Love letter to Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv has become my favorite city in the entire world.  It’s youthfulness.  It’s energy.  It’s “Miami-esque” feel.  All things I came to love about it when I visited last year.  I am itching to get back and visit again as soon as possible.

Some day, when I make aliyah from the States, I hope that Tel Aviv will be my home, or at least the surrounding area.  I decided the other day to make a montage of the video footage I took when I was there.  Feel free to click the link below to view it on YouTube.  It is six minutes of the wonderful sights and sounds of Tel Aviv.  I consider it my “love letter” to Tel Aviv.

https://youtu.be/D6tLb7C2uqk

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Now that I am part of the tribe

I was sitting here thinking about the last time I posted to this blog.  My last post was the day after I went to the mikveh back in April.  If you ask me, that is just too damn long to go without posting.  I mean, yeah, I am no longer on a path toward conversion… I am officially Jewish.  That doesn’t mean I have to end this blog.  The name of the blog is “Newb Jew” and I am still a “Newb”… Still getting into the swing of things as a Jew.  Getting used to my parents and I having different faiths.  Journeying deeper and deeper into my newly official Judaism.  Walking the walk.  Talking the talk.  Doing my best to raise my newborn as the Jew she is as well.  I am going to utilize the blog now to document my continually new Jewish experiences…  Its too early still for me to quit blogging as I am new and still will have many new things to share.

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I’m In!!

Yesterday was my Beit din and immersion. It was a wonderful experience. I definitely was nervous, so I felt like I was rambling answers and redfaced, but in the end they liked what I was saying and saw that I am sincere. My wife and infant were in the room as well, so that probably added to my nervousness, ha! 

Rabbi Latz really added an important perspective to the day, pointing out that having me go to the mikveh on Yom Hashoah was a testament to the resilience of the Jewish people. 

When I immersed it was an amazing feeling. With each dunk I got more and more excited for what was happening and by the third and final one I took a deep breath to think about how when I came up from under the water I would be officially a member of the Jewish people. It was wonderful to know it was actually happening.

After it was done and I was acknowledged as one of the Jewish people, I remained in the water and was handed my infant daughter. I immersed her up to her neck and Rabbi Latz recited the blessings and poured handfuls of water over her head. Yep, I was not the only member of my family to become Jewish yesterday.. My beautiful baby girl, Autumn, became one as well! 

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Mazel Tov to the both of us!

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Prayers Answered.

This past weekend my parents told me they are fine with me becoming Jewish.  They support me.  It was the best news that I got all weekend.  The one big weight weighing on me during my whole journey is now gone.  I had fears they would shun me or break off ties with me.  It was a silly thought,  but it was something I was worried about.  Now I can live and be Jewish knowing my VERY CATHOLIC parents support me and respect my choice.  My mom told me she is happy that I have found something that brings me closer to G-d. 

Shalom!

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Hatafat Dam Brit: DONE

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Today on my lunch break I drove from Eden Prairie to the Park Nicollet clinic in St Louis Park to meet Dr Robert Karasov, so he could perform Hatafat Dam Brit on me.  It was quick and relatively painless.  Much less pain than I had myself thinking it would be.  He was super friendly and made me feel comfortable before performing the ritual.  Now that I have completed this ritual, I now can just focus on my Beit Din and Mikveh immersion coming up in 44 days on April 16!

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Conversion: My Personal Statement

Below is the personal statement that I wrote and submitted to my sponsoring Rabbi, Rabbi Michael Latz @ Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis.  It will be provided to the other members of the Beit Din that will be meeting with me on the day of my mikveh immersion. 

I have lived a fairly unrooted life in which I have limited attachment to place. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, back to Wisconsin, and now back to Minnesota, that is the story of my wandering adult life. I suppose this constant change might explain my attraction to the idea of rootedness and community. Though I do know that my voluntary and self-inflicted “homelessness” over the past 14 years does not compare to the thousands of years of persecution and homelessness experienced by the Jewish people, the rituals and traditions that have grown out of the Jewish experience and the connection that Jews feel to each other is a thing that I find quite comforting. Judaism is something that makes me feel as if I have “come home” after years of wandering.

I come from a family where on my biological dad’s side, it is a big group of non-observant Lutherans, though my biological dad was an atheist, who my mother divorced when I was a small toddler. She married my step dad, who hails from a large Irish Catholic family, when I was 3. I took his last name at age 22, after years of wanting to do so. I didn’t really have much of a religious education as a child. We’d go to church around Christmas and on the occasion that the step grandparents were in town. I enjoyed shaking people’s hands during that part of the service, but other than that I was just there. It never really moved me at all. My sisters all went to Catholic school, and I was the public school educated one, though when my grades would falter, my mom and step dad would “threaten” to pull me out and into Catholic school. I was raised in a moderate household where I formed quite liberal beliefs and was raised to be open minded about everything and everyone. I got out on my own and began a journey to find what exactly fit me spiritually.

