Ryan, In These Last Few Hours Before You Are Jewish

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Ryan at Zanzibar

Ryan, in these last few hours before you are Jewish, I remember your struggle to get here. Six rabbis since you realized that our standing Friday night dates at synagogue were coming to have meaning for you that had nothing to do with the Jewish conversion candidate you were courting. Five years since you started an argument about hanging a mezuzah at the door because you were afraid if I discovered your hidden conversion journey it would get in the way of my joy at finally finishing my own. Two congregations before you felt comfortable enough to make it official. Yet the whole time you’ve been able to set a seder table in your sleep.

In these last few hours before you are Jewish, I marvel at your composure. From our years together, I know you well enough to understand the lie of your calm. You hold it in until you can’t anymore. I’m ready for the moment after mikvah when you tell me nothing has changed. And the following moment, when it finally blows your mind. And it will blow your mind. Because I remember what it was like, and I know what you’re like when things finally hit you. And I’m looking forward to that moment.

In these last few hours before you are Jewish, I know there are some people in your life who wish you would stay that way. I wish I could tell you they won’t always be like that. But sometimes people value ideology over love. More people in your life value love and support your journey. I’m one of them. I love you and I’m full of naches that we will finally be a halachically Jewish family, you and I. And I’m equally proud that you have come to confidently define your Judaism in ways diverse from my own, and argue with me about that. Which is so unmistakably Jewish. Why again are you nervous about your beit din? No one makes it to that point unless they’re unmistakably ready. You are.

In these last few hours before you are Jewish, I know you didn’t travel this conversion road for me. You didn’t begin it for me. You didn’t stay on it for me. You aren’t completing it for me. As a fellow traveler on that road, I know well the liberating pull of our soon-to-be shared faith that offers the right to question, doubt, and struggle with God in ways we never knew before but for which we always yearned. It is fitting that you have chosen the Hebrew name, Ya’akov–Jacob. For Jacob becomes Israel–he who struggles with God. And If, God forbid, we were no longer in each other’s lives, I know your Jewish journey would continue. Because you’re Jewish. These last few steps are just a formality.

In the next few hours, I will watch you sleep away your last non-Jewish hours. When you awaken, you’ll realize when you go to sleep at the end of the day, you will be a Jew. You’ll still hold it in, even though I reminded you tonight that since Hebrew calendar days begin at sundown, it’s already the day of your conversion. You will literally be Jewish later today. I cried when I told you that and you glared at me, because you want to make it to the finish line before you lose it, too.

Tomorrow will bring your beit din, and mikvah, and nerves, and amazement, and awe. In these last few hours before you are Jewish, I wonder when it’s all over, will you look at your hands like I did five years ago and think to yourself, “These are Jewish hands, this is what Jewish hands look like?” Will you realize that nothing has changed, yet everything has changed? Will you let your guard down? Or will it fall to the ground in spite of your best efforts? Will you finally believe that who you are, including everywhere you’ve been and everything you’ve been through, enriches Klal Yisrael, and that it is a blessing to welcome you to the Tribe?

These last few hours before you are Jewish are holy. A world ends and a world awaits to begin. You will squander these hours like everyone else does, like I did, because they are nerve-wracking. But when it’s time, I will help you remember them.

Because in these last few hours before you are Jewish, you are the world to me.

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