EEEK! The Clock Really Starts Now!

I just got an e-mail from the rabbi; he has called the Beit Din I’m going to be under, and they have sort of tentatively agreed to see me at their next meeting.  I say “sort of tentatively” because the supervising rabbi says they already have fifteen candidates on their docket (!!) and feel like they don’t need one more, but that I should go ahead and submit my application package anyway.

I note that they do want to have periodic “progress meetings” with candidates, and also that they require candidates to live a fully observant Jewish life for a year before they’ll consider conversion.  They said they might not be able to see me until after Rosh Hashana, and then another year after that!  Yike.  At least this seems to give me some space to get my living arrangements sorted…

Now I should get back to work, so I don’t wind up losing my employment or jeopardising the chances of having my contract extended…

Conversion Narratives

BBC did a documentary called Make Me a Muslim, about female converts to Islam in the UK.  I’ve watched it twice now, and I’m linking it here because I think that even though it’s not about Judaism (where is the documentary about female converts to Judaism?), it shows a lot of issues related to conversion, and particularly conversion to a more traditional or restrictive religion.  It’s interesting to see the universalities as well as the differences, among people who have embraced faith, or a different faith than the one they grew up in.  (I grew up secular, personally.)

Funny:  As a prospective Orthodox Jewish convert, the sequence where the one convert speaks of “halalifying” her wardrobe really speaks to me, particularly as I “efsharified” (“tzniutified”?) my wardrobe too!

It’s also significant to me that it’s about female converts — primarily, from the presenter’s perspectve, as “Why would these women take on all these restrictions?”

I also liked the parts where the presenter talks to the converts’ families, and the converts talk about their families, since this is a huge issue for me as well.  I’m still not “out” to most people, including my family, although the rabbi and I are planning on talking about this next week.  This documentary also talks about the difficulties converts can have being accepted into their new communities, and about struggling with practice, all areas where would-be Jews also may have problems.  I think this is a must-watch for anybody who’s interested in the religious conversion experience, even though it’s specifically about Muslim converts.

Wait, and Hurry Up?

I’m now in an awkward situation vis-a-vis my conversion, in that I waited a pretty long time to even start studying with the rabbi, and now, it’s six months, give or take a little, and he’s already expecting me to make major lifestyle changes — and I know this will only increase once we start learning about Shabbat.  Not that I don’t already try to observe Shabbat as much as possible, but it’s still a logistical challenge at this point.

On top of that, everything I’ve read about conversions indicates (although my friend RH didn’t seem to think this was so) that the Beit Din usually likes to meet with the candidate multiple times over the course of their study and practice process, basically to assess their sincerity and gauge their progress.  I imagine some spot-quizzing and Hebrew reading demonstrations are also required.  I was also under the impression that they generally liked for prospective candidates to go through at least one year of observing Jewish holidays, which I have not done (see “I’m BAAAAACK!”, where I talk about doing Ta’anit Esther/Purim as my first real Jewish holidays).

Now it feels almost like I’m being rushed into living completely Jewishly before I’m actually ready.  I honestly wasn’t expecting us to be this far along in the course curriculum by now; many, many, many people I’ve spoken to in person about conversions are of the opinion that it usually takes years (although, to be fair, I did come in with some knowledge of Hebrew, and a relatively high amount of Jewish literacy for a non-Jew).  I also don’t really feel I’m ready to take these steps yet, as I’m still struggling with remembering to say the brachot, and various other things.

On the other hand, there is part of me that (I can’t deny) just wants to drop everything, find a nice apartment near the shul like, tomorrow, set up my kosher kitchen immediately, and begin my new Jewish life as soon as possible.  My pragmatic, risk-averse, hard-headed (read: stubborn), raised-by-Scottish-people-money-watching side disagrees, however.

What am I gonna do?

The Great Kosher Krisis of 2015

So, in my last post, which constitutes my ignominious return to conversion-blogging after months, I mentioned that we’ve been studying kashrut.  This presents me with a bit of a problem, logistically speaking.  Let me break it down (it’s already pretty broken) for you.

One:  I live in a small house — a very small house — which I share with a friend.  We’re friends, but we’re not what you would call cozy.

Two:  The kitchen in my small house is a retrofit; I’m not sure exactly what renovations were done when, but whoever put the existing (I hesitate to call it “new,” because it’s so totally not) kitchen in sort of knew what all the parts of a kitchen should be, but had obviously never actually cooked in one before.  So that means the fridge is stuck in a tiny alcove between my office door and the bathroom door, there is about a grand total of three square feet of usable countertop space, there is only one sink (crammed between the window and the door down to the basement), and storage space otherwise is at a serious premium.  Sinks are also a particular kosher issue, because if the sink is treif, as mine would necessarily be, I can’t soak dishes in it, nor wash them in a sinkful of water without a plastic sink liner (which I would store where?).  And I don’t — obviously — have the counter space to leave soaking pots all over.  I’m a walking disaster area; I do burn food on the regular.

