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Becoming Jewish

In Avi's case, as he was learning more and more about Judaism and Jewish practice, he and his girlfriend began to live more "Jewishly," which included keeping kosher, going to Shabbat services and celebrating holidays.

"She was not raised in an observant Jewish home, and obviously neither was I, so our observance of mitzvot (commandments) fluctuated from time to time, but we enjoyed trying our best," he says.

Their relationship was going along well enough that marriage seemed inevitable. Avi flirted with the idea of conversion several times during that period, but says he didn't feel like rushing into it.

"I knew eventually I would want to make my ‘Jewishness' official, and I knew that conversion was a requirement for us to get married," he says. But it wasn't always easy. As time went on, Avi started having second thoughts about his relationship, and with these doubts came questions about himself and his future in Judaism.

"Who am I doing this for?" he remembers wondering. "Why am I doing this? I'm not even Jewish!" Eventually, Avi and his girlfriend broke up. After that, his interest in observing Jewish practices lapsed.

"At that point, I didn't really see a reason to keep kosher or do Jewish things anymore because I wasn't Jewish," he says. "Since I was no longer with my girlfriend, I didn't know if I still wanted to pursue conversion."

He decided to take a break, work some things out, and maybe give it another shot sometime in the future. At the time, he was 23, had just graduated from college and had begun working full-time. Conversion would have to take a backseat to life for a little while, he reasoned.

But after moving to Seattle in 2006, Avi began to feel more settled with his career and personal life and started looking around once again for a spiritual connection.

"I am able to breathe now," he recalls thinking at the time. "Things are settling down. The ground is no longer shaking under my feet. Yet, something isn't quite right. Something is missing -- something that feels like home."

It didn't take him long to realize he missed Judaism. Avi found himself constantly scanning doorposts for mezuzot, wanting to wish a "Shabbat Shalom" to anyone he saw wearing a kippah, and trying to diligently decipher anything he saw written in Hebrew, even though he knew only two letters of the Alef-Bet.

Finally, Avi said, he knew Judaism was right for him. "I found myself explaining things about Judaism to people, and the word ‘we' slipped out more often than not," he says, adding he started taking anti-Semitic slurs personally.

"When I caught on that these things were tapping me on the shoulder all along, I realized there must have been something more to all that playing around with lighting candles and building Sukkot and adult Jewish education courses I had taken years before. It wasn't all for someone else -- it was for me," he says.

After meeting with a rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom, Avi took a nine-month-long course that taught would-be converts "how to live Jewish for a year." He also enrolled in weekly Hebrew courses and checked in with the rabbi every other month.

Not long after that, he was circumcised and appeared before a beit din (religious rabbinical court), the court of rabbis that asked if he was in fact ready to convert. After being approved, Avi immersed himself in a mikveh pool, a ritual bath, as the rabbi read from the Book of Ruth. After a "Mazel Tov" from the witness and the rabbi, Avi was finally, officially, a Jew.

Berkovitz stresses that, for new Jews, the conversion ceremony isn't the end of the journey, however. "You don't stop learning, because you've committed yourself to keep learning," he says. "The most successful [converts] are the ones who continue to learn."

Although the decision to convert rarely comes easily, Berkovitz believes that sometimes, people who are curious about Judaism and keep coming back are simply destined to be Jewish.

"Their soul was born into the wrong body -- the wrong tradition," he says. "They were born to be Jewish -- they have a Jewish soul, and they need to bring that into fruition."

This article first appeared on Jew-ish.com

Judaism Jewish

1/1/2000 5:00:00 AM
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