A Crisis of Practice

(Reprinted from Blogspot – Jan. 27, 2012)
So some people have asked, “Why do you want to convert to Judaism?” and it’s a fair and valid question.
That was the start of last week’s blog that never happened.  In looking at it again, I understand why.  What I was writing last week is not how I wanted to answer this question.
I guess it’s important to note that I have postponed my conversion date for now.  This is very important to me and I want to convert when I can give it my full attention.  Between school, and various family crises that come and go, I cannot give anything my full attention right now.  Being a mother, I come pretty far down the priority list on whom and what gets my attention.  As much as I would like to have this time and energy for myself, to do the things I know need to be done towards this conversion, it would simply be too selfish to take it.
There is deep irony in this.
The understanding I’ve come to is that there are two major components to Judaism.  One is the ritual component both during services and in one’s own home.  The other is the mitzvah, community component.  There are obviously many other pieces of the picture, but these two seem to me to be the ones that stretch over everything else.  The latter, the mitzvah and community portions, I can do those with some small effort, squeezing time in during school breaks.
I have to admit, however, I am very bad at attempting such things during school.  I get into a sort of class homework family time groove and I forget anything else I may have scheduled; meetings, mitzvahs, workouts.  I often forget when I am low on gasoline in my car during school.  This is a problem.  I anticipate it resolving when the boys are one their own (either an eternity from now or just 4 short years, depending on one’s perspective and the way the wind is blowing) and when I have more control of my own schedule.  In the meantime, I’ve had to forgo classes I sorely wished to attend, I’ve let people down, and I’ve made myself feel miserable for failing.
The former component is where I have the most issues currently.  On one hand, I have the time and the willingness to perform Shabbat rituals at home; I have candles, I have a Kiddush cup, and I can buy Challah each Friday.  But I know I have been doing only part of what is necessary.  I am missing a tray for the Challah, and a Challah cover.  I am missing a hand washing cup.  I still don’t clearly understand the order in which I should do things; I’m not secure in my prayers whether I say them in English or Hebrew.  Perhaps most importantly I am alone in doing these things that bind me to that which I seek to be bound.
Yes, I have spoken to my Rabbi.  There is homework.  I am to host a Shabbat dinner.  That seems simple enough, yet it’s not.  I live quite a ways away from the shul and most of the Congregation members.  My husband, who I love and understand, is neither a religious nor a social being.  His form of Shabbat does not involve hosting.  It involves resting.  Alone.  Or just with me.  This is how Friday night has been for us for ten years.  This is an upheaval of his world I am not sure I feel he deserves just because I want to make official something I’ve felt all my life.  A fellow convert points out that this process we have undertaken is happening to our partners as well as ourselves, and we need to be mindful of this.
There are other logistics; friends who can’t drive at night, if the Rabbi’s attend dinner has to be very early so they can get back to the shul for services, my house is a mess because I am rarely home or free of homework long enough to clean properly, people’s other commitments, my own trepidation at infringing on my husband.  How many people can fit in my kitchen?   I want to have the Challah tray and cover and the hand washing cup in place.
Or are these items just distractions?  I keep wondering at all the accessories I seem to need, and wondering if I have to be much richer before I can be Jewish.  Mezuzahs and tallit and netilat yadiyim! Oh my!  I panic.  I wonder at my own mentality of poverty when I live in a home that is more than comfortable, and have all the other daily things I need.  Yet I deny myself clothes and other items in favor of making sure the rest of the family has their needs met.  My winter wardrobe is all five years old or older, I shudder at buying myself proper shoes because of the expense, and I flat out deny myself “wants” and put off my own “needs” as long as I can.
Including my need to make my affinity for Judaism “official”, my need to validate what’s in my heart as if a dip and a piece of paper will suddenly change everything.  This is not a crisis of faith, it’s a crisis of practice.  Will having a Challah cover make me More Jewish than I feel in my heart?  Did G*d give us these mitzvot to bind us in obedience?  To give us something to cling to when faith is lagging? Are the physical manifestations of faith more important that the faith itself and if so, why?  Can our relationship with G*d evolve in ways that transcend the cups and plates and shawls?  We have the tzitzit to remind us of the mitzvot, but don’t we strive to get to a place beyond where we need reminders?  Don’t we strive to get to a place where mitzvot our not only in our mind and hearts but our entire beings?
I don’t have the answer to these questions, and without the ritual objects I can’t understand what the purpose of the ritual is, truly, by experiencing it with my whole body and my physical actions.  This seems not unlike when my son watched The Weekenders, and saw the ease with which cartoon characters could skateboard, then expected that he too could navigate ramps and do tricks just like them without first learning to balance on the board while rolling on a flat surface.
I think I’ve answered my own questions.
I think it’s time to go shopping.

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