Last Friday, the rabbis and I had the privilege of welcoming six beautiful souls to the Jewish people as they reached the conclusion of their conversion process. Each completed their own journey, some over the course of decades, to affirm their Jewish identity. There are another six or so who will also convert in mid-July.
Becoming Jewish at Temple Beth El begins with a basic Judaism 101 course, Elements of Judaism. Elements is designed for anyone who wants to learn more about Judaism, from people who were born Jewish and just want to brush up, to our non-Jewish neighbors who are curious about Judaism, to those who are on a path toward conversion. The class is 10 hour-long sessions taught by talented educators from the congregation. Registration for the summer session, which begins July 13th, is open now. Register here.
During Elements, those students interested in conversion will meet with either me or Rabbi Klass to talk through their journey up until this point. We answer their questions and get a preliminary sense of who they are and why they are interested in becoming Jewish. After this meeting, we provide registration information for Choosing Judaism, the second class in our conversion process. Choosing is designed only for those actively interested in converting to Judaism and it is taught by me and both of the rabbis. Conversion candidates attend classes, complete extensive readings, write and reflect on their experiences in their journals, and attend services and other offerings within the community. As clergy, we help our students process and reflect on this intense period of Jewish exploration through several private meetings.
After all the classes and all of the meetings, our team brings individuals to beit din and mikvah, the official rituals of conversion, just as we did last week. The conversations within the beit din are often filled with tears of joy and affirmation, a deep sense of completion and homecoming. These mornings matter to everyone involved: the brand new Jewish person, their family and friends, the educators who have guided them, our staff and clergy, and most of all – to the entire Jewish people who are enriched by those who cast their lot with us.
This past Friday, as we moved through our beit din process, individual after individual, I lined up the colorful paper clips from their materials on the table before me. As I put the sixth one down near the end of the morning, I remembered the documentary Paper Clips, (here is the trailer) in which middle-schoolers from rural Whitwell, Tennessee collected millions of paper clips during their Holocaust education so they could conceive of the magnitude of loss of life.
For the children of Whitwell, each paper clip was a soul lost. For us today, each paper clip is a soul joyfully joined to our people. These paper clips remind us that Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people live and endure; that out of tragedy there can be triumph, and out of loss there can be life.