some notes on exploring Judaism

tree branches sky

Sometimes people tell me they want to explore the possibility of conversion to Judaism, ask what their first steps should be.

Some of this advice also work, in my opinion, for Jews who seek to connect, or reconnect with their tradition, since I get asked about that a lot, too.

If you're exploring the question of conversion, definitely start by learning more, to see if your feelings/hunches/sense of being drawn to it gets stronger as you go deeper, or—you know, not so much.

You’re allowed to investigate something and discover that it’s a place you enjoyed visiting, even if it’s not where you ultimately want to live! Or maybe the deeper you go, the more it feels like home. Only one way to find out.

If you're Jewish and trying to reconnect and/or connect for the first time, that might be a pretty good place to start, too.

This button below links to a list of books and podcasts and websites and stuff. There are some good overview/Judaism 101 books in there, and things on various aspects of Jewish life, theology, ritual, whatever. Start wherever.

Also remember that Life is a Sacred Text is here to help you grow and grapple as you go!

Learning about one thing might open a door into curiosity about another thing and another one after that, as it sometimes does. Start somewhere, see where things lead you.


Anyway, then there's the thing about finding community.

Ideally, you live someplace where there are other Jews, and Jewish community/communities around.

I'm going to start by talking about shul (synagogue) shopping, on the assumption that there are some local options by you. And then I'll talk about what to do if there's only one, or no local options in your area.

If you're investigating conversion, you're going to want to talk to a rabbi at some point. If you're a Jew trying to find a home, it may be that a rabbi-led community is just right, may be that something more of the grassroots/lay-led/indie minyan/havurah thing is your flavor, dunno.

But whatever the case, you should find out what's happening locally– google? Ask a knowledgable friend? Call one Jewish resource and ask the person on the phone what else they know about, and then ask the next people at the next place what else they might know about? (Not everything is equally obvious from an SEO perspective.)

And then at a certain point you have to summon your bravery– and possibly a friend, or possibly just show up solo (as I did, back in the day), and... go to something. Services are the usual likely suspect, but Torah study, or a social event, or a meeting of the social justice group, or whatever, is also fair game. Check places' calendars. (Also: there are places to study Torah and/or do social justice work that don't revolve around services primarily. More at the bottom of this page.)

If there are greeters as you come in to the service, tell them that you're exploring Judaism. They’ll answer your questions, explain the siddur (prayer book), possibly ask if they can sit you near a regular attendee, tell you about the oneg (snax after the service), introduce you to the rabbi if there is one. People want you to feel welcome!!

And maybe you walk out of the first place thinking, "That was awesome, when can I go back??" Then you know you've found your place.

But sometimes it takes a few tries to find your place.


If you walked out of this first place going, "Ehhh" or "I'm not sure," or etc, go to another place! And another! (Assuming you have these options!) Let it be OK to have a few months of investigating places!

If you're feeling a bit crispy, let yourself have a break. And then get back into it when you're ready. But really, there are a lot of amazing communities out there, and a lot of things that can be or become home.

Obviously if you're in a major metropolitan area with a lot of Jews, you have a lot of options, but it can also feel overwhelming.

If you're in a smaller community that has fewer synagogues and fewer options, sometimes you can choose to make a place hope even if you didn't feel ✨fireworks✨ right away.

Both feeling that "click" with a community and intentionally creating your space over time are possible. I've lived both in my own life.


Anyway, give yourself time and space to have a process. Becoming part of a community doesn't happen overnight, and if you're on the possible conversion side of things, it can feel even more fraught. Trust yourself. It's all process.

If you're on possible conversion track, your next step once you've found a place that you're into is to call the synagogue office during working hours and ask to make an appointment with the rabbi. Go talk to the nice rabbi, tell them where you're at, what questions you're holding, and things should flow from there.

(If you're Jewish, you, too, can make an appointment to talk to the rabbi if you want, if you're connecting with a rabbi-led community. They'll be glad to talk to you about whatever questions you're holding.)

IF you're not in a place where there are any Jewish communities at all– well, don't stress! There are distance conversion programs these days, and people who can help guide you. Resources below.

tl;dr

🌳 Take responsibility for continuing to learn.

🌳 Be brave and show up.

🌳 Do a thing and trust that the next thing will reveal itself.

🌳 Don't be dissuaded by a few imperfect experiences.

🌳 Keep going. 💗

RESOURCES

Torah Study, virtually:

Also most people just connecting don't know about Moishe House, now you know.

Jewish social justice organizations:

One stop shopping! I mean, this isn't everybody, but this is a lot of everybody. And a lot of these orgs have local chapters, or ways to get involved virtually, if you're in an area without a lot of Jewish community. Don't assume that if an org isn't listed in your city, there's no way to be involved with them–that's often not the case. Look at websites, dig around, etc:

A handful of places to livestream services

If you're somewhere where there's no local community, or if you're not able to get out due to disability or whatever other reason. (Also, they're cool places to check out if you're in these areas!)

Intro to Judaism Classes:

These are all classes that "count" for people interested in conversion to Judaism, but they're also great for Jews who want to learn more about their tradition and heritage! If you have a community rabbi in your area, start by talking to them. But if you don't, then reaching out to these folks for more information about process is a reasonable step. (Remember: Taking the class does not require you going through with the ritual of conversion.)

Some stuff about the conversion process:

101 article

Choosing a Jewish Life, Anita Diamant

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