Monday, May 4, 2009

Lernen, lernen... yes but how ?

It was my last year in middle school and I was 15, I had to decide which high school I'll have to attend in September, and I had absolutely no idea... my favorites courses were languages (spanish, english) and earth sciences ! The dream of my life : I wanted to become a volcanologist ;). Or I wanted to study english and become a teacher, and for that I decided to pursue my studies in Australia... of course I was too young and my parents disagreed !

At the end, the only option I had was to think about what were my interests, and as I loved travelling and I could easily use foreign languages, I decided that working in tourism business would be nice ! I went to Catering-Hotel management School since this isn't really tourism, but people told me I could still work as a Receptionnist (It turned out that I left the first year of my 2-year-program Diploma because I learnt very little about hotel management, and more about cooking and dinig room service... and it was a very strict private school, far from home... nothing that I liked ;)

During summer vacation I went to the Alps with my father like every August, my sister and nephews and cousins joined us for a whole month, it was fun and I met new friends. Among the new friends I met, there was a Jewish boy who was 7 year older than me, and for some reasons he showed me a lot of attention and we got closer. It was for me an opportunity to get to know more about Jewish people and Judaism and it was what one calls "a summer love" and didn't really kept in touch with him after that.
After vacations, back to the city and school and daily life... daily life ? not for me anymore ! I wanted to know everything about judaism now that I met this boy so I asked my father to let me use Internet at home to do researches for school... I never used Internet for school ;)

One day, I decided to go to the jewish neighborhood on saturday and wait for a Jew in the streets and ask him about any class of jewish studies. I was afraid to talk to a stranger and I didn't even know what to say exactly. I think I waited for the entire afternoon, on a bench, until someone crossed my path... and I saw a man, dressed in black, I wasn't sure yet if he was jewish or not so I ran and asked him "excuse me sir, but... are you jewish ?", at the answer "yes" I realized it was my chance to speak or maybe look totally stupid without saying a word... so I told him that I had an interest in judaism and wanted to know where to learn about it. He asked me if I was Catholic, which I answered with hesitation "I guess, I mean my parents are..." then he asked me if I was willing to convert to Judaism, "Convert ? I don't know, I never thought about conversion, I am just curious about your religion and I would like to learn a little bit...". He simply said "No there is nothing for you then, I have to go"

I didn't understand why he was so cold and why I couldn't study judaism ? Because my parents are catholics ? Because I need to convert to be able to learn ? I was very disappointed, and I remembered a conversation I had with my uncle when I told him that I met a jewish boy during vacations, he said "you'll never be accepted by Jews, they are closed and they don't like non Jews". I was thinking "he's right !!" and I cried !

If I couldn't talk to people in real, maybe I could use Internet and chatrooms and forums to meet Jews ! That's what I did, but it didn't bring any satisfaction, no one was interested in teaching me because I wasn't jewish... But I am very stubborn and I spent hours and hours on internet every day typing the words "jews, judaism, israel, conversion". I also found a great tv show about all religions on sunday morning from 8am to noon... 9:15 quickly became my weekly "meeting" with Rabbi Josy Eisenberg ! This is how I started my learnings : TV, Radio, Internet...
But I still had this problem with my identity : not jewish = never accepted !

I had to write an essay about the Holocaust for school, I went to the jewish bookstore and asked the saleswoman about books I could read for this essay. I thought it would be beneficial to read books about judaism as well... The saleswoman asked me what kind of book I wanted, and I told her the same thing "I'm not jewish but interested in judaism, and I don't know where to learn and what to learn ?!", herself too wasn't very helpful.
I started thinking "what is wrong with me that nobody wants to tell me anything about judaism ??" I told one of my friend and she said that maybe it wasn't for me, maybe I shouldn't learn judaism that it wasn't worth !

The day had come at school where I had to give my speech about the Holocaust, and at the end, the teacher asked me if I was jewish... which I answered "yes I am" with a huge smile, I convinced myself and people that I was jewish and identify myself to a religion that I started loving, and I just felt... good !

Saturday, May 2, 2009

First step into the long discovery ... It has to start somewhere

I sort of give up the writings for many months, not that I didn't want to write anymore, but I didn't really find time to just concentrate on my blog.

Last time I wrote, my post was about how I left christian religion to look for something else, something new inside of me : my own spirituality and beliefs.

I think for a few years (maybe from the age of 11 to 14) I questionned myself a lot, then just gave up tormenting my soul, then asked myself again, sometimes thought I should still adress my prayers to G-d so He could open up the doors of His knowledgements and finally take the real and only path... all without success !

