Saturday, 14 March 2015

I've fallen in love - with an Israeli and with Israel!

Shalom Rabbi Jonathan,

I am contacting you as I am seeking to convert and have been reading your blog and the course materials for the Introduction to Judaism over the past few months.  I am hoping you could provide a little guidance as well as potentially either recommend whether the online or a structured in-person Judaism course would be a good start.

I came to Melbourne to study Arts at Monash University, and have been between here, my family home in Halls Gap, and travelling through Israel, Europe and the US for the past 4 years.  I am due to graduate at the end of this year and my Jewish Israeli boyfriend is living with me here in Camberwell until the middle of the year.  From that point our future living location depends on work, family etc.


A little background on myself.  I grew up in regional South Auistralia, with a background of various Christian denominational influences,  with a Catholic mother, a Lutheran father, and many protestant evangelical friends, but was never baptized, confirmed, etc.

I initially traveled to Israel in 2012 as a 19 year old, while on a EuroTrip, and loved the two weeks I spent there over the Purim holiday.  I then went back in 2013 for a Semester break and ended up staying over 4 months semester studying Holocaust studies and travelling the region.  I met a lovely Israeli guy (Shai), and we have been dating ever since, and I have been welcomed into his family and life.

After another year of study in Australia during which Shai came to stay with me for a few months, I decided to head back and volunteer in an eco-project to spend more time in Israel and of course to see Shai.  Intending to stay for up to a year, I ended up breaking my arm in an accident, and smashing my elbow which meant I spent longer time there in hospital and found work in Tel Aviv for a year.

Shail's family and other many families around me showed me so much love and really welcomed me into their homes and life.  I felt that my Jewish Israeli community was a strong basis of the person I was becoming, and certainly more a part of me than any western Christian tradition had been. With my main interactions with Judaism being within Israel, I was presented with many faces of Jewish religion, culture, food, politics and everything that comes along with that.  Generally speaking I loved it (though as you will know, life in Israel is never without drama and stress!).  I took part in all the holidays, and am doing my best to learn Hebrew. 

Reasons for wanting to convert

For almost 3 years, I have celebrated every Jewish Holiday, spent almost all my time with Jewish friends and family, and felt very connected to Judaism, albeit a somewhat secular version.  I have felt for quite some time that I have to make this connection stronger, and become Jewish myself.  I feel I am already developing such a strong connection to traditions both in Torah and contemporary Judaism, as well as to God, that I want to go deeper into Judaism and this is the rational next step.

Further, while we are not looking to marry yet, my relationship with Shai is steady and once I have graduated I would like this to be an option.  I know that it is important both to him, his family, and myself, that a future family would be raised Jewish, and this plays a small but significant part in my wanting to convert.

I have attended various synagogues - Shai occasionally goes to a modern orthodox one in Israel but says he feels much more comfortable in the few Progressive ones!  We attended Kabbalat Shabbat at Temple Beth Israel last week which was great, and very much enjoyed the service at Leo Baeck, and meeting you as well. 

Thanks Rabbi Jonathan, and I look forward to hearing from you about the next steps.


Rabbi Jonathan responded:

Dear Siana (and Shai),

It was so lovely to meet you in shul today.  It seems as if your time, study and connections in Israel, and with Shai and his family, should count for something, and I am very happy to help you.  As I explained on the phone, it takes a minimum of a year to complete the class, simply because we want you to learn about the festivals as they come around, and have time to experience and discuss them.

You will need to decide which shul (synagogue) and which course you wish to embark upon. You have now experienced both Temple Beth Israel and Leo Baeck. Today's pusy Civic service was an unusual one - usually we have 30-40 people, including about 3-4 who are doing the Intro class and/or converting.

Temple Beth Israel (TBI) is a much larger and more central congregation, and consequently has more people converting, including several young couples who you could become friendly with (this makes it easier and more fun, and may set you up with good friends for life!).

However the taught class does only have an intake in February and one in July.  Much as I enjoyed our initial conversations and the prospect of working with you, my advice would be to go along as often as you can to services and activities at TBI, with a view to getting started in July.

Having said that, you are going to have to decide what will work best for you. I'd love to work with you (both), in part because I am keen for you to take back a fresh and enthusiastic perspective on Progressive Judaism to Israel (where it has a real and crucially important struggle). The cost for the two courses is the same, though the on-line one is pay as you go through the seven units.

Becoming Jewish is a major and significant step in your life, Siana, but if you feel it is right for you (both), I can say that Progressive Judaism offers a great spiritual framework for modern life (and to establish and raise a family) - all the more in Israel where it is still common for many Israelis to say 'I'm in Israel and that is enough' - whilst rejecting ultra-orthodox coercion, yet clearly searching for reasons to stay and explanations for why they feel so connected (and guilty when they are away!).

I mentioned Anat Hoffman to Shai in terms of the amazing social justice work that she is leading from Jerusalem. The website for IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center) is and the newsletter signup is right there on the home page (no cost).  It is doing truly remarkable work in Israel.

One important thing to bear in mind is that, though someone converting through us is able to apply to live in Israel as a Jew, once in Israel, they are still not recognised by the Interior Ministry as Jewish - which means they won't be able to be married (or buried) as a Jew.  We hope that before too long, action by the Knesset - or perhaps by IRAC, will change the situation so that, at least, people will be able to be married in a civil wedding, which is not yet available in Israel!

Shavua Tov - have a great week

Rabbi Jonathan

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