Below is a copy of the essay questions I received for my conversion along with my responses.
DOCUMENT RECEIVED ON: 3/19/2020
SUBMITTED ON: 3/24/2020
APPROVED BY BEIT DIN ON: 3/26/2020
Essay Questions for the Beit Din
Please include: (1) full name, (2) address, (3) home and business phone numbers and email addresses, and (4) desired Hebrew name.
(1) Meorah Bethia Ha-Me’ir ( מאורה בתיה ה-מאיר )
(4) Above name in legal effect as of March 11, 2020
In addition, the paper, to be distributed to each member of the Beit Din, should address the following issues:
1. Describe the process that led you to want to become Jewish.
As a child, my mother helped nurture my strong sense of spirituality as we grew up with religion woven into our lives. My maternal great-grandparents were some of the earliest Korean Christians and my grandfather was a deacon at our local Methodist church. I regularly attended youth services and bible studies along with the occasional off-campus retreat. At home, we kept up our observance by praying at mealtimes and also before bed, when my mother would sometimes read us bible stories in Korean.
While my background and upbringing made me feel close to G-d, I remember always feeling very challenged by Jesus. One of my earlier memories is asking my mother why Jews don’t believe in him and wondering with concern, “What if the Jews are right?” By the time I was in middle school, this question burdened me further as I couldn’t fathom that G-d could be so unjust: if Jesus was in fact the messiah and one had to believe in him in order to be saved, then how could G-d condemn those who simply didn’t know? Surely, there were people in this world who would live and die without having learned about Jesus. When I asked my pastors and teachers about this idea, they would explain that it was therefore the job of missionaries to reach them. Not only did I see this as most likely impossible but the notion of proselytizing felt demeaning in itself. Around this time, I had also become distraught by the notion that my family was Christian as a result of the influence of missionaries in Korea. While their conversion and participation was totally voluntary, it felt reminiscent of what I’d learned about the history of missionaries in Africa.
Finding these aspects of my religion unsettling, I decided to reassess my beliefs as I approached my late teens. Despite my willingness to learn everything anew, I continued to hold a firm belief in Hashem — I knew that my G-d was the G-d of Abraham, the G-d that I prayed to and learned about all my life; what I was reassessing was the context in which I should worship Him. After a brief period looking into Islam and Buddhism, I felt a natural pull to begin my Jewish studies.
By the time I was 18 and read my first Jewish books, I knew I’d discovered what I was missing all along. What I was most pleased to learn was that Judaism not only allowed but welcomed my habit of questioning everything; that the essence of its tradition stood on a relentless search for truth. Some of my earliest books were “How to Be a Jew” by Rabbi Hayim Donin, “How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household” by Blu Greenberg and “How to Keep Kosher” by Lisë Stern. Through self-study, I developed an affinity for Orthodox theology. I started keeping kosher within a year and I knew in my heart that I wanted to convert.
Despite the natural progression that led me to want this, I spent thirteen years unable to move forward as I grappled with the idea of what it meant to be Jewish. I wanted to be an Orthodox Jew but didn’t understand how that would impact my Korean identity, and whenever I experienced Judaism in real life (beyond my books), the culture around it really didn’t resonate. In addition to this hurdle, I also felt hindered by the fact that I didn’t know Hebrew, feeling strongly that learning it should precede my conversion. As if these challenges weren’t enough to slow me down, my life carried me through a marriage and divorce (to a half-Persian paternal Jew with whom I did my best to live Jewishly) followed by many years of being consumed by a very taxing career. Thirteen years passed by in this manner as I half-heartedly searched for community and belonging.
After ending my first career in 2019, I finally found the time to reflect on these issues and ultimately began my spiritual journey. Far older and freer, I knew this was the moment in life that Hashem had me wait for and I’ve spent the last 9 months taking my first trip to Israel, immersing myself in study and increasing my level of religious observance. Through this process, I gained the clarity I needed in order to see myself as I am, accepting and understanding myself as a Jew. I also joined a community after realizing that feeling welcome would largely be the result of my effort; since then, I’ve made my shul feel very much like a home. With this newfound sense of identity and belonging, I decided at the start of Adar that it was finally time for me to convert.
2. Which Jewish values and beliefs do you find most appealing and persuasive?
I firmly believe in the 13 Principles of Jewish Faith.
The Jewish belief I find most appealing is the Oneness of our Creator with Creation itself. I’m very compelled by the idea that every soul is created to reveal a unique aspect of G-d’s image and that if we were all to reveal that which is divine within us (namely, by learning to embrace our authenticity), the collective image of humanity would reflect G-d Himself (what I imagine we’ll merit experiencing in Ha’Olam Haba). I believe that the fall of Adam and the broken state of man resulting from free will has led our souls to hide their true divine reflection which it is our job to discover and reveal once again. I like the idea that when we fulfill mitzvot and engage with the world in our own special way, we raise the holy sparks that we lost and restore them to Hashem, adding in a sense, a piece to the puzzle.
