I suppose the best way you could describe my early childhood is “areligious.” Though I had been baptized into the Catholic Church and had attended Catholic school for kindergarten, my parents seldom went to church. My father was a lapsed Catholic, my mother was a lapsed Greek Orthodox Christian.
Put them together and you had a child who gave no more thought to religion than his classmates. It was during my public school years that I became aware that there were other religions in the world. I had never considered that different churches believed differently. One of my classmates was Jewish.
As a result, whenever a Jewish holiday rolled around, he would go up before the class and tell us all about the ritual and practices surrounding it. It was like a religious show-and-tell that sparked an interest in Judaism.
By third grade, I was back in Catholic school and completely unaware that people ever changed religions. Religion, I thought, was a birthright similar to our ethnicity.
Since nobody woke up and decided to no longer be Italian but instead, be Japanese, I assumed that whatever religion you were born into was the religion you lived with until you died. As the years progressed, I developed a much fonder appreciation of Judaism. Whenever I found an article in the newspaper about Passover or Yom Kippur I would clip it out and put it in a book in my room.
As technology developed, I was given the Encyclopedia Britannica on CD-ROM which held a wealth of knowledge, including many Jewish topics. I read until I ran out of materials, then I read some more. I was also very excited to begin the 7th grade. It had been a yearly event in our school. Every spring, the 7th grade class would tour a local Reform synagogue. I was eagerly awaiting this trip as I had never been inside a synagogue before.
After the trip, I was hooked.
In the 8th grade, just weeks before my confirmation, I told my mother I did not wish to be confirmed and instead, wanted to become Jewish. My mother, still Greek Orthodox but wishing to convert to Catholicism, was less than pleased. She told me that I had to be confirmed, but that afterward, I could do whatever I wanted with my religious life.
It was not until my Freshman year of High School that I took the first step. I contacted a local Conservative Rabbi and met with him regarding my desire to become a Jew. I was sent off with a stack of books and an invitation to return once I had finished reading them.
About a month later, I arrived back at the office of that same Rabbi wanting to learn more. I was preparing for my sophomore year of high school and felt more than ever that Judaism was where I belonged. I enrolled in a weekly class through the local JCC and met regularly with the Rabbi.
After a year of study, things began to be looking up and it seemed, by the beginning of my Junior year, I would be Jewish. However, things were not so simple at home. Throughout this whole process, my mother had been extremely supportive. I had noticed as I neared the end of my conversion process, however, that her support was waning.
While I was immersing myself in Judaism, my mother was becoming more active in the Church, officially converting and immersing herself in the communal life. I can only imagine how it must have looked for the newly confirmed Catholic to show up to church every week with only 3 of 4 sons, the oldest of whom was off studying Judaism.
As the time for my conversion neared, support was withdrawn altogether. If I wanted to go to synagogue, I would have to find another way. With a very heavy heart, I withdrew myself from the conversion process so near the end.
Back to Christianity
I returned to the life of an indifferent Catholic who sat in the pew praying for a quick end to my suffering. I could not help but feel a connection to those Jews throughout history who were forced to become Catholics and must have felt the same way as they endured the weekly Mass. The difference was, I wasn’t a Jew. Though in my heart I felt Jewish, by virtue of my gentile parents, I was no more Jewish than the priest who celebrated Mass before me.
As high school neared an end, I attempted to return to Judaism once more. However, I knew that I wouldn’t be around very long and even if I were, it was hard to look at the same community that I had almost joined and not know when I might hope to become a member. I enlisted in the Navy where I was able to attend Jewish services in Great Lakes, Illinois. I received orders to Sicily where I soon became dismayed to learn there was no Jewish community.
During my time in Sicily I set about a regiment of self-improvement to prepare myself for my eventual return to America and to Judaism. I practiced to the best of my abilities. Near the twilight of my tour, I became involved with a young woman back in America who was a practicing Catholic. During my time with her I went with her to Church, specifically, an Independent Catholic Church. There, to appease her and her parents, I even began taking classes. I had hoped that perhaps I could retrain my brain to not desire Judaism but to instead cling to the faith of my birth.
Things between us sadly did not last. With a year’s worth of coursework under my belt, the priest in cooperation with the Bishop offered me ordination to the Diaconate which I accepted.
I was only a Deacon in that church for a short time before I became depressed.
I was single, work was not going well and I felt a spiritual void that hurt like a gunshot wound. I returned to the Roman Catholic Church, my ordination was ruled valid but illicit and I was permitted to enter a religious order. It was my hope, and the hope of my family, that this would clear my mind of non-Catholic thoughts.
Like St. Augustine I would embrace my faith after a life of indulgence. It was not to be. After only an academic year, I left the order with the specific purpose of returning to Judaism.
I left and became a Life Insurance Agent and later, a Broker, a career decision which I must look upon fondly and count among one of the best things I have done in my life.
I then resumed my studies with a Rabbi, studies which are now nearing the point where I am preparing for my official conversion.
I have met the ritual requirement of Hatafat dam Brit and in the next two months will appear before a Bet Din and enter the Mikveh. A date has been set and I have never felt better.
It has been a long road. A road that most traverse over the course of 6 months to 1 year. A road which took me 10 years to travel.
Like the Israelites in the Hebrew Scriptures, I was freed from bondage. The bondage being the cultural and familial ties which prevented me from living my life the way I felt compelled to. I was freed from bondage only to wander in the desert. It seems, however, at long last, I will be allowed to enter the Promised Land.