I was in a public middle school, where most of pupils were from immigration and didn't really know french language or culture, refugees from Albania, Yoguslavia, Africa, Irak etc, also lots of Muslims from North Africa (born in France but having difficult time to integrate the french school system and way of life, eventually delinquents). I think it's important to mention this detail for the understanding of the next paragraph and future posts.

I will always remember my history-geograpy teacher, he was a Jew from Morocco. At that time I didn't know he was jewish, but I found it cool to get to know about someone jewish in school, where the majority was Muslim. I also remember of discovering antisemitism in school, where a young teacher's assistant was constantly insulted by a group of boys, because they thought he was jewish... I didn't understand what was wrong with being jewish and why they would insult him for being so ?!

the following year, I had a different history-geograpy teacher, a woman, who was also jewish (but I didn't know), and I think this year had a huge impact in my life... We started learning about the Second World War.
I knew what happened, because my father was 12 years old during the war and he told me about what happened between France and Germany, and when the teacher taught us about what really happened in details, I asked a lot to my father even if it was hard, I felt guilty make him remembering about the terrible time he went through, losing family, house, forced to exil without anything to eat, nowhere to sleep, had to hide from the germans and remembering him and his siblings as orphans... just writing this is hard for me, anyway...

We were studying about the Final Solution, and Hitler's goals... I think I just listened, wrote and learnt as a good student, of course I didn't understand and the same question over and over again "WHY?", but one day my teacher decided to show us a video about the Shoah, and oh G-d this had affected me and never let me be the same person again after watching this...

I can still remember what I felt... Now this can sound very strange, but I felt empty, like... dead, of course I felt sad, and my eyes filled with tears and I was extremely shocked by the story and by the pictures and I remember this part of the film in the baraqs where this man was sooooo skinny and sick and hungry and ate his tissue, and other things that I don't want to describe...

At the end of the film, when the teacher turn on the lights, I think she was giving a speech but I couldn't hear her, all of me was paralyzed until one of my classmate started laughing and the teacher yelled at him and asked him what was so funny about all of this, and he simply answered "who care about them, they are just Jews"
How to explain what happened to me when I heard these words, I started crying, I wanted to scream, and I think if the teacher didn't send him away by force yelling at him, I would have grabbed my chair and hit him.

Okay, it was terrible statements to make, okay after watching the video one could have had the same reaction, but his words affected me personnaly, hit myself like he was insulted me, like I was myself jewish and I never ever understood why I felt like this that day...

And it was the beginning of my searchings about the Jewish people, the history of Jews, and then Judaism.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The first memory : Who are the Jews ?

I was born in a catholic family, and they were attached to christian rituals such as baptism, communion, christmas.
I would say that my father were more into christianity than my mother. I remember her saying that she was sent to a christian school with nons when she was very young and that it was very strict, since she has developped a feeling of rejection about every sort of religion.
My father was raised in the countryside where school was run by the priest of the village and where all families were religious. He wanted to transmit that to his children, so did he with me !
He sent me to Cathecism and it's where I discovered who were the Jews, in the Old Testament. For me there was no reason but to believe in that, of course the teacher would spend more time explaining who was Jesus and what he did, but he said Jesus was a Jew so I should just concentrate on what a Jew is supposed to be and is supposed to do, logic, isn't it ?
This is were I learnt about the Patriarchs, the Matriarchs and the Giving of the Torah.
Many times the teacher had to call my father because I made some troubles claiming that I didn't want to learn the New testament... I guess it's called youth rebellion.
I didn't believe in Christianity but at the same time I only knew this religion, my family celebrated Christmas, Easter etc. I considered myself Christian so I stuck into it!
When I reached the age of communion, I accepted to do it because my father wanted me to, and because I thought it was good to do it, I was more interested in the party and the gifts than the ceremony itself ! Great meals, great music, lots of money : perfect for a teenager !
After that I had to pursue christian teaching, I did it one more year but I finally gave up the New Testament to focus on the stories of the Old Testament and I stopped going to church every Sunday morning with my father to be able to read the book at home (pretending studying) but because I became a real trouble maker :p I left Christian class ; For me it was a bunch of lies and especially of liars ! My father was really understanding to let me stop this. But it's where my own troubles started... what am i know ? Christian or not ?
For many many months I tortured myself with questions, I have always been a very spiritual person and always believed in G-d, but I thought by rejecting Jesus and Christianity I would reject G-d Himself because it was what they taught me, it's not G-d only it's G-d with Jesus, with the Virgin. I was lost in spirituality and I needed to find myself, my true myself !
I kept that inside of me too long and I needed to share it with someone so I talked to my bestfriend who was a Muslimah and she said that I should convert to Islam if I didn't believe in Christianity anymore. I knew a little about Islam and I absolutely did not want to be a Muslimah, plus my family would have never accepted that. So until age 12 to 14 I thought I had lost faith in G-d.