As I continue to shape my understanding of Jewish values and beliefs, I am especially engaged by Hasidic teachings with particular emphasis on the importance of emunah, practicing hitbodedut and living and serving Hashem with joy in each moment. I am especially compelled by the ideas of the Baal Shem Tov (zt’l), Rebbe Nachman (zt’l) and Rabbi Shalom Arush (sh’lita).
3. How is Judaism more appropriate for you than your former religion or lifestyle?
Learning as a Christian was an educational process like any other but learning as a Jew has felt like I’m remembering something I’ve known. Judaism not only informs how I live but has become the very vessel of my life and I never felt such synchronicity as a practicing Christian.
4. Describe how your personal and home life has changed because of Jewish tradition and how it may yet change in the future. Specifically, describe how you observe kashrut. What positive practices have you assumed to make Shabbat a special day and what commonplace activities do you commit yourself to avoid to enhance the holiness of Shabbat? Describe in detail your observances of the Jewish holidays. Describe how your home has become or will become Jewish.
I have observed various levels of kashrut over the past 14 years, keeping a meat-free pescetarian diet for the last seven of them. At this time, I do eat at non-kosher homes and restaurants without heschers but only consume foods that are categorically kosher. I may increase my level of observance in the future (i.e. only eating at kosher restaurants and homes), but I am still contemplating this issue and plan to study it further. I also plan to eat meat again someday but will only consume meat that is certified kosher.
I have been shomer Shabbat since late August of 2019 and I have committed to maintaining this observance in perpetuity. In addition to following the most stringent guidelines I am aware of (namely, avoiding all melachot), I do my best to sanctify Shabbat by thanking Hashem for the day and remembering to truly savor its duration.
I also observe holidays in similar fashion, taking care to follow halacha while aiming to uphold the spirit of the day. While I have maintained various levels of observance over the past 14 years, I only started fully observing every holiday (along with all major and minor fasts) since Rosh Hashanah this year.
I recently moved in with my sister and her family which has impacted my ability to keep a Jewish home (namely, the lack of a kosher kitchen and the inability to hang my mezuzot) but as the move is only temporary I do plan to reinstate my Jewish home as soon as I am able.
5. Describe your sense of identification with the Jewish people in relation to Israel, world Jewry, the local Jewish community, and your synagogue.
I feel a strong sense of home and connection with all Jews (even if they don’t feel the same) and I very much view Israel as my spiritual (and future) home. I identify myself as part of world Jewry and eagerly await the reemergence of our lost tribes, feeling certain there are more Korean Jews like myself. I feel especially close to my local Jewish community and all the more so with the members of my shul.
6. Describe how you intend to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah.
Following my career as an advertising executive, I decided to apply my professional skills toward supporting the Jewish people, founding a nonprofit agency called BARA Worldwide. Its mission is to break the cultural barriers around Torah-observant Judaism as my goal is to eliminate the challenges I faced as a young Jew of Color. If BARA had existed when I was a teen, I would never have spent all those years feeling lost and alone. The agency is still at an early stage but I’m happy to have discovered my life’s calling through this work.
I have also made a major life commitment to allocate half of my personal income toward giving tzedakah. Largely inspired by the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush along with the circumstances of my personal journey, I like the idea of treating Hashem as my 50% Partner and I trust that He’ll always provide what I need.
I am most eager to give tzedakah to the Torah institutions which have supported my learning (including Aish HaTorah, Atzmut, Chabad, Chut Shel Chessed and Hitabroot among others) though I have only been able to give in small amounts this past year.
I have also volunteered at Congregation Kehillath Israel (in various capacities including video production, digital advertising and design), New England Yachad (engaging with young adults with disabilities including teaching the weekly parsha), and Hebrew Senior Life (engaging with seniors and helping to serve their monthly Shabbat dinner). Though I’ve been unable to continue my service since moving away from the area, I am eager to support them again as soon as I am able.
7. What is your commitment to prayer and religious services? Describe your feelings about Jewish prayer and indicate what prayer (s) you recite regularly. Of what synagogue do you pledge yourself to become a member immediately after conversion? How frequently do you commit yourself to attend religious services?
I regularly incorporate prayer into my day, including Modeh Ani, Netillat Yadayim, the daily liturgical prayers (Shacharit, Mincha, Maariv, Kriyat Shema), blessings before/after meals and Yasher Atzar after each use of the restroom. I also engage in daily hitbodedut and find it to be the most important part of my practice as it helps me stay connected to my soul and Hashem.
I find the group experience of liturgical prayer to be challenging as it’s very difficult to maintain kavannah while praying at such a quick pace and I prefer not having to skip sections to catch up. While I’ve joined the daily minyan from time to time, I generally prefer davening alone with the exception of experiencing communal prayer on Shabbat. I particularly enjoy Shabbat morning service but have felt a deep loss since temporarily moving away from my shul. I am eager to return and plan to always live within walking distance of a shul in the future as my best Shabbats have been experienced as part of a community.
I am currently a member of Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts and look forward to maintaining my membership so long as I am living in the Boston/Greater Boston area.
