Perhaps this is the moment for which you were created

72 Names - Elena Kotliarker
72 Names – Elena Kotliarker

In the Tanakh I have this passage appears a bit differently.  Either way, Esther 4:14 is where it comes from, and it resonates more deeply with me than I could ever say, and I think it will hold fast to my heart for many years to come.

Those who have been following my journey, a great day has come.

Sunday night I took a bath, trimmed my nails, made sure no barriers were upon me. I was told it was easier to prep most things the night before. Zane and I had already given Alexandr a good scrub earlier that night after he had a nice play in the muck and mud outside. I prepared my clothes to wear, and my clothing to change into, a towel, and the things I’d need after my immersion, and put them all in a small carry on style bag my husband uses at times.

Monday morning we awoke early. My husband and I, who really didn’t sleep much the night before in the anticipation, set more alarms than I can count. Between the two on the night table, my phone, and his, I think we got the message lol. Not that it was really needed. The nervous excitement coursing through me was really making any restful sleep impossible.  After getting everyone ready and gathering in the living room. I sat Alex in my lap to explain to him one last time where we were going and what we were doing. I wore the same shirt I did when I started this process, and the same Star of David I wore every day. That day would be my very last day wearing it.

“This, is about how I came to find a start in my life, a path that I must walk to see where it leads, and where I believe it will lead. I say this, because for some reason I can’t help but feel that my feet already know the steps. I just need the hand to reach out and help guide me. I felt lost, yet not scared, I feel adrift, needing knowledge, yet I know that it will come, when it is time. For the first time in my life, ever, I feel like I have found solid footing in a world that has always felt so uncertain in my mind. Everything around me feels firm and planted.” – July 31 2017

“When I began this process I knew that Judaism fit well as an ideal set to my life, and the spiritual idealism was what needed exploring for me. What I found in it was so much more than I ever could have imagined. God found me, and I found God. There were seeds in my spirituality well before I started the structured process of conversion to be sure, but this last year brought out the blooms. I have endeavored to live a life that cares for myself but takes the parts of myself that can be useful, and gives them to others.” – June 18 2018

Before I even began to learn I knew where I wanted to be. I knew I wanted and needed to find out more about this connection I felt. This sense of presence around me that I couldn’t ignore. It was getting louder and louder. So that’s exactly what I had done. When we reached the place that houses the Mikvah we were to use here in Kansas City I found one of the Rabbi’s from my Beit din waiting for us. It had begun raining that morning and it took some time for the other two to make their way to us with the weather. We did our best to keep Alexandr occupied. All of them were familiar faces. My pursuit of knowledge and the amazing classes set up by our Rabbinic association had taught me much, but it does not exactly prepare you for what comes on this day. I feel like your heart and soul is what does.

Finally the time came to sit down with them all. The things they ask you are personal, not so much factual, though there is some of that. I am sure this is different from experience to experience (and keep in mind I converted reform), but this is in line with many things I read from others.

I told my husband yesterday that all of this reminded me of our wedding. It was all so fast, and such a blur. The term escapes me now but there’s a even a medical ideal to this, it happens in positive and negative moments, say in a car accident, time seems to stand still or go in slow motion, and in pivotal moments such as this, it’s like everything is going to so fast you simply can’t grasp the moments around you no matter how hard you try. The bearings fail you. I remember a lot of things about our wedding very vividly. Smells, things we said to each other. I couldn’t tell you half of the words that came out of the mouth of the officiant today. Everything has this beautiful hazy glow. Time began to run ahead of me.

At the Mikvah, time began to run ahead of me. I very vividly recall standing in front of the mirror and checking things like my nails, my eyes, my hair, and a few other places one last time. Taking out and off all my jewelry, such as my necklace, for the very last time. How heavy a symbol that was to me. I recall hearing “Naked as We Came” in my head by Iron and Wine and thinking, this is it, from here, it all changes. I also very vividly recall the walk down the stairs and into the waters. From there it moved faster than ever. The immersions, the blessings, the words flowing from my mouth and resonating in the walls around me. I will also never forget fumbling over the Shema, something I say every night before I sleep, because I began sobbing into the water. Part of the reason for this is that my Rabbi said from the other room “Now you shall recite the Shema for the very first time as a Jew”, and all I could think was that, it kept playing in my ears as I stumbled over the words. I can’t even recall what I said or what was coming out of me. Just words and sobs. I was Jewish now, I am a Jew, now and forever more. I remember my husband bringing my son in and the bright smile on his face after his immersion, and how badly he wanted to stay in the water, and letting him float on his back for a while to just enjoy the moment, as well as telling him how proud of him I was.

