Beit Din, Mikveh & Conversion – My Big Day

It has been nearly two weeks since my formal conversion to Judaism, and I have been meaning to post an update about it ever since, knowing full well that I will never be able to find ample words to describe what the day was truly like.

I was incredibly nervous on the day, much more so than I had thought I would be, and I am really glad that I had both Dev and my friend D. with me to help keep nerves in check [or at least be on hand to make sure I was where I needed to be, when I needed to be there].

True to form we arrived ridiculously early, meaning we had time for a stop at The Bagel Café before my appointment. Not sure if this was a good idea or not, really, as I had a Twix, and sugar-rushing myself just before going before the Beit Din may not really have been the wisest of things to do.

Having all but choked on my Twix we made our way upstairs to where the Beit Din convenes and had a bit of time to wait around before it was my turn. The person going in before me happened to be one of the women from my J-Prep group, so that was quite nice.

Then all of a sudden [or so it felt] it was my turn. Rabbi D. escorted me into the room and slipped me a “They are going to love you” on the way in; a really kind and warm touch.

Was a little jolted by the fact that this was an all-male Beit Din. Not because I mind male rabbis, or because I felt strongly about having a mixed Beit Din, but because I simply don’t do well being alone in a room with only men, regardless of who they are. Had to take a moment to steady myself and mentally focus on the fact that this was a completely safe setting and that there was no real danger, regardless of my internal warning bells going off like crazy.

I really wish I was able to remember who was on the Beit Din that day, but honestly, I haven’t a clue. Well, that’s not entirely true, one of the men was someone who I sort of knew, or at least have met previously, only I was far too nervous in the moment to recognise that.

My meeting with the Beit Din is all a bit of a happy blur, but I do remember one of the rabbis starting out by saying that this wasn’t really one of those tests where you pass or fail, and although this was of course something I had been telling myself over and over in the past few hours, I found this exceptionally reassuring coming from someone other than myself.

What did they ask? Well.. I’m not entirely sure. I know that there were a lot of questions, many more than I had expected, and that they asked about how I had found my way to Judaism, [why not Islam or Christianity?] and that I gave them a run-down of that, including why, for me, Reform Judaism was the natural choice.

I was also asked if there was anything I had struggled with or found difficult, and I explained that I had had a conversation with one of my rabbis about the exceptions to the principle of Pichuach Nefesh, because I was unsure if I understood it correctly and was finding some interpretations I had come across somewhat hard to stomach. I also mentioned how I find the somehow socially acceptable interdenominational slagging off quite offensive, because although I could never be anything other than a Reform Jew that doesn’t mean that I think of other denominations as somehow lesser. That, just as we work on interfaith matters, perhaps some work is needed on intrafaith dialogue.

I only had one properly ‘factual’ question, and that was to talk to the Beit Din about the festival of Simchat Torah which was starting the evening after my conversion. Had no problem with that, since I had pretty much assumed they’d ask about that, and also Simchat Torah happens to be one of my absolute favourite holidays.

The other more precise question I was asked was regarding my own observance; I decided to talk about making Havdalah at the end of Shabbat and also how I had made a special Havdalah upon leaving Drayton Park, to mark the transition between going from this very very difficult period, to something more positive. As a follow-on question, or perhaps to check I wasn’t just making this up, one of the rabbis asked could I recite the blessings for Havdalah? My immediate reaction to that was to panic as I normally use my siddur when I make Havdalah, but then I just firmly told myself that I do know these blessings without reading from the siddur and went on to recite them by heart.

I also talked about how, for me, action is a very important expression of faith; that praying and going to shul are only two ways of being observant, that I think that social action is every bit as important as other more conventional ways of practising religion. Talked about tikkun olam both in terms of green thinking and in terms of looking out for others less fortunate than myself.

I have a feeling that my reciting the Havdalah blessings, may have been the reason why I was not asked to read anything in Hebrew to the rabbis. I was, however, asked what I would have read, so I told them that I had decided just as I stepped into the room that I would like to read the Modim part of the Amidah, since that seemed appropriate for the occasion, and – really – there is no time when the Modim isn’t appropriate, in my opinion.

Was asked to step outside for a moment while the rabbis conferred, so I did, being greeted by Dev, D, and rabbis D and H outside. Have no idea how long I had to wait, not too long though, I think, and then we were all filing back into the meeting room, crowding it somewhat.

My conversion certificate was read out to me, but in all honesty I was still buzzing so much I can’t say I really remember much of what was said. I was mainly just really moved by the occasion and only truly remember the moment I was called by my Hebrew name for the very first time. That felt like a very powerful moment.

Following the meeting with the Beit Din we made our way down to the mikveh for my ritual immersion. Rabbi H. was my Jewish witness and came with me as I immersed in the water and recited the blessing for tevilah and the Shehecheyanu, marking my entry into the Jewish people. I have to say that I’m not great with people seeing me naked, especially my various scars, but it still felt OK. The mikveh at the Sternberg Centre can, admittedly, not by any stretch of the imagination be accused of being a particularly serene place [think septic tank meets oversized foot bath..], but making tevilah still felt deeply spiritually moving.