8. What are your plans for future Jewish study?
I plan to keep some form of daily learning as part of my life and would very much like to learn at Aish and other Torah institutions in Israel someday. I would also like to learn modern Hebrew so I can engage with more teachers and resources and learn to read and understand biblical Hebrew as well.
9. If blessed with children, how will you organize their Jewish education?
I’d like for me and my husband to be very hands-on, incorporating as much learning as possible directly from home (it’s therefore important for him to be knowledgeable and observant so he can teach our son(s) about mitzvot like putting on Tallit and Tefillin). I will most likely raise them in Israel and put them through Jewish schooling, being mindful to balance secular learning with their studies. I would like them to be taught traditional/Orthodox theology with particular care around daily observance. I’d also like to ensure they are fluent in Hebrew and I plan to learn Hebrew so I can teach them as well.
10. List the Jewish books and articles (non-fiction and fiction) you have read and the newspapers or periodicals to which you subscribe.
NOTE: This list is not exhaustive as I haven’t kept track of all of my reading including some of my earlier books and books that I’ve borrowed from libraries. I have generally only included books that I’ve read in their entirety with the exception of some books categorized as “Reference.”
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism (Benjamin Blech)
Judaism for Dummies (Ted Falcon, David Blatner)
To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life (Hayim Donin)
Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism (Anita Diamant)
To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking (Harold Kushner)
PHILOSOPHY, SPIRITUALITY & SELF-HELP
Ten Rungs (Martin Buber)
I And Thou (Martin Buber)
Your Word is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer (Arthur Green & Barry W. Holtz)
Hasidism: Continuity or Innovation? (Bezalel Safran)
Garden of Emunah (R. Shalom Arush)
Garden of Riches: A Practical Guide to Financial Success (R. Shalom Arush)
A New Light in the Garden of Yearning and Will (R. Shalom Arush)
The Garden of Knowledge (R. Shalom Arush)
In Forest Fields: A Unique Guide to Personal Prayer (R. Shalom Arush)
The Messianic Idea in Judaism—And Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (Gershom Scholem)
Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar (Alan Morinis)
Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Days of Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar (Alan Morinis)
Human by Choice: A Kabbalistic Path to Self Help (R. Eliyahu Yaakov)
A Book About You: Individuality and Soul Awareness (David Green)
Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism (R. Gershom Winkler)
The Wisdom of Heschel (R. Abraham Heschel)
Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings (R. Abraham Heschel)
Textual Activism (R. Mike Moskowitz)
RELIGIOUS CUSTOMS & OBSERVANCE
How to Run A Traditional Jewish Household (Blu Greenberg)
How to Keep Kosher (Lisë Stern)
To Pray As a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer Book and the Synagogue Service (R. Hayim Donin)
The Halachos of Muktza (R. Yisroel Pinchas Bodner)
The Seamstress (Sara Tuvel Bernstein)
Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) (Sarah Hurwitz)
Why the Jews Rejected Jesus (David Klinghoffer)
Sacred Soil: A Guided Tour Through the Spiritual Essence of Eretz Yisrael (R. Moshe Wolfson)
The Chumash with Complete Sabbath Prayers, Nusach Ashkenaz, Stone Edition (Artscroll Series) edited by (R. Nosson Scherman)*
The Jewish Study Bible, JPS Translation edited by (Michael Fishbane, Marc Zvi Brettler, Adele Berlin)
Talmud (Artscroll Series) (Berakhot Vol. 1 & 2, Shabbat / in progress)
The Zohar (Edition translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon)
A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible In Its Context (Michael D. Coogan)
Songs Ascending: The Book of Psalms, A New Translation with Textual and Spiritual Commentary by (R. Richard N. Levy)
Joy, Despair and Hope: Reading Psalms (Edward Feld)
Pirkei Avot (multiple editions)
The Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations, Fourth Edition with New Translation and Commentary by (Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks)**
Siddur Eit Ratzon: A Prayerbook for Shabbat, Festivals and Daily Services with New Translations, Commentaries, Meditations and Prayers by (Joseph G. Rosenstein)
Mishkan T’Filah: A Reform Siddur: Weekdays, Shabbat, Festivals, and Other Occasions of Public Worship, edited by (Elyse D. Frishman)
*used for weekly study ** used for daily prayer
NEWSPAPERS / PERIODICALSPrint
The Jewish Advocate (when available to pick up in person)
Various email lists offered through MyJewishLearning.com & Chabad.org
Miscellaneous newsletters from Jewish organizations/institutions
Subreddit communities including r/Judaism, r/Jewish, r/Talmud, r/Torah, r/Zionism, r/Israel, r/Kosher, r/Kabbalah
* Much of my learning also takes place via YouTube where I regularly follow certain Rabbis including R. Alon Anava, R. Mendel Kessin and R. Tovia Singer among many others
[POST-SCRIPT: This list was not exhaustive as it related to digital media/publications ]
For the Jewish partner (when applicable). Please include name, address, phone, Hebrew name (s) and date. How has this process leading to conversion affected your feelings about Judaism and your commitments to its practices?
N/A ( currently single )
Originally shared on the Shema Israel! Blog published by BARA Media™