Changing My Mind

With the mikvah postponed until our schedules matched I had time to think and I made a bigger decision than to convert.

I decided to not finish my conversion.

So close to the finish line, so close to finally being the same.

Here’s the truth, the wedding suddenly was coming in under a year. And I started to think about all the changes that were expected of me as a wife. And suddenly, changing my last name to his AND changing my religion it was just too much at once. I just couldn’t do it.

I was embarrassed to be honest. I had sunk so much time, effort and emotion into the conversion to not go through with it.

Nothing changed when I decided not to go through with it. We still had a lot of love from both families. We still go to services. We still celebrate all the holidays. We lead Jewishly inspired lives. All that’s changed is when I go to the chuppah, I won’t be Jewish. And that’s ok. I’m going as myself. And that door doesn’t close. It’s not right now, but in 10 years it might be.

In truth, I like that we’re different. I like my traditions I bring with me, I like our tradition of breaking fast on Yom Kippur with an Italian feast to represent both sides. That’s our family. How boring our lives would be if we were the same.

The Rabbi working with me on my conversion said something to me day one of my journey that always stood out “if you get to the end and you don’t want to do it, that’s ok, you’ll have learned something new, and you’ll be a better person for it.” He reiterated that when I decided not to convert. Nobody was mad, nobody was disappoint. Rather they were happy I had come to this decision on my own and wasn’t being forced into converting.

Marriage doesn’t mean you’re giving up your identity, it means though that it does change. And for me, adding in a Jewish identity on top of everything else wasn’t something I was ok with.

But conversion (or non conversion) is a deeply personal experience. And I encourage those close to the Jewish partner never make assumptions or ask about converting to the non Jewish partner. Let the non Jewish partner ask questions and tell you if they’re converting. And never make the assumption that because you know, everyone in the family should know. Always remember that while for one half converting may be seen as the ultimate act of love and a happy occasion,  the other half might be feeling betrayed and left out.

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Arella Miriam

It really happened because of a wedding invitation.  It was beautiful. With their Hebrew names printed below their English ones and the script of Ani L’Dodi, v’Dodi Li on the top.

I realized something in that. When J and I got married, I’d be taking that opportunity away from him. His childhood rabbi wouldn’t be able to perform the service, he’d never have his Hebrew name on his wedding invitation. And it was because of me.

Since we had already found our Jewish community, it wasn’t hard to find a Rabbi willing to work with me on conversion. Both Rabbis at the synagogue were lovely and I started studying. I decided to convert because I felt in my soul this was what I was meant to. G-d had somehow used faith as a relationship test. We had survived that and so we were ready for the next step.

Here’s what I loved about my conversion process:

-learning about J’s cultural history

-Learning about the faith

-Learning how to incorporate those things into our lives

-Spending time with J when we were at the Rabbi’s office talking and learning.

-Becoming a part of the community.

There were things I didn’t love…or even like. My parents questioning why all the time and not understanding my reasons. Not being able to talk to them about the process and what I was doing. It had gotten out amongst both families and family friends and the whispers behind my back. All these people were so caring to my face and would instill fear into my parents about all the things I wouldn’t be able to do if I went through with it. J even had his problems. Despite my objections, he did believe that somewhere in me I was doing it for him. And he wasn’t ok with the wedge it was creating, because he’d always be the reason for the wedge.

I didn’t care. This was for me.

It took 2 years of study and learning. But I was finally ready for the mikvah. I picked my name, Arella Miriam, my Nana’s name is Rella, my grandma’s name is Mary. Perfect combo. I scheduled my date. My friends were excited for me, I’d be able to finish before the Cantor retired and my friend Rabbi left. It was really meant to be.

And then I got sent on a shoot and had to cancel. Suddenly the whole thing was up in the air. The mikvah schedule was packed…I suddenly had A LOT of time to think about everything.

 

The Conversion Conversation

I remember when I first told a trusted person about J six years ago. We weren’t dating yet, and her knowing how I was raised asked about his religion. When I mentioned Judaism, she bristled and told me I’d have to give up Jesus if we got married.

Friends, I wasn’t even DATING this man let alone any where near marrying him! I was a 19 year old girl with a crush on a friend!

But we did start dating and we did move closer to getting married. Which is when people who have no business asking a question ask the following:

Are you going to convert?

The thought is always that the non-Jewish partner will convert which is sometimes a bit hurtful for other reasons. But even so, conversion is a deeply personal decision, one that can’t be made for anyone but yourself. So when people ask the question, well it tampers with the thought process.

So we started with the basics. If we were so fortunate to have children, how would we want them raised? There are tenants and values of the Catholicism that I grew up with that I liked, I’d like those things instilled in them. But there were aspects I couldn’t get around. How the church couldn’t accept people I loved, how quickly under a new Pope things could change. Those values I loved were also found in Judaism and it would give them a good faith foundation. Children would be raised Jewish. We’d figure out the holiday traditions later.

Once we had decided that, we looked for a local community that would accept our interfaith selves and followed  patrilineal teachings so any children wouldn’t be excluded. We found our synagogue (highly recommend if you’re an interfaith couple or family looking at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, they couldn’t be better) and it was perfect.

Then there was me. We would have a Jewish home, Jewish children and would I be the religious outsider in my own home?

That’s when I decided after hearing all the talk, that I would convert. I felt at home with Judaism, it was perfect for us. After all, we were having a Jewish home so I would be Jewish too. It was all really simple in my mind. I don’t think I knew how complicated it would become with my decision to convert.

 

Goy Meets Boy

It all started back in 2011, when he first proposed. We were in college, barely knew each other, post house party Taco Bell proposal kinda night. Fast forward six years later and he’s proposed for real this time and we’re just four short months away from our wedding.

J is Jewish. I was raised a Catholic in an Irish-Italian household.

I noticed something in the past six years. There’s a lot of articles out there for interfaith couples, particularly Christian-Jewish couples. There’s a ton of advice on how to raise your kids, how to have conversations, how not to get divorced. There’s a lot of articles on why not to have an interfaith marriage. There’s one-off articles on someone’s interfaith story, their relationships, their divorce, navigating interfaith children of divorce. But I struggled to find a blog of someone outlining their interfaith journey that I could identify with. What happened after the wedding planning? What happened before there was a wedding to plan?

So I figured I’d make it myself. Because who knows better than me what it’s like to almost convert, have faith discussions six months into your relationship and have to figure out if your evolving faith ideas still match up?

There have been tears, laughter, bodily injury the time I grated a knuckle making latkes and more learning than you could imagine on both our ends. Our Interfaith journey has been learning together and learning who we are and what we want to bring with us to our new home.