The first memory : People called Jews exist

As far as I can remember, the first time I've ever heard about anything jewish was during my summer vacation when I was 8 years old. My father and I went to Normandy, his native region, and we stopped over Paris for one day, waiting for train connections.
I saw the Capital for the first time and my father wanted to show me the Eiffel Tower, and some other things.
My memory is very slight, I can just remember walking and complaining because I already walked for hours ! My father showed me a building, and told me it was a synagogue : "a what ?" did I ask. He explained me it was where Jews prayed, but I didn't know what a Jew was ! My father offered me to visit the inside and to have a look of what a synagogue was, fortunately it was opened and in the hall I saw 2 women, big hats, well dressed, very classy.
I told myself it was really impressive to see that Jewish women could look like any other french women. In my head I probably imagined Jews would be as distinctive as Black people or Asian people are... I don't know exactly what I imagined but I am sure of one thing, I was impressed by them !
My father was speaking to a man, and I couldn't stop staring at these women, especially their necklaces, they both wore a Mogen Dovid and it was shining, as a little girl I wanted to have something like that, maybe not "something" but this thing !
I asked my father to buy me one, but he answered "no you can't wear that, you are not Jewish".
"Why can't I wear one ?" I was so upset because I couldn't understand why It's an obligation to be jewish to have the chance to wear a beautiful thing like that...
As any other child I forgot about this necklace and probably bought another one during vacation.
But this memory is engraved inside me, because I kind of envied these women...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A new person, a new NAME

I am not one of these lucky girls with a neutral or already jewish name, my name is definately christian, and it's very hard !
When I give my name, people do know that I am not jewish, yet I look jewish ! My Rebbetzin once told me : you are sure you don't have any jewish relative ? you look so jewish... not just the style, but your face... Do you consider yourself Sefardic or Ashkenazi ? Whatever, you look like one or the other...
When you convert, you have to choose a hebrew name, better when yours is not jewish at all or it can be another name that you add to yours because it's your day, a new person, a new born and you can choose your name, it's so cool !!
Do you know the typical "what is your family name ? where are your parents from ?" Jews need to know everything about your family... and when you are in the process of converting (or already converted) you don't really want to explain that your family is not jewish, or your mother is not but you are in the process of converting.
This afternoon, at the laundromatic, a frum woman came with her 2 bags of wet clothes and saw me so she started talking to me, that was really nice, but when it came to the "where are you from ? I've never seen you before, who is your family from ?" I answered what my experiences taught me to do in this situation "oh well, you don't know me I'm very new in here, and my family ? oh they are not from here at all..."
I've had 2 bad experiences during a trip to London it was Erev Shabbos when chasidish people invited me for shabbes meals, the first woman asked for my family name and then "but this is not Jewish? are you Jewish, is your mother Jewish?" I knew that she would change her mind about the invitation so I declined pretenting to be very in late...
And the second time, I realized that I forgot my shabbes clock at home so I knocked at the neighbors and asked the woman if I could borrow her one, but unfortunately I couldn't remember the english for it, so she asked me what language I spoke and she spoke french too (she was from Antwerp), nicely she offered me to come over for a meal I thank her and said that I was not alone, but with my father and my daughter. It was not a problem for her, so she insisted so much that I had to be honest with her and explained that I had to decline her invitation because the situation was complicated that I was in the process of converting and my father was not jewish. She said "then no" and looked at me from head to toes like I was a freak... (I must say that I was very sad but understand that people can be very uncomfortable).
So now I always avoid such situations by just giving the hebrew name I've chosen.
The first convert woman's name was Ruth, and lot of convert women used to call themselves Ruth or Ruthy because of this woman, I do like the name and sometimes people think that all converts would pick this name and I've already heard "what will you be called once converted, Ruth ? No ? I thought it was an obligation that women would be called Ruth". Of course not, everybody can decide for her/his hebrew name.
The name is a very important thing in judaism, there are a few names that I really like, but I am very attached to mine, this name has a story : the Biblical story, we all know it, she's one of the Matriarch. But my story, you probably do not know...
As I often say I didn't find the name, this name found me !
I was 16 when I travelled to Israel for the first time with my father. We visited the country with a group, it was really really intense, and the most intense moment in my life was when I went to the holy Kever of Rochel Imeinu. This is were I knew that her name would become mine too.
There are different pronunciation for this name whether you live in America, France, Israel, Italy. I do not like any of these pronunciation, the french would be the best I think, but why I prefer Rochel to Rachel is because of the Yiddish pronunciation but also because of the french city "La Rochelle" which i like the pronunciation too :D
For my daughter, she already has a beautiful name... Shayna :D I gave her this name when she was born, and when she'll be converted with me, she will be considered as a new born as well, and I want to add Ruthy to her already-jewish-name... wishing she can follow Ruth's path and be pious.

