I was a raised as a Christian, Pentecostal Holiness to be exact. It was a long journey from there to the Assemblies of God, to a Messianic congregation, to a Conservative conversion and finally to an Orthodox conversion in the land of Israel 13 years ago.
In 2001, my wife, my son and I got off a plane, kissed the ground and were loaded into a truck full of watermelons that dropped us off at an absorption center in Ra’anana. Those were the good ole days of aliyah, before Nefesh B’nefesh took all the shock and awe out of the experience.
A few days later, a local Rav invited us for Shabbat. We told our story and started learning for conversion the very next week. I had a structured learning program with this Rav in the kollel and private learning in a program with a Rav from Bnei Brak.
My wife did all of her learning with a female teacher from Bnei Brak. I hear the newfangled term for this is Yoetzet. I don’t think she used that term, but she taught my wife the laws of kashruth, family purity and Shabbath. She was present in meetings with the Beth Din and she was there for my wife until the day we stepped out of the mikveh as newborn Jews.
The entire process took a total of four months and other than some minimal registration fees, we were never charged money for our conversion. The community in Ra’anana and friends in our new community of Ma’aleh Adumim made us a beautiful Chuppah. The Chief Rabbi of Ma’ale Adumim personally paid the fees for registering our marriage and helped me get my first job in Israel. When we rented our first apartment, the owner of the real estate agency instructed our agent to return the realty fee when she heard we were both new olim and converts. We were warmly welcomed to the point that we didn’t eat a Shabbat meal in our own home for at least a year.
Ra’anana was great. Ma’ale Adumim was and still is great. We never felt abused, slighted or unwelcomed.
I don’t doubt that the conversion horror stories I’ve heard are true and I’m not making light of the allegations and complaints that have been published recently. I personally know people who have had their families destroyed, been abused emotionally, financially and even sexually within the conversion system in the US.
I’m simply saying that what I’ve been hearing from the US is nothing like the experience I had. I don’t know if I was blessed or just lucky, but I had a very holy and life-changing conversion experience, and today I’m a…(I was going to say “normal”, but anyone who knows me would laugh if they saw that)… I’m a very happy and content Jew, living where I should live, loving and being loved by my family, friends and neighbors.
If you are considering conversion to Judaism, don’t let headlines and op-eds scare you away from the direction your soul is being pulled. Judaism and Jews don’t always get it right. All that man touches, he corrupts. Rabbis come and go, conversion courts come and go, and all will one day give an accounting for what they have done. But all conversion stories aren’t bad and the truth will always be true. If you want the truth, you will find it in the Torah of Moses, a tree of life for those who take hold of it.
The people of Israel will be your people, the God of Israel will be your God. May He guide you and watch over you on your journey.