After I got out of the mikvah Rabbi H. asked how I felt. I had to take a moment to feel it through before answering that I felt like I was exactly who I have always known I was, yet everything was different.

I know this has been a bit of a blow-by-blow account of my big day. There is so much more I could write about it, and chances are that I will, but for now I think this is what I can offer.

All the very best,

xx

PS. If you are interested in reading my letter to the Beit Din, please click here.

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My siddur (prayer book) - complete with nail varnish flowers..

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17 responses

  1. I am very fortunate to have found your blog. You are very thoughtful and sincere in all of your reflections. I have just begun blogging some of my personal thoughts and experiences about my journey of converting to Judaism. The idea to start a blog came because while there is a wealth of information on Judaism and practices there is a lack in personal conversion accounts. Your posts, especially your letter to the Beit Din, really touched me.
    I am grateful for the ability to read through your thoughts and experiences. Also, I was wondering if you had a link to a page about you and/or your first post. I would like to try and read your blog in order so I can see your development and journey with you.

    Congratulations on your new place in the world. It is beautiful and inspiring.

  2. Hello there and thank you for your kind comment. I’m always happy to hear from my readers. I’m glad you liked my letter to the Beit Din. Took some time to find the right words, but I hope I managed to convey my sincerity in wishing to convert to Judaism and what this means to me.

    – I’m guessing you might be viewing my blog in the “mobile format”. If you choose to view the full site you should be able to see a link called “A Bit About Me” on the right hand side. Scroll down a bit and you’ll also see the archive menu, which should make it easier to find the beginning of this blog. If you click here you should be magically beamed over to my very first blog post.

    I should probably warn you, though; the majority of my posts are not necessarily to do with my Jewish journey, but deals with the many ups and downs of my life, parts of which may be difficult to read about.

    Anyway, once again – thank you for dropping me a comment , and I hope you find at least one or two readworthy entries! :)

  3. I am so glad I found your blog. I have been converting for 3 years and hopefully go to the Beit Din in April/May.
    I am terrified, so your account really helped.
    Thanks.

  4. Hello and thanks for stopping by.

    Meeting the Beit Din is definitely something which will make most people feel nervous, but that’s only natural; you’ve worked hard to get to this point, this is a big big moment. But don’t forget that your sponsoring rabbi would not be recommending you to the Beit Din if he or she didn’t feel you were ready, so really, once you’ve been given a date you will be fine. You know what you need to know, and – most importantly – you know why you are choosing to do this, and this is really what the Beit Din wants to know; that you are sincere in your wish to convert, that you understand what converting to Judaism means and that you are doing it for the right reasons.

    Wishing you all the very best on your life-long Jewish journey. xx

  5. Thanks so much for posting this, and welcome to the tribe. I discovered this post by accident while searching for something else, but I’m so glad I did. I’m about to be married and my bride is converting–she is seeing her bet din on Thursday and is rather nervous. She has been studying for almost two years. I showed this to her and she found it very comforting and helpful. We wish all the best to you!

  6. Hello there Jonathan,

    I’m glad to hear that you and your wife to be enjoyed this post. Going before the Beit Din is always going to be a bit nerve-racking, but it’s only because it’s such an important occasion. I’m sure your wife will be absolutely fine; her sponsoring rabbi would not have recommended her to the Beit Din unless he/she felt she was ready for it. I wish you both Mazal Tov, and hope you enjoy what is a very special day, despite the nerves.

    xx

  7. Pingback: Reform Judaism, Conversion & Finding My Own Path « What It Takes To Be Me

  8. Hello,
    Hope you are well.
    We (hubby and I) have still not been to the Beit Din! Things – life – kept intervening. This could be the longest conversion in history! We will plod on to the end, hopefully next year :)

  9. Hello again, I am very glad you are still around and writing your blog when you have been going through some awful times. You have been an inspiration to me. We are finally going to the Beit Din in February after six years of ‘converting’. Very excited! Wishing you lots of love. xxx

  10. Me again,
    We are “all done” and ridiculously over excited.
    You were right, they do ask a lot of questions and it’s very hard to get your brain in gear. Luckily they asked to see us together, so when one of us stumbled the other one picked up.
    When we first went into the room (which was a lot smaller than I’d imagined) I was completely star struck: there was the wonderful Rabbi Julia Neuberger!! I’m afraid I gave her too much of my attention and not enough to the others but it was like meeting royalty for me, and when she introduced herself I had to pretend I didn’t know who she was, or I would have asked for her autograph or something stupid! They were all quite lovely though.
    I quite enjoyed the Mikveh, even though it’s not easy to manoeuvre in the changing room. I had to go under several times as I kept floating up! Then we went for a kosher burger looking a total mess.
    I will stop rambling now.
    Hope you are OK.
    Lots of love,
    xx

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