Alte Yiddishe Neshoma : Conversion and Gilgul

I do not know if there is any specific way to explain the "Why" and "How" when someone feels truly Jewish and is not Jewish at all.

Maybe children of exogamic marriages can feel more Jewish, because their father is Jewish and there is a direct lineage transmission even if according to the Halacha (Jewish Law) is Jewish a person born to a Jewish woman only. So what about the father ? Well he doesn't pass down the religion but the tribe (if he's a levi, a cohen for example).

Can Jewish ancestry or jewish blood encourage people to become halachicly jewish and undergo a hypotetical conversion to be fully accepted ?
Do Jewish people think this category of potential converts have a real reason to become Jewish more than total strangers ?
Are they more sincere and true with themselves, with G-d, with the Rabbis because they are the consequences of assimilation ?
Can it be considered as a tikkun (reparation) ?

I have no knowlegdements in ethnology nor in psychology. It must be hard for these persons to be like any other goy but to feel jewish because they have been surrounded by jewish relatives and traditions their entire life. Or discovered they had jewish family and think they can be a part of this people but then realize that... it's not that simple !

What happens to those who have nothing to do with the Jewish people, no family, no friends ? what happened to them, how did they discover Judaism ?
I think there is a lot to say about that : an interest for the origins of Religion, the land of Israel, the History (especially the Shoah), the music, the food, a best friend, a boyfriend/girlfriend... that lead to the Torah
Is it legitimate then for these people to be willing to convert ?
It can sound very strange to Jewish People that somebody is really into it, and usually they think the interest is on the purpose to get married to a Jew.

Okay, there is something that makes you discover that there is something outside your world that is called Judaism, but what is a Jew ?
We saw it, in the Jewish Law a Jew is a person born to a jewish mother or converted according to jewish laws by an Orthodox Beis Din.
Historians would probably say something else. I'm not sure about the real definitions you can find by different groups but usually can be a Jew a person that considers oneself practising the religion, who is a part of the Jewish people even if he doesn't practise anything at all or not jewish according to halacha.

There must be a little something that brings you to this strange thought of "I feel so close to Judaism", and then what ? What do you think ? What do you do ?

For me, when I opened up to people and explained what i felt, and how I was willing to convert, they almost all told me that I was a gilgul !!
What is that ? simple explanation : it's the reincarnation of the jewish soul.
I have no jewish relative, I didn't grow up in a jewish environnement. I discovered it later, when I thought that I was "special" : there is no other word for someone who was raised catholic and felt Jewish without knowing what to be Jewish meant. It's now, that I know better about the jewish world, the jewish people and the religion itself that what I could feel when I was a kid, then a teenager was what a Jewess feels.

I can't rationally explain or speak with assurance that I have an ancient jewish neshama but it would explain a lot !

Where to start...

hum it ain't easy to describe oneself.

I have tried to write a bit about my life, especially the jewish-to-be part ! but I thought "is it going to be published ? will people be ever interested to read about my story ?" so I've stopped writing it... for now. I guess I want to try with a blog over the internet and see if it could work.

More than opening myself to the world I think I need to see clear in what i feel, with a structure. When people ask me about what brought me there I can't easily answer, it's so confused : When and where did I discover judaism ? Why am I interested in that ? Why do I want to convert ? What do i like the most in Judaism ?
All these questions, of course I've already asked myself, but is it the same impact when you tell people about your feelings, emotions, life ? Nobody can't explain that in a few words, but they need an answer !

It's a long process, it's not like some people think : "What happened ? Did you wake up one morning and suddenly decided to become Jewish ?" Seriously, I would like to meet just one person in this world who decided to become Jewish all of a sudden, in one day...

Also I've met a lot of girls in the process of becoming Jewish, in my community, on the internet... And I think it can help a little bit to feel that one is not alone in this big change.

I am a very busy person, so I really do not know if I'll be able to post very often but I'll try to do my best.