I don’t actually remember a time when I wasn’t interested in Judaism. I was probably the only kid in white, suburban Canada who doodled alefs ( א ) and shins ( ש ) in their binders at school. I think I picked them up from movies and tv.
When I was in my 20s, I met (and dated) a guy who’d converted to Judaism because of his ex-wife. While I have no doubt he was a sincere Jew, by most Orthodox standards, he was pretty much what they call “OTD,” or “Off the Derech,” which is sort of the Jewish equivalent of being a lapsed Catholic. Then again, considering that he lived way out in the middle of nowhere even for here, it’s really hard to blame him. In any case, he had a whole library of books he’d no doubt accumulated because of his geirut (conversion) process (like the one I’m accumulating), and he let me read a bunch of them. I can honestly say I read Pirkei Avotyears before I ever even considered converting.
I’ve been studying Hebrew off and on (mostly off) since I think about 2002, but I only really got serious about it again about two years ago, when I signed up to do an ulpan-style (Hebrew in Hebrew) course over the internet. I’ve completed two of those courses now and I’m working on the third. Unfortunately (for my religious life), I’m studying Modern Hebrew, which means that when I go to Israel — and I’ve been twice already — I can do about well enough to get myself in trouble, but when it comes to Tanakh (Jewish Bible) Hebrew, there are diacritics and things I’ve never even seen. (Eek!) I read out loud pretty badly, but I don’t read out loud well in English, either.
Now I periodically attend a small Orthodox synagogue in my city. I can’t really estimate how many people usually attend, because it features sort of a rotating cast of characters, but they often have a hard time getting a minyan — ten men, at least first thing Shabbat mornings for Shacharit. I don’t help in this regard at all. It’s a little bit zany, and probably more chaotic than the average Orthodox synagogue (which is probably saying something), as people seem to have a good sense of humour about being more or less totally stranded and doing what they have to to get by.
There is going to be a lot of Hebrew and Jewish-specific vocabulary used on this blog. I make no apologies for this (despite being Canadian) because it sort of comes with the territory. I’ll do my best to define words, and you’re free to leave comments asking me what a word means, but as always, Google (and maybe Chabad.org) is your friend.
A Note On Chabad
Although the local Orthodox rabbi is (as far as I can tell) a Chabadnik and I do recommend their site, I am not affiliated with, nor do I necessarily endorse, Chabad. Their interpretation of Judaism is theirs, and I’m still finding mine. Their site, however, is the most comprehensive go-to one-stop-shop for information on all things Jewish online. It does lean heavily strict, though, or what people in the Orthodox community refer to as “to the right.”