Reading List (On-Going, Frequently Updated)

So with the program I’m taking (starting in September), there’s no assigned reading list. This has its benefits (no late nights cramming before a class so I know what’s going on the next day) and its drawbacks (no deadlines and due dates imposed on me, forcing me to get my butt in gear!). But it means I can really focus on the titles that interest me, and the subject matter I’m most excited about. Apparently, people tend to pick one focus when studying Judaism – history, theology, or mysticism. Ever the history nerd, I suspect after I really develop a solid understanding of the basics my reading will gravitate towards historical texts and analysis.

So this is my on-going, self-imposed reading list. Titles that are purple and bold are ones that I’ve completed. If you have suggestions for books that really should be on this list, comment and let me know!

  • Why be Jewish” by Edgar Bronfman
  • Choosing the Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends” by Anita Diamant
  • To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in the Contemporary Life” by Hayim Halevy Donin
  • To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer Book and the Synagogue Service” by Hayim Halevy Donin
  • Jew and Improved: How Choosing to be Chosen Made Me a Better Man” by Benjamin Errett
  • The Anguish of the Jews” by Edward H. Flannery
  • Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Guide for Seekers” by Arthur Green
  • The Genius of Judaism” by Bernard-Henri Levy, translated by Steven B. Kennedy
  • The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism” by Dennis Prager
  • Why the Jews?: The Reason for Antisemitism” by Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin
  • Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals” by George Robinson
  • A Code of Jewish Ethics” by Joseph Telushkin
  • Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, its People, and its History” by Joseph Telushkin
  • Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers” by Joseph Telushkin
  • The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living” by Joseph Telushkin
  • The Ten Commandments of Character: Essential Advice for Living an Honorable, Ethical, Honest Life” by Joseph Telushkin
  • Judaism” by Rabbi Jeffrey Wildstein
  • Why be Jewish?” by David J. Wolpe
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The First Step (Part II)

My meeting with Cantor Mass was at 11am – I was so relieved to find that he was friendly, welcoming and happy to answer any and all questions that I had. (And I definitely had lots… and will have plenty more to come, I’m sure!)

I’m going to be starting the Choosing Judaism class in September. It’s not a “conversion” class in the strictest sense of the word… apparently in the past lots of attendees were already Jewish and looking to learn more about their people/history/religion/background. I think this is great, because I’ll be meeting a pretty wide variety of people when I attend.

The class runs from September 2017 to May 2018. I’ll get to experience all the major Jewish holidays during the program. If I still want to convert at the end of the process (I don’t have to commit ahead of time, but I am going into it with conversion in mind) I prepare an essay on my journey to Judaism thus far and stand before the Beit Din – generally a council of three rabbis – who will ask me questions and determine if I’m sincere and ready. If they decide yes, I go into the Mikveh (ritual bath) and come out a Jew.

It seems pretty simple, but I know it’s not – in that there’s a lot to learn and experience before I’m ready to take the leap. It seems rather foreign to me because growing up in a Christian (protestant) environment, you only had to say a little prayer and then poof, insta-Christian. They don’t require you to study, or learn, or understand what you’re getting into before you join. (I think the Catholic Church maybe does though? I don’t know anything about conversion to Catholicism.)

There’s no required reading list in this particular course, which is apparently something of an anomaly. But that’s okay – I’ll do my own reading. Oh and will I ever read! I already have about ten books coming in to the library near my place from other libraries in the city. I’m going to power through those before finding more. I’ll get what I can from the library, and buy copies if I really love them. There are some on suggested reading lists online that I can’t get out of the library so I’ll have no choice but buy them if I want to read them. But hey, I’m a big fan of book buying so this is no hardship for me. XD

I feel like I’m headed in the right direction, and it’s a good feeling.

The First Steps (Part I)

This morning I’m meeting with Cantor Anibal Mass; meeting with him is the first step in the conversion process. At least at this particular synagogue (Shaarey Zedek). I’m hoping to take the Choosing Judaism class that he teaches which starts in September. I almost took it last year, but found out about it two weeks in and didn’t want to jump in two weeks behind everyone else. (And in the interest of full disclosure, I also had a mini freak out – conversion to Judaism isn’t something to be taken lightly. I decided at that point I still needed a little time to explore if it was what I really wanted to do. I’ve since decided that yes, it absolutely is.)

I have no idea what to expect today. I am equal parts nervous and excited.

Later today I’ll update on how the meeting went.

If I find out today that I will definitely be taking the class come September, I’ll need to consider how and when I’ll make the decision public. I guess technically I’ve made it public here already – but no one is currently following this site (because I haven’t told anyone about it!). I know I have a lot of friends who won’t support this, but ultimately it’s not about them. It’s about what I need to do to live the life that I want to live.

I’m lucky at least that I have a great support system in my family. My mom, brother and sister are all on board. My mom a little less so – she supports me doing what I need to do, but I think it’s hard for her having her kids leave the religion of their childhood… the belief systems she taught us. And I’m not the first one to go rogue… my brother is atheist/agnostic. My sister is still a Christian, but not of the type that we were as kids.

Some of my friends are really great about it, and I appreciate the support more than they know. Others I haven’t told yet because I’m pretty confident that the response will be less than enthusiastic. I’m also preparing myself for hostility and I’m telling myself it can come from the most surprising of places. Antisemitism is everywhere but I’m ready to face it. At least as ready as I can possibly be.

I’m going to get ready for my meeting. Part II to this post will come tonight!

A Friendly PSA

A Friendly PSA to all my friends and readers. I have fibromyalgia and most of you already know that if you know anything about me at all and because I’ve posted about it on other platforms. I’m also on medication for depression, and I have moderate to severe anxiety. I also go to University full time, work part time, volunteer, and do an assortment of other things. I can do these things because I’ve “lucked out” as it were—on my worst days, my fibro is not as severe as some people have on their best days.

The point of this being that I *also* know people with fibro who can barely leave their house… as well as people who are, for lack of a better term, as “functional” (or more) as I am. And it is my sincere hope that I am *never* a point of comparison—if someone tells you they have fibromyalgia and they’re in pain, or they’re not capable of doing something at that moment, or they’re really struggling, don’t compare them to me (or anyone else) in your head. I don’t want to be the reason you make someone feel bad they can’t do something. I don’t want to be “that one person you know who has fibromyalgia and they’re still able to do this, that, or the other thing”. Because as “functional” as I am, I’ve had people say to me that I “need to learn to cope with it” and I could tell they were thinking about that one person THEY knew who was, in public, managing so much better than I appeared (in that moment) to have been managing.

Making those comparisons is something I’ve often done, and I didn’t really realize just how hurtful it was until someone did it to me and accused me of not trying hard enough when I was doing the best that I could. As a person who prides myself on taking responsibility for my life and not using illness as a crutch, it was quite a blow. I guess I thought I had a free pass—as though because I dealt with it, I somehow had the right to decide how other people should or shouldn’t also be dealing with it. And to be honest, that was bullshit.