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. When I announced my decision to my Sunday school class, most were so shocked that they left without speaking to me. My neighbor, who had never been remotely religious, told me I was going to hell. A caller on a large radio show called me a heretic and the host, in the middle of what was supposed to be a live, hour-long interview, hung up on me. One close family member told me she didn’t want to hear anything about my “new” life. Because half of my freelance writing career involved writing for Christian periodicals, I lost my career. One editor, for whom I frequently wrote, insinuated I had deceived the Christian community. Another close friend actually told me I'd invalidated Christianity itself, the entire religion, because I'd been raised a Christian and rejected it. What?
Then, three months after my conversion, my husband of nearly 30 years, whom I loved deeply (I'll call him M), left me.
For ten years I had listened to Jews-by-choice talk about their conversion experiences, saying that it was like “coming home” for them. For me, I was literally wrenched from every home I had ever known.
Most days I crawled out of bed, sat staring at my computer, then spent a good deal of the day in a fetal position on the floor. M came over every day, strung me along emotionally and later, when it was too late for a reconciliation, we sat sobbing on the telephone as he told me had made the biggest mistake of his life the day he left.
I was unable to support myself on my income alone. I prepared myself to submit a resume and go out on interviews, but then discovered that thousands of people from all over the country submitted resumes to a single employer via the internet. I hadn't applied for a job in 26 years. I didn't have the slightest idea how to even look for employment.
A close friend who is a medical doctor offered me anti-depressants. I refused because I wanted to deal with my situations with a clear mind (what was I thinking?!).
I looked for and found, however, a few bright spots. When I told an elderly friend about my conversion, I let her know that I understood her belief in Jesus would make my news difficult to hear. “I'll tell you what I believe,” she said with her typical spunk. “I believe in you.” A lifelong Baptist, she never once flinched in her support for and love of me. Another elderly Baptist friend said to me, “I have lots of Jewish friends! Now I'll have another one!”
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.