Conversion Anxiety

After everything going so smoothly with match, birth, placement, et cetera, it feels like my Murphy’s Law chickens are coming home to roost with O’s conversion in less than a month. I have the easiest part, the mikvah, all squared away, although it’s only easiest because I’m a long-time volunteer there. The invitations are sent out, and some people have RSVP’d, so there’s no rescheduling now, and other than the hall, everything is running a lot closer to the wire than I had hoped.

So, there are three steps to O’s conversion: Hatafat Dam, Beis Din, and Mikvah.

The Hatafat Dam is a ritual re-do of his circumcision, drawing a drop of blood from the site and signing some paperwork. Not a big deal, but in order that he doesn’t have to do it again, I’d like it done by a stringent mohel who will sign paperwork. But since I’m not converting O through the Boston Beis Din (more on that below), the orthodox mohels won’t return my calls. Not surprising, but still frustrating.

Now to the big deal, the beis din. After getting a resounding NO from the Boston Beis Din (really about the fact that I’m egalitarian, never even getting to being a big ol’ homo), I thought this would be a great opportunity to craft my own beis din of rabbis who are friends and have had a meaningful impact in my life and therefore O’s life. First on the list would be Shimon, my rabbi from college, and the person who I still think of as “my” rabbi. When I thought the conversion would be in early July, he was going to be in Israel. Looking at the chaos of my summer, and that the agency told me the adoption finalization might take up to six weeks (more on that below, too), I rescheduled for mid-August, only to bounce right up into RA training at Oberlin, and Shimon has to be there for that. Not only was I hoping he would be a part of this, I was really counting on him being the rosh of the beis din, as someone with the age, experience, and arrogance to be willing. If Shimon was the rosh, the Baruch would serve on it, and then I’d just need one more rabbi they would both serve with (i.e., male and orthodox).

Even before I knew Shimon wasn’t going to pan out, I was also asking other people, like Aviva, a classmate from college, and Baruch, a dear friend who wouldn’t have served on a beis din with Aviva anyway. Aviva’s smicha came with the stipulation that she stay out of the conversion game for a few years, and so did David’s. Joel was moving to Israel, Stephen was stuck in Colorado with his husband, I don’t think Joseph would serve with anyone else I know, Lev wasn’t a rabbi yet, etc. etc. etc. Finally, after a good conversation with Chasiah about both logistics and what I wanted out of this process, I asked Lev, a friend, rabbinical student, and son-in-law of a big macher in the progressive conversion scene in Boston, to make me a beis din. He’s working hard on it, but the politics are even more complicated than he anticipated, and I still don’t have names. If I knew who the rosh was, then I could ask him/her who I should use for hatafat dam, or at least give the name to the mohels I call.

I recognize that I am complicated, my family is complicated, but I feel like what I want from a beis din is simple. Three rabbis, all Shomer Shabbas (without asterisks), who are willing to serve with each other. Not fussed about gender or movement affiliation. But it’s turning out to be far more complicated than that. Sometimes, I feel like I’m part of something, a big, growing community of orthoprax egalitarianism, but the lack of infrastructure for this is making me feel out in the cold. Conversion is a sticky subject, made all the more so by the fuckedness that is the Israeli rabbinate (and the fact that American Jewry tends to look to Israeli policies for legitimacy), but the thing that really gets me is that admitting that this conversion is just for now has seemed to get in the way rather than make things more flexible. I know O will have to reaffirm or reconvert when he reaches bar mitzva if he wants to stay a Jew. And probably again when he’s actually an adult, or wants to change movements, or (if things don’t improve on this front) wants to get married. But this still counts. It counts for me, for my community, for the next twelve years or so, and although Jewishness in modernity is a choice for everyone, I don’t want it to be conditional for O.

Add on top of this that when I called the lawyer for an update a few weeks ago, she told me that because the birth father wasn’t listed and the state of Maine took forever to get her the birth certificate, O’s adoption won’t be finalized until the fall. I put off this conversion to try to have it after the adoption was finalized, but the likelihood of it disrupting now is minimal, and I know other families that have converted before finalization, but it’s another layer of anxiety over top of all this. There are three weeks to sort it all out, plus the self-catering and finding housing for those coming in from out of town for the simcha, plus writing my speeches and a program for the ceremony. I have help, but it doesn’t stop me from fretting myself bald.

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2 thoughts on “Conversion Anxiety

  1. I confess that I only understand a tiny part of that, since my knowledge of Jewish rituals pretty much ends at my butchered attempts to read from the Haggadah, but I do feel you on the generalized anxiety of faith and tiny babies. I’ve got some issues with christening L, due to the fact that I’m Episcopalian and my husband (and his family) are Catholic. To everyone else it seems like an incredibly minor problem; the Episcopal church is often referred to as “Catholic lite,” but to me having her baptized as a Catholic is a pretty big deal. Not to mention the fact that they closed down our parish last month. Sigh. My current strategy is to ignore the issue entirely. Not sure how much longer Italian Great Grandma will let that slide though.

    You’ve got my sympathy / empathy, even if I don’t have anything actually useful to offer.

  2. Hey Lee,

    If you’re still looking, I can talk to my rabbi and folks out here to see if anyone knows anyone who fits the bill out on your coast.

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