Thursday, 18 July 2013

Mother with young children

The names and details have been changed to protect the identity of the writer:
Dear Rabbi Jonathan,
I am writing to introduce myself to you, and to enquire as to the possibility, due to my circumstances, of participating in the online 'Introduction to Judaism' course which you offer.

My name is Julie.  Originally from NSW, I have lived here in this city for nine years now.  I have three beautiful children, my daughter, aged 4 years, and twin sons, who are almost 12 months old.  They are the lights of my life.  We are regulars at the local Progressive Congregation, and have been for all of the children’s lives.  We have always been made to feel very welcome by everyone at the congregation, and have met some wonderful people who have since become dear friends at our monthly Kinder Shabbat meetings, and at the weekly Parents' Group.
Whilst there is Jewish blood on my father's mother's side of the family, and despite the fact that my dad lived with his Jewish relatives in the UK before he was married, he was not raised in a Jewish home, and neither was I.  My mother is a non-practicing Catholic, and my parents were not religious.  However, I did grow up with great Jewish food, stories of our Jewish family, and a love of the Jewish people and homeland.  I have had an affinity with Judaism for as long as I can remember.

In raising my own children, and possibly more particularly because I am a single-mother-by-choice with no extended family here in Australia, perhaps the greatest desire I have for my children is that they grow up with a sound ethical and spiritual foundation, a sense of identity and belonging to something bigger than just the four of us, and the security and warmth of not just a loving family, but of a whole community of people of whom they are a part.  I also wish to instill in them a hope for the future, faith in the inherent goodness of people, and the belief that we can all make this world a better place.  I have found all of the above possible in the context of Progressive Judaism, and, I believe, a home for us here at this congregation.
So, for some time now, I have had the desire to convert, both for myself and for my children.  Having no resident Rabbi, I initially approached the office at the congregation with this desire, but the only conversion class they offer is a night class, which I am unable to attend.  I thought there was no solution to my dilemma.  I am very keen to formally convert whilst my children are still young, as to all intents and purposes, we are living a Jewish life, they are being raised as Jewish children in an observant Jewish home, and I wish to be able to tell them, "We do this because we are Jewish", without batting an eyelid. I feel we are very much a part of the community here, and as my children get older, my desire is for them to attend the Religion School each week with their friends, and for us to be able to participate in services and events as full members of the congregation.
Still, the issue for me is that I am unable to attend our conversion class.  I simply have to be home to put my children to bed, and will have to for years to come!  In the meantime, I have been continuing my own personal Jewish education here at home, increasing our level of observance as my knowledge increases, and according to my convictions. I am slowly building up a library of great Jewish books here; the more I learn, the more I want to learn!

Whilst visiting the TBI website yesterday to again peruse their booklist, I noticed for the first time that an online/distance education course does exist in Australia!  I wasn't aware of this, but for months have been thinking, "If only one existed..".  And so I called TBI this morning, who referred me to you, and hence this long-winded email to you, Rabbi Jonathan - please forgive my wordiness! - to ask if it would be at all possible for me to undertake your Introduction to Judaism class by distance, in order to finally be able to formally convert to the faith we are living?

I thank you very much indeed, for your time and assistance in this matter.

Dear Julie,
The first thing I should say is 'thank you so much for persevering'.  And the second is 'welcome, you have hopefully come to the right place in the end'.  I am so sorry that for some reason it took so long to discover the existence of this course.  It has been running for about three years, under the auspices of Progressive Judaism Victoria, but with students across Australia (and beyond), and we hope that in due course it will be promoted by the Union for Progressive Judaism, at which point local congregations should hopefully become more aware of it!
Progressive Judaism, as you have discovered, is a wonderful framework for a spiritual and fulfilling modern life.  I am proud to hear what you write about your local Progressive congregation, one which I have visited several times, most recently with my family when I led the sevice there recently.
We would be very pleased to immediately get you under way. There are two free introductory sessions which you should start with - you will find them at 
Hopefully that will be self-explanatory.
Your tutor will initially be my wife Sue.  She is already looking forward to looking at your two introductory sessions and to working with you as you formalise what is clearly already a good feeling for and connection with Jewish knowledge and belief.
As I'm sure you know, on Thursday and Friday we look forward to shabbat and so wish each other:
Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jonathan

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