The night before my conversion, I lay in bed, excited thoughts whirling around in my head, tinged with nervousness about the actual procedure
Finally, it was time to join the Jewish nation. I was eight years old. The decision to convert wasn’t difficult. My family was Jewish, at least culturally; my father was born Jewish, and my mother was studying toward her conversion. Kids need less preparation than adults before giyur, and like I mentioned, it’s a big deal for kids who have a Jewish father to convert. It was such an exciting time, but I was also nervous, primarily about going into the mikveh. I was worried about the deep water, because I didn’t like to swim and was always nervous around water. My parents and Rebbetzin Samberg prepared me extensively: I knew exactly what to expect and exactly what I would have to do. The night before my conversion, I lay in bed, excited thoughts whirling around in my head, tinged with nervousness about the actual procedure.
When I woke up the next morning, it felt like a special day, kind of like a birthday. My parents were so excited; I was going to be the first one in the family to accept a brand-new identity. I was a little worried about doing something wrong, so my parents went over all the details with me once again, and off we went.
Coming out of the mikveh, I actually felt different. I was really Jewish. My neshamah had joined the Jewish nation, and my body tingled with joy and excitement. When he met us outside, my father hugged me tightly, and I could see the tears in his eyes. It felt like a very special occasion. I don’t remember if there was a cake or a party but it feels like there was; I do remember my parents’ pride, joy, and excitement. It sort of felt like I was a character in a computer game who had unlocked the next level in the game: I was Jewish. I’d achieved a special milestone.
That night, when everything was over, and I was back in my same old bed, I realized I was the same person, but yet I was so different. I was relieved, and I was happy. It felt like I had turned the key in the door of Yiddishkeit, unlocked it, and stepped into what I saw as the beautiful, magical world of Torah. I knew so many special people who kept the Torah and mitzvos, and now I was more like them. Closer to them. It felt surreal and wonderful all at the same time.
After my conversion, I transitioned out of public school and started being homeschooled in preparation for my move to a Bais Yaakov. (My younger siblings started frum schools much earlier than I did; in fact, I don’t think my youngest brother ever went to public school at all.)
For two years, my mother taught me my secular studies using a very structured homeschooling program. We did it all: math, science, English, grammar, literature, geography, history… As a lawyer, my mother had high expectations, and I had to work hard. For me, homeschool was certainly not a vacation! In addition to all my secular studies, I had intensive private lessons with Rebbetzin Samberg in all the kodesh subjects. Since I’d been in Hebrew school for years, I already knew how to read and write Hebrew, all about the Yamim Tovim, and I’d learned many halachos. Now we focused on gaining the skills I would need in Bais Yaakov: the ability to learn Chumash and Navi, Rashi and mefarshim. It was an exhaustive, intensive Bais Yaakov prep course. As the months went by and my knowledge and skills increased, I felt more and more ready to tackle my next frontier: moving to a typical Bais Yaakov school.
I was disappointed when my parents decided that the nearest Bais Yaakov was too far away. “The Lerners commute!” I argued. “And so do the Samberg girls! I can join them!”
My parents weren’t swayed by my tears and promised me that when we moved to a larger frum community in the next year or two, I’d join the Bais Yaakov. In the meantime, I’d have to wait.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 937)
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