A lot of people want to know what I was feeling when I was converting to Judaism. On that last day as I stood naked in the mikveh and saying the blessings in Hebrew that would officially make me Jewish, what was I feeling?
We went to the mikveh, however, at Sacramento’s Orthodox shul Kenesset Israel.
I was still very much in the grip of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at the time. I remember we had to wait around for the Orthodox rabbi to come open the mikveh for us. It was April in 1993.
When he finally rushed up, he said to my Reform rabbi, “Don’t go in the shul.”
“What did you think I was going to do? Eat a cheeseburger in there?”
I’m not sure if Rabbi Schwab said that or should’ve said that in response.
So the mikveh water was warm. We did the traditional blessings. We had two additional witnesses. And I was done with my initial conversion.
My feelings were relief and exhaustion.
Why relief? Because I had decided to base my life upon my new Jewish identity and if I could not get through the conversion process, I wasn’t a real Jew.
My second conversion was through an Orthodox Beit Din in 2009 one Sunday at the mikveh on Pico near Ralphs.
I stood naked in the mikveh.
The Av Beit Din asked me if I realized that Jews have often been hated, that Ahmadinijad, for instance, in Iran wanted to destroy Jews.
I said I believed his primary animus was towards the Jewish state of Israel and that I did not believe that he wanted to wipe out all Jews.
We discussed this for a minute but I assented to wanting to join the Jewish people even though millions of people around the world wanted to destroy us.
And then I said some blessings and bopped under the water a few times.
I think my primary feeling was a desire to do everything right. It felt akin to me to being called to the Torah and having to make certain blessings in front of the congregation. Now my audience was three Orthodox rabbis.
When I finished, my primary feeling was relief. The phrase, “They can’t take it away from me”, kept running through my head. I think the “they” was the RCC but also other Orthodox Jews who make the convert’s journey into Judaism challenging (for good and for bad).
Why relief? Because I had decided to base my life upon my new Jewish identity and if I could not get through the Orthodox conversion process, I wasn’t a real Jew.
Spiritual highs are hard to come by in Judaism. For instance, there is no Jewish music that compares to the uplift of Handel’s Messiah. Jewish music can’t hold a candle to Christian music.
Church is a much more spiritually uplifting experience than synagogue. For one thing, the focus in church is on the romantic story of Jesus, the Son of God, one part of a triune Godhead, who came to earth to live and to teach and to die on a cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
This story makes no sense from a secular perspective or a Jewish perspective, but if you can buy into it, it feels tremendously spiritual, just like the Gnostic and Hellenic religions that were the true fore-runners of Christianity.
If you go to a black Pentacostal church, you’ll feel such spiritual highs that will seem like cocaine when compared to the mellower highs you get at shul.
Dennis Prager took two non-Jewish friends to an Orthodox shul in Fairfax/La Brea. After 45-minutes, one asked him, “When do services begin?”
Because Judaism focuses on this life and on behavior rather than feelings and beliefs, it’s much harder to get spiritually high.
I sometimes feel spiritually high at the Happy Minyan or when listening to a great rabbi. Other than that, the primary good feeling I get at shul is one of camraderie.
Shul does not compare to the spiritual escape of church where you hear fantastic things about how God came to earth and walked around and talked to people and did miracles and wants you to live with Him forever in Heaven. Music in an other-worldly faith-centered romantic religion like Christianity is much more likely to be inspiring than the music produced by a this-worldly way of life focused on prosaic deeds.