Finding my own spiritual path: the rabbi – by Michael T. Pullen

You can read part I here.

What is the process to convert to Judaism? What is Judaism about? When would I feel Jewish?

I was in college studying to get my masters in engineering. It was a perfect storm. I was pissed off at G-d, did not want to talk kindly to anyone about religion and I was getting a masters in engineering (applying science to solving the worlds problems).  What did religion have to do with any of this?

At this point I had been dating the same women for 5 years. The only reason we did not get married earlier was that we were waiting for me to graduate from college. She was the first person I met in college that was not working on the campus. She happened to live on my floor.

For the first 3 1/2 years her family ignored the fact that I existed. Her grandmother would hand her phone numbers of  “good” Jewish boys who were grandchildren of people she knew – right in front of me. The first time the family accepted me was when I assembled the golf cart that someone else bumbled – then I was in. Huh?

So … the aunt’s rabbi agreed to meet with us.  She agreed to start studying with us.  She would meet with us every Sunday. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive. I was in the middle of my thesis for my masters and she dumped loads of reading on me. 2, 3, 4 books a week to read. I loved it. It was so different from engineering. It was way harder – engineering was easy.

I would read and then argue with the rabbi. How fabulous is that? I could argue religion and still be ok. That would not work with the Catholic priests I knew … ever.

The difficult thing for me to read was Dennis Prager the talk show host from LA. I think he identifies himself as conservative but he was just infuriating. I used to read his stuff and just fume. There was something so arrogant in his writings. (I do wonder what I would think now.) I used to hold onto quotes of his to just show what was wrong with religion – he exemplified it for me.

I was so difficult to talk to about G-d that the rabbi avoided talking to me about it for 3 months. She had me study the lifecycle and basic Jewish thought. You know Jewish 010. It was the remedial course so that you could take Jewish 101.

The first time we talked about G-d we took the Ramban’s approach. She had me describe all the things that G-d was not. It was a great list. I am not sure that my list would be much different today. But in the end what I was left with was everything G-d was. I guess I could not call myself an atheist.

An intersting thing about my rabbi was that she had a long career as the head of a prestigious private school in Massachusetts. She left it all to become a rabbi. She had a calling late in life and left everything she had. She wrestled with many of the things I was wrestling from the perspective of a woman and she was able to incorporate it into her teachings. This meant that she had many nuanced approaches to the standard theology and it meant that she understood many of the issues I was having with religion.

Eight months of studying and arguing brought me to the point where I had developed a relationship with the rabbi.  My wife and I asked her to marry us. She looked at me and told me that she could not marry us because I was not Jewish. I would have to convert first.

How could I do that? What would it mean? What difference would it make? Is there anything in this religion that would make me want to convert? Do I really want to become a Jew?

With Intention


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