Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Privilege of Choosing Judaism

I was cleaning out my documents file earlier today when I came across the speech I gave at the conclusion of my conversion to Judaism.  It has been almost ten years, and reading through the speech, I am reminded of just how important this time in my life was.  I spent 2001 in study with Rabbi Aaron Rubinstein, who became not only my teacher, but my friend and advisor.  I drove the hour-and-a-half to Macon, GA every week or two to meet with him to discuss my readings, often drawing parallels with what was happening in the world at the time.*

I would return home from each of these meetings feeling so inspired—I had finally found the right path for me—and longing to share what I was learning with David (aka Mr. Man) and Amanda.  So much so, that they began to tease me with, “Aaron says…  Aaron says.”  I read so many books that year, old and new; books about Jewish history and Jewish holidays, books of prayers, and books on how to live a Jewish life.  I have quite a nice Jewish library and often turn to these when preparing for holiday celebrations.

Among my readings was a story about a young Jewish man who attended Harvard Law School at a time with there were limits on what Jews could achieve and when many law offices wouldn’t hire Jewish attorneys.  He was often asked by his classmates why he didn’t convert as this would make things easier for him.  Comments he chose to ignore.  When he was inducted into the Law Society, he gave a speech which began with “I am sorry I was born a Jew…” which was greeted with applause and shouts. “I am sorry I was born a Jew, but only because I wish I had the privilege of choosing Judaism on my own.”  Amazingly, this was greeted by first stunned silence, then applause, then a standing ovation. 

I feel choosing Judaism was a privilege, one that I hope to live up to.

Shabbat Shalom

Some of you may not know me, and some of you know me as Arnold and Bess Cotton’s daughter-in-law, and others as David Cotton’s wife.  My name is Kelly Enzor, and I recently completed my conversion working with Rabbi Rubinstein.  Even those of you who do know me, may not realize what an important role this congregation played in my being on the bimah today.

When I first met David, our being from different religious backgrounds wasn’t an issue for us.  I didn’t grow up in what most would consider a religious home; I didn’t attend church from the time I was old enough to make the decision on my own.  While I have always believed in God, I never really felt drawn to any particular Christian faith.  So, we decided that we would raise our daughter, Amanda, with information about both religions and let her make her own decisions.  We celebrated both the Jewish holidays and those most typical in the Christian community, Christmas and Easter; although I admit these were never celebrated from a religious standpoint.

My husband, David and I began joining Arnold and Bess here for holidays and family events several years ago.  It was through participating with you in this congregation, that I began to understand the meaning of Jewish community.  The more I was exposed to Jewish holidays and traditions at this synagogue and with our family, I began to realize that I was finding meaning and a level of comfort that I had never before obtained within a religious context.

Over time, I began to identify with Judaism and found myself wishing I was Jewish.  I found myself wanting to have the feelings of spirituality and community that I had found here in my and my family’s life on a regular basis.  I began to read books about choosing a Jewish life and decided to join a synagogue closer to home.  At each synagogue we attended, we compared the experience to what we had known here at Sha’arey Israel.  This synagogue created for us shoes that were very hard to fill.

By the time I decided to convert, it was a formality for me, but an important process for me and for the broader Jewish community.  While I felt Jewish, inevitably I would somehow be reminded that I wasn’t in both subtle and overt ways.  Today, I am Jewish, in my heart and in my thoughts, in how I live my life, in the eyes of other Jews, and in what I pass on to my daughter.

Many people have played critical roles in helping me reach this point in my Jewish life.  I would like to thank the Cottons, Meyersons and Baymes for you have become my family and I love you all very much.  I have never known a family to be as close and supportive as you are.  I have always felt embraced, accepted, and loved, and for this I feel very fortunate.  Arnold and Bess, thank you for your patience, your love and guidance, and for letting me find my own way.  I realize that it took a long time, but you were wise enough to know that my coming to Judaism in my own time would make the bond strongest.

David and Amanda, you, more than anyone else, have seen and felt the change in me and consequently your lives have changed as well.  Other than the occasional teasing, you have both been incredibly patient with my need to share everything I was learning with you.  Whether you intended to or not, you were with me on this journey and I couldn’t have done it without your love and support.

And finally, Rabbi Rubinstein, my teacher, my guide, and my friend throughout this spiritual journey, thank you.

*Rabbi Rubinstein moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 2005 where he leads a congregation at Beth Sholom

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