In August of 2003, I was expecting a baby, my Talitha, and my oldest was crawling about
the floor, when my life changed forever. Or it was just the beginning of change? My husband brought the Torah into our home. Bobby will joke that he brought it into our house and then like a week later I had surpassed him in study…I don’t think that’s entirely true. His fields of study in Judaism complement mine, but they don’t have the same purpose or necessity. That might be a discussion best saved for another time.
Just prior to Talitha’s birth I really discovered the beauty in Orthodox Judaism and I remember telling my husband it would be best if we just converted, it would be easier, it seemed right, but it also seemed terrifying as well. So the idea was shelved, but my desire for it was never satiated. I grated at those who said you were born Gentile so you can’t do this mitzvah or that one, I was literally frustrated by those who said you can’t look too Jewish, but couldn’t tell me how I should look. I maintained my trust in Hashem, He said to follow Him, stay focused on Him…like everything else in my life I’ve tried to have emunah and so I waited.
My husband often joke that our theological views differ, but our practice is the same. Yet in this one thing we were on opposite sides of a great chasm I never thought would be breached…and I waited. Over a year ago I ran into a man online who was building a mikvah, his long term goal was to build a Jewish Community where there wasn’t one. I was completely fascinated with the idea of building a mikvah….could I have one too? In my backyard? Please? I watched and waited from afar as the hole was dug, the forms made, the concrete laid, the floors finished, the walls erected. I watched and waited as this man and his wife and children converted to Judaism and began inviting people up to his town, come follow Torah with me.
This past Hanukkah I was feeling the pull so hard to convert, a longing, overwhelming, causing me to turn to Hashem in prayer to either provide the way or take the longing away. It’s hard to explain why I wanted to convert, or maybe it’s hard to convince other people why I wanted to…the response was typically but you don’t have to, there is a place in the World-to-Come for G-dfearers, etc. No one could understand this pull I had to be b’nei Israel. So I turned to my husband to pour it all out thinking that this would be the way Hashem would take away this longing, that I would get my answer from my husband and I did. He said, Just because I don’t want to convert doesn’t mean you can’t. What? Wait? I can convert? You wouldn’t mind? You aren’t against it?
So I reached out to a Rabbi, one who was willing to do my conversion. I was included in a fairly large group of potential converts, we read, studied, questioned each other, we shared our need to convert, our fears, our practical concerns. The man I had met over a year ago, a sort of go between for the Rabbi, wanted to know if my husband wanted to convert…no, he didn’t. He was concerned, would the children convert, would it be next to impossible to live out a Jewish Lifestyle with a bunch of Gentiles in the house? I told him that my children had all been raised in Judaism and we kept a Kosher house and were taking steps to be Shomer Shabbat. He said the Rabbi approved but that we couldn’t get re-married.
I joke that my husband and I have a marriage arranged by Hashem himself, I realize all marriages are arranged by Hashem. I couldn’t imagine not being married to my husband, we would be legally married by the state of California, but not legally married according to Torah? It was almost too much for me, I sought out Hashem again, should I not go through with this? was Bobby supposed to convert too? what would I tell the children? Hashem said not yet, and I was again waiting…for what I did not know. I brought the subject up, I said I want you to convert too, but I won’t ask you to do it. Bobby ever the analyst wanted me to break down the reasoning and he asked probing questions and then sent me back to Hashem, ask Him what I should do. I’ll do what ever He says. Wow, hinene, Hear I am LORD.
No pressure, I turn to Hashem, he immediately answers me, but I figure it is my own wants overshadowing His voice, so I ask again and again and everytime I get the answer yes. Later when we are waiting for our turn to finalize our conversion my husband tells me that his reasoning for wanting to convert, how he squared it in mind, heart, soul, was that he needed to make official how he had been living for 13 years. I crudely related it to a couple that’s been shacking up…acting like a married couple without the marriage, who then decide to marry. It doesn’t change the day to day but then it does.
The timing for this conversion and subsequent remarriage is also telling of Hashem’s hand in our everyday life. We have been following Torah for 13 years. We are of the age of maturity, we are of the age to take on the responsibility of the mitzvah ourselves. We have been married for 18 years, a number meaning life, I wanted for our anniversary present a ketubah, but I couldn’t find the one for us, so I laid that idea down. Shortly after telling the Rabbi that my husband also wanted to convert he asked for our Hebrew names for the ketubah…a ketubah, for us, a real one? I was so excited then the moment came to receive it and it was in our first wedding colors, which are also the colors our home is decorated in, it was so perfect, so Hashem.
On March 6th, 2017, the 8th of Adar 5777, nervous, excited, with new friends waiting to congratulate me and welcome me to the tribe I entered the water of the mikvah I had watched being built. I paused a moment considering the enormity about what I was about to do, the attendant said it was time and I went under, making sure not to touch myself or the walls or floor of the mikvah and to be completely immersed at the same time, and then it was over I came up into the very same room, the very same air, but I was a very different creation. I said the bracha slowly, loud enough for the Rabbi to hear from the other side of the door. She said dip again, this time was easier, I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving. One more time, I prayed briefly for my family. Took a deep breath, covered my face with my hands, thanked Hashem again and turned to leave the mikvah. It was my husband’s turn next and for about an hour he wasn’t really mine, for about an hour we joked about not passing each other things and not being careful not to be alone together, while the Ketubah was finalized and the wine poured.
The wedding was sweet, simple, and short. A ring, some wine and the blessings. And then a room, rented just for us, for 15 minutes to catch our breath, share our experiences and be alone. And now we are Tzav and Rivkah Holland, newlyweds, newly converted, reveling in this great and wonderful place we find ourselves.