As my parents views became less moderate and along with my younger sisters ended up becoming pretty by the book Catholics over the past decade or so, I repeatedly found myself spiritually searching for what is truth to me? What makes sense to me? Do I pretend to believe something I don’t to make my parents happy, or do I follow my heart and mind wherever it takes me? I would ask myself what I identify with? What beliefs and values? I found myself repeatedly flirting with Judaism, and especially the values and beliefs of Reform Judaism.

As time went on I decided to make a move toward investigating conversion. I began to peek my head into Shabbat services in Madison, where I was living, and discovered from the first Shabbat I attended that maybe I was on to something. I felt welcomed. I enjoyed the service and the Dvar Torah every week. I ended up buying my own Torah with commentary to help me get as much insight into what I was hearing and reading as I could. I began to work with Rabbi Biatch at Temple Beth El in Madison and enrolled in an Intro to Judaism class. I moved as the class was ending up here to Minneapolis and was lucky enough to find Shir Tikvah and Rabbi Latz, who has made the process all the more enjoyable.

Many people identify with Jewish values and beliefs, appreciate Jewish culture, and admire Jewish stories of survival. I always felt a special connection to Jewish friends that I made. I had always been intrigued by Israel, so as I began to take the “conversion ball” and run with it after many years of dragging my feet for no good reason, I booked a trip to Israel and went there in February 2014. From the moment I stepped off the plane I was in love. The people, the energy, the scenery, the history. It was the most amazing trip. When I saw the Western Wall in person, I had a feeling of spiritual completeness that I had never felt before. That was probably the moment that I knew that I was on the right path toward becoming a Jewish person. The feeling I felt was so strong. I felt like I was “home”. I can’t wait to go back.

On my journey to becoming Jewish, I’ve come to see that a religious community is a specific and special kind of community. Unlike a sports league, a religious community expects that its members hold to a certain set of beliefs and values. I’ve found that the Jewish community embraces every member as “one” while representing the plural “one”. Everyone is respected and seen as a unique individual while being a part of this “one” people, the Jews. Many differences may exist between the members of our Jewish faith, but the Jewish community is a collective community bound by history, tradition, and practice. By choosing to become a member of the Jewish people, I am staking a claim in it’s future while doing my part to connect to its past and observe it’s rituals and customs as best that I can, because it is important to me and to all of us as a whole.

As a convert to this beautiful religion, I am voluntarily making an exceptional commitment to living a Jewish life, which I am not taking for granted, and Judaism requires that we truly love the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. In the Torah, there are many references to “the strangers who dwell among you” or “righteous proselytes” or “righteous strangers.” These are various classifications of non-Jews who lived among Jews, adopting some or all of the beliefs and practices of Judaism without going through the formal process of conversion and becoming Jews. Once a person has converted to Judaism, however, he is not referred to by any special term, he is as much a Jew as anyone born Jewish, so I have committed myself to doing my part to keep the history of the Jewish people going by living as a Jewish person. I can’t wait to keep building my Jewish faith and pass it on to my children.

My own process of conversion has not changed me. This process has done something that I have been waiting my whole life to happen. It has revealed who I always was and validated my Jewish heart. I am Jewish.

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April 16 is the big day!

After nearly two years of study under the guidance of two different rabbis in two different cities, my immersion date has been booked at the mikveh!!!  I met with Rabbi Latz at Shir Tikvah for one of our monthly meetings last week after I emailed him my personal statement and we went over the process of the big day of beit din and mikveh immersion.  Also, we discussed the hatafat dam brit (getting a drop of blood from that ‘southern area’ of my body) and how that will go.  Yesterday I got an email from Rabbi Latz’s assistant and I selected the date of April 16th (which is also one month after my wife is due to give birth to our first child!)for my beit din and mikveh immersion, and then was provided the phone number for the Orthodox doctor that will be doing the ‘prick of the prick’ on me. 

I CAN’T BELIEVE I WILL OFFICIALLY BE A MEMBER OF THE TRIBE IN 51 DAYS!  I am SOOOOO excited!

In my next post I will share the personal statement that I wrote for the Rabbi to share with the members of the beit din that will be ‘interviewing’ me on my big day. 

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