday. Mazel tov to the young ladies and their families on their simcha. A mazel to Andrew too for lasting through the marathon service which tipped the scales at about three hours! Oy Veismier!



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Another Blog To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Project Conversion. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Religion 101 Happy Reading!

posted 2:34:58pm Aug. 02, 2012 | read full post »

Is God an Immersionist?
In the world of faith, folks often point out the obvious fact that God does not belong to a particular creed, religion, race, or school of philosophy. This sentiment establishes the divine as one which transcends divisive terms of affiliation. But I am here to announce that a brief exploration of

posted 7:00:59am Jul. 12, 2012 | read full post »

Immersion in Relationships: Five Ways to Bring your Relationships to Life
I did something last night with my wife that we haven't done in a very long time... Okay, not from that far back, but it certainly feels that way. Last night, we had a date night. N

posted 10:58:33am Jul. 10, 2012 | read full post »

The Path of Immersion: An Introduction and How Entering the Path Leads to a Deeper Sense of Self
Today marks my official declaration of fidelity and discipleship to the Path of Immersion. Along with that declaration, I also invite you to join me in whatever capacity feels the most suitable. The Path of Immersion is not one which demands conversion, evangelism, worship, or exclusivity. Along th

posted 6:00:19am Jul. 09, 2012 | read full post »

Farewell, Project Conversion: The End of an Adventure
When I converted to Christianity at the age of 15, I assumed the faith with a passionate resolve. Despite the positive instruction from my pastor and others, I (for reasons I cannot explain) transformed into a fiery evangelist, launching Christianity at friends and strangers like salvos of religious

posted 12:49:25pm Jul. 05, 2012 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.