Converting to Judaism With My Mom Strengthened Our Relationship

Before she told me she wanted to convert, I hadn’t really thought about my own status as a patrilineal Jew.

I will never forget the day my mom told me she wanted to convert to Judaism. She was driving me home from a workshop for a Jewish program I was participating in. As we were driving in mostly silence, she said, “I think I want to convert.”

Without skipping a beat, I replied, “I think I want to also.”

While we had very different reasons for converting, we immediately formed a closer bond.

Judaism has always been part of my life. For as long as I can remember, I went to religious school on the weekends and celebrated Jewish holidays with my family. But unlike many of my other Jewish friends, I only had one Jewish parent. I am a patrilineal Jew, which means that my father is my Jewish parent. Because of that, some Jewish communities do not recognize my Judaism.

When I was younger, this didn’t really matter to me. My congregation growing up had many interfaith families and the people I interacted with didn’t seem to mind. As I got older, though, I started getting more involved in Jewish teen programs in my community. Because I was only 15 years old and couldn’t drive myself places, this meant that my parents ended up getting more involved, too, whether they wanted to or not.

At that point, my non-Jewish mother had worked in a Jewish day school for 10 years and raised two Jewish children. She was the one taking us to religious school and saying the blessings each night of Hanukkah. In my eyes, she was already Jewish. However, others in our community had said things to her like, “Oh, because you aren’t Jewish, your kids aren’t real Jews.” Comments like those made my mom hesitant to get involved with the organizations I was participating in.

Because my mom worked at a Jewish day school, she got to go to Israel in 2012, two years before she decided to convert. She said that trip put the idea in her brain. She felt a strong connection to the history of the Jewish people after that trip, but the catalyst for her to start the process was my increased involvement in our local Jewish community — she wanted to be involved fully, too.

Before she told me she wanted to convert, I hadn’t really thought about my own status as a Jew. I had been told growing up that if I wanted to marry a more observant Jew, his family might want me to convert, but that seemed like something distant and far away. But as I got more involved in my local Jewish community, I began to hate the word “technically.” I hated it when people said I was “technically” not Jewish because my mother wasn’t. Even with that happening, I didn’t think about converting until my mom mentioned it.

As soon as she said she wanted to, it just felt right to me. We decided that we would go through the process together and make it official before our trip to Israel that summer.

And so we each set off on our unique year-long conversion process. Since I was raised Jewish and had a bat mitzvah, I didn’t have to attend Jewish learning courses. Meanwhile, because my mom was a complete newbie to Judaism, at least in the liturgical sense, she worked with a rabbi to deepen her understanding of the religion.

Throughout that year, after each of her Jewish learning sessions, my mom would come home telling me everything she had learned. After my retreats and workshops in my own Jewish program, I would tell her everything I had discovered as well. We slowly began to form a bond that was centered around our love of Judaism.

In the years prior to our conversions, my mom and I did not get along. We had very different personalities and in my hormonal middle school brain, I was convinced that everything she did was to spite me (this was not true AT ALL). We began to get along more once I entered high school, but our relationship was not strong before we began this process.

We chose our Hebrew names together and made our conversions official on the same day. We each went in front of a beit din, a panel of rabbis that determined that we did genuinely want to be Jewish. We also each went into the mikveh and said the conversion prayers.

A few months later on a family trip to Israel, we did a conversion ceremony at the Robinson Arch in Jerusalem.

That was four years ago, and our relationship to Judaism — and each other — is stronger than ever. Even though I go to a college that is almost 2,000 miles away from where my family lives, my mom and I still text daily (yes, it’s usually about something Jewish, like the accuracy of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). I tell my friends all about her goofy Jewish mom jokes and advice and she has become an honorary mom for many of my friends (I think they might secretly like her more than me). Even though she was not born Jewish, she somehow inherited the “Jewish mother” gene and teases me about finding an NJB (nice Jewish boy). She emails me posts about Judaism and Israel all the time so we can discuss over the phone later. And whenever we can, we go to services together.

As for me, I don’t know if I would feel as Jewish as I do now if I hadn’t converted. I feel confident walking into Jewish spaces knowing that there is no question of if I am “technically” a Jew. When I converted to Judaism, I agreed to tie my fate to that of the Jewish people. I feel a stronger bond to Judaism and it only continues to grow.

Going through a conversion to Judaism is not an easy process. But going through it with my mom is something I am so happy I got to do. While my dad and brother roll their eyes at our newfound obsession with Judaism, it has made our relationship flourish. We would not be nearly as close as we are now had we not both gone on this journey to Judaism together.

Image by Carla Golembe/Getty Images

Rachel Malaga

Rachel Malaga is originally from Randolph, NJ, but is currently pursuing her BFA in Musical Theatre at the University of Utah. She is obsessed with all things Jewish and is a 2019-2020 Alma Ambassador.

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