I was raised Presbyterian, shuttled off to Sunday school classes most weeks followed by church services. Just like most kids, I didn’t think about what I was doing, I just didn’t like getting up early on the weekends to sit in a classroom and a pew.
As I entered my teenage years I tried to embrace the faith that I was brought up in. I tried to believe in the things that were being taught. I even briefly turned to Catholicism for answers that eluded me in the Presbyterian Church. Without resolution I abandoned the Bible and explored eastern faiths as well as Native American spiritual belief systems. I began reading and exploring but I was never satisfied enough to practice any of them.
Lost, I took a step back and asked myself a simple question… is there anything from what you were taught growing up that you do believe?
At the time it was a simple assessment… I believe everything in the Bible until the New Testament. Too many things didn’t add up, didn’t sync. I was lost until the day I began writing about the Holocaust.
As odd as that sounds, it was when I began reading the diaries and studying the events around the Holocaust and writing about them that I began to find answers. It was the faith of the people and the deep understanding of who they were that resonated with me and satiated my longing.
It was at this point that I began my Jewish education. I first started reading and exploring in the comfort of my own home (and dorm room) looking for details and explanations to all the things that I felt and questions I had that had gone unanswered for nearly a decade.
I was fortunate at this time to have met my wife who supported my decision to pursue my faith even though she wasn’t as fervent in her views as I was quickly becoming… she was raised Reform while I lean heavily toward the Orthodox side of things. In the end, we met in the middle: Conservadox.
With some basic knowledge and a lot of support (even my Grandmother was all for it) I found a Rabbi to sponsor my conversion and a shul that was willing to take me in, Congregation Or Shalom.
Over the course of 10 months I went to conversion class on Wednesday nights and attended Graduate classes at Rosemont College on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday night while working during the day. It was a trying schedule but by June of 2008 I had received my MFA as well as gotten snipped, questioned by a bet din, immersed in a mikveh, and cast my lot.
Later in the summer I decided to take a job in Manhattan and moved from the Philadelphia suburbs to a small apartment in the Ocean Parkway section in Brooklyn. That was an experience that not only allowed me to live in a different kind of environment but also expand my Jewish education by simply talking to my observant neighbors and Hasidim on the F train.
In June of 2009, my wife and I were finally married after being engaged for two and a half years. We had a wonderful wedding that, in my completely unbiased opinion, is the best wedding I have ever attended. What followed our wedding had profoundly altered the course of our life. When our plane kissed the holy ground at Ben Gurion International Airport, we were home. It is a feeling that is difficult to articulate. It is much more than returning to the house you grew up in. It is the feeling of being embraced by generations of longing and desire… a fulfillment of our prayerful declaration “Next year in Jerusalem.”
In the most basic terms, the feeling is like returning to the place of every happy place and time in your life at the same time.
In the eight days that followed, we lived without the weight that life places on you. During those eight days, we lived our faith, we lived with pride, and we felt like we belonged. Leaving left us on the verge of tears and, at that moment, we promised one another that we would return.
Throughout the rest of the year we made a few changes (i.e. moved to New Jersey and other minor things) as the longing memories became more and more intense. Eventually, we started having discussions about moving to Israel. What started as plans to go back every year or every other year quickly evolved into discussions of moving there someday, maybe after we retire. It finally got to the point that I asked myself, what would it take to make aliyah? The question lingered for a few weeks when finally the need for answers took over.
Both The Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh websites answered many of the questions and representatives (via phone, email, and social media) answered the rest of them. I knew the time to move was now but I had to let my wife get there on her own so I presented her with the answers and information I collected and let her process.
The final decision wasn’t made until we attended The Jewish Agency’s Israel Planning Expo in mid town Manhattan on June 13, 2010. While learning about the ins and outs about employment opportunities, ulpan, the first home in the homeland program, taxes, shipping, aliyah benefits, healthcare, and cultural differences we became more and more excited about the opportunity of returning home. By the end of the day we decided that this is what we want to do, this was what was meant to be, this would be the best thing for us and our future family. So, we sat down with our Shlichat, completed our interview, and outlined the application process and the paper work that we need to pull together in order to make aliyah in the summer of 2011.
With our decision made, it was time to tell the parents. We took a couple of month to brace ourselves and in September we told them. They had reservations about us going to Israel on our honeymoon (we were the first ones from each of our families to visit Israel) and now we were going to tell them that we were going to move there. Well, for the most part, things went smoothly… a lot of expected questions, surprise, happiness, worry, and a few freak out moments.
That is where we are at this point. Our family and friends know about our plans and support our decision and we are pulling together our application and documents. As we make our way through the process and grow in our knowledge and observance, I will open things up to discussion by posting my thoughts on this blog.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them below and I will do my best to address them.