I fell in love with Judaism the way other girls fall in love with bad boys: hard, fast, and asking for little in return.
I’ve been interested in God for as long as I can remember, which is an obsession not shared by my family. One of my grandfathers returned to his Muslim roots late in life, my other family members are — thanks to growing up in East Germany under socialism — contently atheist.
I discovered Judaism after choosing Catholic theology as a minor in college in my never-ending quest for a religion. While it quickly became clear that I did not feel any connection whatsoever to Jesus, and neither Protestantism nor Catholicism was for me, my introductory courses on the Old Testament gave me the answer I was looking for: I wanted to become Jewish.
I researched, read, studied, prayed, and soaked in everything Jewish I could get my hands on. Then, after considering and thinking of all theoretical future problems headed my way (a favorite pastime), I took the next step and talked to a rabbi about converting. And another one. And the first one once more.
What they told me always came down to the same fact: They will not admit me into their giyur (conversion) class because I am in a relationship with a non-Jew who does not share my wish to convert. The last rabbi explained to me, kindly but firmly, that Judaism should not be something that drives a wedge between me and my partner and that living in a mixed relationship will make it impossible for my partner to ever embrace me and our future children’s religious practice.
After the latest rejection, I cried for a couple of days and mourned the religious experience I would never have, before trying to establish some kind of Jewish practice on my own.
But my meager attempts of practicing Shabbat — lighting candles and inviting friends on Friday nights, baking the occasional challah, trying to stay off my phone on Saturdays and instead focus on reading and some sort of praying/meditating — make me feel desperate and incredibly lonely. This is not enough. As with bad boys, you can’t live off so little forever.
The most obvious solution to my dilemma would be to convince my fiancé to convert with me. Unfortunately, Max, a non-practicing Catholic, doesn’t have a religious bone in his body and is additionally way too busy as a surgeon-in-training to consider a time-consuming conversion process.
Besides, what we can ask of a romantic partner is only so much. Be respectful of my beliefs, show some interest in my interests, listen to me when I tell you about what I love: yes. Learn Hebrew, let someone cut off your foreskin, talk to your boss about not working Saturdays: not so much.
In stark comparison to the post-breakup pain following a bad boy, breaking-up-with-the-dream-of-converting-to-Judaism is hardly universal. There are no songs addressing a longing for Shabbat, no memoirs written about the feeling of seeing a synagogue and feeling homesick for a religion you can only ever look at from the outside, no self-helpy magazine articles and books dealing with the hyper-specific pain of the one-sided love between a goy and all of Judaism.
I try to live without Judaism, I really do. I try to remind myself of my full, beautiful life with my great friends and travels and literature and good food and Max, who will be my husband by the time you read this. I try to keep in mind the many happy, fulfilled people I know, who lead meaningful lives without ever wishing for spirituality in general or Judaism in particular.
But sadly, I know that I am not like them, that I am truly missing out on something that feels so right.
And so, Judaism finds me everywhere: I am reading an entirely non-Judaism related article about how to nourish friendships in adult life and am brought to tears by the author’s description of her childhood Shabbat dinners.
A friend tells me that a distant acquaintance’s new boyfriend is Jewish and that she’s thinking about conversion: The pure envy I feel is shocking to me, as I don’t normally consider myself an envious person.
I glance at my inbox with the tons of unopened emails from Jewish newsletters I cannot bring myself to unsubscribe from and I know: I am not okay. This will hurt forever. I will, God willing, have a full and beautiful life, create stories and dinners and hopefully babies. I will continue to be a friend to my amazing group of friends. I will travel and read and learn and grow, and still, this will hurt forever. I will carry this weird, unique and totally uncool pain of not being able to become a Jew as long as I live. And I don’t know what to do with it.
I am fully aware that this weird pain of mine pales in comparison to the many actual tragedies on this earth, but this one time, I needed to write it down.
Thank you for listening.