Hair still wet from the Mikvah

I think it’s still sinking in for me but it certainly was then. That evening we had a party with many friends, we enjoyed wonderful food grilled outside, and some that Zane and I had spent the last few days prepping, Israeli salad, Mediterranean grilled veggies, fruit salad that we cut little stars of david into, lots of Sangria (thankfully the weather broke!) and good company.

Young Israel of North Woodmere – Stained Glass – Banner of Judah
Greeting Card – Georgia Regional Hadassah Chapter

We gave Alexandr the name Yehudah/Judah – יהודה

We did this for a few reasons. I found this beautiful picture of a stained glass window in the sanctuary surrounding the ark in YINW in New York. It’s absolutely stunning. They have a whole wall of them if you click on it. I think they gave a wonderful start to why we chose it in the description of the window. “Yehudah’s courage and attitude towards life was equal to that of a Lion” We chose it not only for the legacy of the very first Judah, but also for Judah Macabee. Who, through his forward thinking, cunning, bravery, resolve, and perseverance against the odds allowed him to accomplish great things. All things we see in Alexandr, even now as young as he is. Our main Mezuzah when you enter our home has the lion of Judah on it to honor him as our son, and Zane (Ya’akov) as his father and I adore it. We got it when we decided on his name from someone who bought it at a bazaar in Israel and from my understanding it’s from about 1950.

I chose Hadassah – הדסה for many reasons. I could write a very long story about why I chose it, and perhaps I will another time. For now I shall say the Myrtle has a very dear and close significance in my family as I have a myrtle tree planted for me in particular. It was planted when I was born. I also feel a very close connection to Queen Esther and the kind of person she was, as well as what she represents. Learning about her spoke to me. Reading the book of Esther for the very first time was like reading about things I had gone through at times. It felt so very close to my heart.

On Erev Shabbat this week I got myself together and headed to my home away from home at synagogue. Alex was all a flutter of course.  Everything was lovely as usual and I knew that they were going to honor me and welcome me officially in some way. My Rabbi stopped me and asked if I was capable of holding a Torah for very long, and if so how long? I walk with a cane and have difficulty standing for a long time both because of joint and heart issues now. Determined though, I told him I would be fine. There is a point where we celebrate individuals accomplishments for the week. I chose not to walk up as I knew there would be something different for me. After everyone said their good news or special moment (after which we usually sing shehecheyanu) he asked that we hold, as someone had a something to celebrate that did not happen very often and he invited me up. We have two Rabbis at our congregation, one male and one female, both that I adore and consider some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. They were both at the Bimah with me.

Then they did something I never expected at all. They presented me with my very first Tallit. Not just any either. A Women of the Wall Tallit. Some words were spoken about the strong women of Judaism wrapping their arms around me. Our female Rabbi wrapped my Tallit around me and the wave of sobs came all over again. Then we walked to the Ark, opened it, and they handed me a Torah scroll, which, if you’ve never picked one up, are decently heavy. I wrapped my arms around it as though I was hugging it into myself, trying to take in the moment. Remember everything. We recited the Shema again. This time I did not mess it up haha. Both Rabbis said blessings for me and I returned the scroll to the Ark. I gave even more hugs and the congregation gave me a hearty welcome. I was presented our certificates and returned to my spot.

After Kiddush and Motzi I stopped by to thank both Rabbis for such a beautiful gesture and for everything they’ve done for me.

I don’t have a picture of myself wearing this well yet, but what these women do. The bravery, the strength, I admire them, and the symbols of our four mothers, who are now my mother’s. They could not have selected a better tallit to wrap me in at all.

I am blessed, I am proud, I am humbled, I am shaken, I am loved. I am a Jewish woman and mother with a wonderful family, community, and a life ahead of me I never ever saw coming, and I couldn’t be any happier. This process has been both the hardest and the most rewarding thing I have ever undertaken in this life. I have faltered, I have excelled, I have fallen down and even been in the hospital in this last year. Nothing stopped me because I had God with me and he knew that even though my parents were not Jewish, I was born with a Jewish soul. Shavua Tov, and Shalom to you all. I’m just getting started, up next? I’m singing for Erev Rosh Hashanah and N’ilah this year! See you all soon.

Shari

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