An African American Jew Journeys to Orthodoxy
Life is a journey for each of us. It’s full of twists and turns and sometimes things happen to us without us understanding the reason why. Both sides of my family came to Judaism from Christianity. My paternal grandfather began to learn more about Judaism after he already had children. He went to a Jewish book store and since there wasn’t a Rabbi at the time who was willing to teach him, he taught himself through books. Over time, he became very knowledgeable and began to teach other colored people about Judaism. He founded a congregation originally in Philadelphia called Adat Beyt Moshe, then moved the family to a small town called Ellwood, NJ outside of Hammonton. My mom, in her adulthood, started to feel that she wanted something more spiritually. She began attending various synagogues, learned more about Judaism, and eventually decided to pursue a conversion within the Conservative movement.
I decided to leave my home country and moved to Israel in the summer of 2012. I knew that the Israeli Rabbinate did not recognize conversions from many Orthodox Rabbis in North America, let alone Conservative or Reform. I needed to decide whether I would pursue an Orthodox conversion or not. I was already on my way to becoming more observant before I moved. Once I moved, I decided to pursue an Orthodox conversion. I felt that I needed to make this decision to ensure that me and my future children would be fully recognized as Jewish. I knew that it would be challenging at times, but that it was the best thing for me to do. I was referred to a Rabbi who could help me through the process. I began taking classes two days a week. After several months, the time finally came to fully accept the Torah and mitzvot upon emerging from the mikvah.
Previously, I would drive to Mikveh Israel (the Sephardic synagogue in Philadelphia) on Shabbat in order to attend Shabbat services. Now I stay with friends who live within walking distance to the synagogue and don’t drive back home until after Shabbat has ended. Although I received a Jewish education, I obviously had some gaps to fill in order to live a truly Orthodox life. I had to get used to setting appliances on timers, so that I wouldn’t turn them on. I’ve had to turn down various events when they conflicted with Shabbat or a holiday. The importance of the mikvah and family purity laws always left me a bit perplexed in the past, nonetheless, I’ve found they are crucial to our lives as Jews. I’ve also taken on the mitzvah of praying daily. Though it can be tough at times, I strive to pray each day. I have found that it is a good habit that allows me to start off my day on the right foot. Becoming more observant has increased my connection to Hashem. I know that Hashem has given us a guide to live by, despite the fact that we may not always understand the reasons why. I am still on my journey learning what it is to be an Orthodox woman, but I feel confident that I am surrounded by amazing people who support me and continue to aid me in my growth.