It's been a while since I told you all how the whole conversion studies thing is going, and today was a good day, so there is stuff to tell.
First, I had a study meeting with the rabbi back on August 5, and it was really good. I'd been feeling over the summer that maybe I was on the wrong path, but I think I was just feeling the lack of structure and community once the Intro to Judaism course ended and nothing took its place. But our conversation was great, and the rabbi was clearly enjoying our discussion as I was. We decided that my focus for the next six weeks should be prayer; we'd each independently arrived at that conclusion before the meeting, which made the decision pretty easy!
So for a month now I've been saying morning prayer. (I kind of think that "morning prayer" is an Episcopalian way of referring to it, but it's an accurate enough term.) I already had a copy of the Reform prayer book, Mishkan T'filah, and now I'm exploring it by getting to know the weekday morning service well. I'm also reading Lawrence Hoffman's The Way Into Jewish Prayer and a book about the Sh'ma, which is the central statement of faith in the Jewish service. This has been a really good study period, because it feels more focused than my two earlier study periods when I was a bit all over the map -- not a surprising pattern, since I feel like now I'm settling in and can focus.
And then this morning was the first of the "community Shabbat morning services" that the synagogue holds once a month. On most Saturday mornings there are bar or bat mitzvahs, but on the first Saturday of the month, there's an informal Shabbat morning service. It's only the second time I've gone, because they don't have them over the summer. (I wrote about my first such service here.) It was an unusually small service this morning, because the synagogue isn't air conditioned, and it was a miserably hot and humid day here in Adventure City. The few of us who were there wound up going downstairs to a room that is air-conditioned and sitting around a table together for the morning worship.
It was a lovely experience for a couple of reasons. First, I met a woman (actually re-met her, but really got to talk with her this time) who converted to Judaism a few years ago after being raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. She used the phrase "spiritual seeker" to distinguish between folks like the two of us and the majority of the folks in the Intro to Judaism class who are interfaith couples getting married or having their first child. Both are perfectly fine paths to conversion, of course, but they can feel quite different. She's interested in facilitating mentorship in the synagogue community that might pair folks with similar backgrounds or paths. I told her I would be very interested in receiving such mentorship!
The other lovely thing about this morning's service is that it was the first time I wore a tallit, the blue and white prayer shawl that is only worn during morning worship (or all day on Yom Kippur). I mentioned that it would be my first time, and the rabbi immediately said, "Oh, wonderful. What would we like to tell WN about the tallit?" And then different folks spoke up and talked about the blessings before putting it on, about embracing the image of wrapping oneself in the light of creation as symbolized by the tallit, etc. Quite lovely, and really nice to have the group be so supportive of me in that moment.
I'm looking forward to, and am also nervous about, attending High Holy Days services in less than three weeks' time, but at least now I'll be familiar with the tallit for the Yom Kippur service. My other "homework" for this study period is studying up on these Jewish holy days. I'm meeting again with the rabbi right after Yom Kippur and right before Sukkot, which solidifies that deadline for me!
The synagogue's adult learning program for the year got mailed out this week, and I was so interested in all of the classes and lectures that I put every single one of them in my calendar. Then I got totally overwhelmed and faced the fact that I simply can't do it all, and especially I can't have weeknight obligations more than once a week. So I asked the rabbi this morning what his suggestion would be for priorities for me at this stage of the game. He said "Hebrew," something I already knew I really needed to work on. Fortunately, the synagogue is offering a three-week review of Hebrew basics starting next weekend, and then in November and December the Adventure City branch of the URJ is offering a four-week "oh-so-slightly advanced" Hebrew course for graduates of the Intro to Judaism course. So I'm leaving those on the calendar; we'll see what else fits as the weeks go by.
So that's the "Jewish conversion - who knows?" story for now.