by Susan Henderson-Utis
I’m what Conservapedia.com considers a Christian-in-name-only. I was technically raised a Christian, meaning that every year my parents put up a tree for Christmas and gave me a chocolate bunny for Easter. But, that was pretty much the extent of my religious upbringing. My fantastic husband, Andrey, is Jewish and came to the US after fleeing the anti-semitism of eastern Ukraine. Yet, despite his history as a religious refugee, he is non-observant and admits to knowing very little about the Jewish faith. Not surprisingly, given our histories, my husband and I have raised our two children in a largely secular household.
So why do I now want to convert to Judaism? After all, Andrey and I have been married for 12 years and our kids are already 7 and 5 -- no longer babies. Why the strong desire to convert?
The truth is this decision has been a long-time coming. I remember when my oldest, my daughter, was a toddler. She had just finished watching Elmo’s Happy Holidays, and wanted to know why we never celebrated Hanukkah. At that moment I knew I had a choice: I could either shut-down her interest and tell her it just wasn’t something our family did, or I could incorporate Hanukkah as one of our traditions. I chose the latter. That year my family and I dove into all things Hanukkah -- parties, food, TV shows, songs, books, decorations, etc. And we have been celebrating with enthusiasm every year since.
Hanukkah was for us the Jewish gateway. Once my children experienced that side of their heritage, they wanted more, and I did everything I could just to keep up with them. I read primers on Judaism, scoured the internet for answers to my (very basic) questions, and listened to the audio version of Judaism for Dummies several times. Soon, we celebrated “light” versions of the major Jewish holidays and, thanks to jkidphilly and PJ Library, felt connected to the Jewish community.
Both of my children are very proud of their Jewish heritage. For Culture Day at my son’s preschool last year, he dressed in blue and white and brought his menorah to school. And my daughter enjoys showing her friends how to eat challah (especially when they can dip it into honey for Rosh Hashanah!). Of course, the older my children have gotten, the more penetrating their questions. Now they want to know for certain, in clear black-and-white terms: are we Jewish?
My children’s questions have really made me think. Over the years I have grown to feel more personally connected with Judaism than I have ever felt with Christianity. The moral teachings, philosophy, and history behind the Jewish faith speak to me. Judaism just feels right. It is a faith and a way of life that resonates strongly with me and adds a depth and meaning to my life. The more I read and learn about Judaism, the more I want to read and learn. Consequently, I am now exploring converting to Judaism.
I am just beginning my conversion journey. There is still so much to look into and consider! To start me on the right foot, I have reached out to Jewish friends and printed off a list of local Intro to Judaism courses. I have also started reading my own book from PJ Library, My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew by Abigail Pogrebin. I’m not sure what the next year will bring, and how everything will turn out for me. But, I am excited to begin the process. Whatever happens, I am grateful for Judaism’s contribution to my family.
Susan and her family.
Susan is a high school history teacher, former lawyer, and lifelong Cleveland Indians fan. When not spending time with her fabulous husband and two children, she can be found going on nature walks and catching up on her reading.