I’ve always felt a connection to Judaism, but it’s only ever been about me. How I feel. What rituals help connect me with the divine. A bit selfish. As I make the final preparations leading to my Beit Din next month, I’m beginning to think more and more about the ancestors I am inheriting but will never know. The folks who were born into Judaism, and those among them who sacrificed their lives rather than renounce their faith.
Last week, I saw the inside of Temple Israel for the first time. It was strange — I've been studying Judaism for many years and I've been to a variety of different synagogues and houses of worship. Over the last six months, my conversion journey has included monthly zoom conversations with Rabbi Kaluzny and a weekly virtual Shabbat service. I've been in the side lobby a few times to pick up materials for my Intro to Judaism class, but this was the first time I got to see the place that will serve as my spiritual home. It was also the first time that I met Rabbi Kaluzny — my Rabbi — without a computer screen between us.
Temple Israel is a gorgeous space that is built in the shape of a circle. As we walked past a few offices and smaller gathering spaces, it was tidy and quiet. About five minutes into our tour, my breath caught in my chest as I found myself standing in the most beautiful entryway I've ever seen. Judaica artifacts, on loan from museums all over the world, lined the walls in pristine glass cases. I could have sat there for hours, but just beyond, through massive open doors, I saw the sanctuary and felt myself being drawn toward it.
It's not uncommon for me to cry when I feel strong emotions. Seeing the bimah, I had to bite my bottom lip to hold back the tears. I felt at home immediately, but it was different from the way I would feel walking into a church. This felt new, while also like something that had always been mine. I could almost hear the whispers of those generations that had come before, saying:
Welcome, honey. We’ve been waiting for you.
I know it might sound crazy, but — this connection I’m feeling? — it's been such a blessing to me. Not just over the last nine months of my official conversion journey, but since I was 18 and started calling myself a Jew as a way to break ties from a painful, abusive past.
As we continued walking around the space, I noticed a collection of tiles on the wall. Each one held the name of someone who had belonged to Temple Israel before they passed away. The light next to each name was lit during their yarzheit and on Yom Kippur. As Rabbi Kaluzny explained this, I had to bite my lip again to keep the tears from falling. This is where I’d heard those welcoming whispers coming from.
Neared the end of our tour, almost back to where we’d begun, Rabbi Kaluzny asked “Do you want to see where you'll make your Mikvah?”
The room was locked. In hindsight, I’m glad. I think that in the moment when I make my official conversion to Judaism, I'd like to see the space with fresh eyes. As I thought about the next time I'd be here, my eyes started to well up again. Maybe it was appropriate this time. Mikvah means “gathering of waters” and on my next visit, I would be completely submerged in the rainwater pool. Naked, unadorned, vulnerable — but immersed in the resilience of a people. My people.
I turned to leave and saw a plaque commemorating another person’s conversion to Judaism.
Just like the temple, my thoughts about Jewish peoplehood came full circle. There is always someone who has blazed a trail, lit the lamp post for those who follow. It’s up to us to walk the path they’ve laid — and then to go beyond. To weave our own glimmer into the rich tapestry that covers and connects us all.