Three:  Snce I share a house with an unrelated person, and we don’t really share food, we each need separate food storage as it is.

Four:  I still haven’t moved closer to the shul, which means I still live quite a ways away from any of the stores in town that sell kosher meat products.  (Just eating dairy or fish is not an option for me, especially since I don’t like fish that much.)

Five:  I don’t drive.

Six:  I’m mildly physically handicapped and deal with fatigue issues, which means I don’t necessarily have the energy/ability to cook from scratch every day.  There is no kosher restaurant in town.

Seven:  I do not own a chest freezer, not even a small one.

Eight:  While I’m once again gainfully employed, I’m on a three-month contract which ends at the end of July.  I therefore have no guaranteed income past the end of July, and no guarantee I’ll easily be able to find another job after this one.

Nine:  Even if I did find another job right after this one, there’s no guarantee it would be in this city.  Many of the jobs in my field are either in the Waterloo region or the Greater Toronto Area.

Ten:  Rental agreements in my town tend to be twelve-month leases.

Conclusion:  From the way it looks right now, I’d be really stupid to try to move right now, particularly since I’ll find out whether or not $Current_Employer will extend/re-up my contract within about six weeks.

Unfortunately, my rabbi, whom I like very much and want to please, thinks I should start keeping much closer to “real kosher” like now, including using separate stove burners, plates, glasses, and utensils to my housemate, and buying kosher-slaughtered meat.  While I genuinely do want to do this mitzvah, and intend to do it to my utmost once I can, I honestly don’t see how I can pull it off without moving house.  I simply don’t have the room or the energy to try to maintain essentially a whole separate second kitchen in the already-overcrowded space allotted to the first one, and I don’t have the storage space to store frozen cooked meals for those days when I can’t cook/am not safe with a knife, etc.

And while I do actually want to move eventually, and was actually beginning the process of looking for a house to buy in the neighbourhood sort of equidistant between my grandma’s house and the shul (two! two! two mitzvot in one!) before I got restructured out of my last job…

…six weeks before my yea-or-nay date on a three-month (to start?) contract is not precisely the time, I think, to be contemplating committing to a year lease, especially since I’ve been here so long I rent month to month.

I know the rabbi would say that I should just organise my life around doing the mitzvot and HaShem will take care of the rest, but I’m much more of a “trust in G-d but tie your camel” kind of person (if I may borrow from the Islamic world for a sec), to be honest.  And I’m sure this is going to delay my first meeting with the Beit Din, which was supposed to happen right after Pesach, but I don’t mind.  One thing I am sure of is that these things will happen on HaShem’s time, not mine.

I’m BAAAAACK!

Boy.  So much has happened since January.  I’ve nearly completed apparently all of my rabbi’s conversion course curriculum (already?!) — we are just finishing kashrut now and we’ll be moving on to Shabbat shortly, probably, which is bringing with it its own set of challenges and problems…not least of which is that I only just got another job about a month ago, and it’s only a contract job (at least it’s still here in town), and my contract is up in August, so I’m — still — reluctant to move closer to the shul…

I did my first holidays “on the books,” as it were — Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther) and Purim.

I discovered that I like sweet(ened) Concord wine.  I may be the only person in the world who likes “yayin patish,” but to me it tastes like what wine should taste like, that is, alcoholic grape juice, instead of, say, chewing on a teabag.  (I don’t like tanniny flavours.)

I SURVIVED PESACH!  This is not as uncomplicated as it sounds, as the rabbi wanted me to make a “dry run” at kashering my kitchen, and I can’t eat dairy products, so giving up pretty much all grain products (chametz) as well as pulses (legumes and seeds) and rice (kitniyot) on top of my already not eating dairy products, and I was in a world of hurt.  Then I came down with bronchitis in the wee hours after my very first seder, resulting in my making the decision to break Shabbat in a big way and go to the hospital, because I wasn’t breathing well.  The lack of oxygen in my system meant approximately zero energy, and an unwillingness to cook much of the lovely meats and vegetables I’d laid in to tide me over.  Net result, I lost several pounds in the most unhealthy way possible.  Let’s not do that again this year…

On the upside, I think I’m doing relatively well.  I hope.  As my friend RH reminds me, in a timely manner, practice matters.

Charlie Hebdo Attack

This again. I can honestly say I’m not surprised this happened (the publication’s head offices were firebombed in 2011, so, yeah, history), and it seems to be a law as immutable as physics these days that if violent lunatics looking for a place to happen get wound up by something you did, there’s going to be crazy violence.

With that out of the way, my condolences to the entire remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo, the families and friends of the victims, my deepest sympathies to the receptionist who let the terrorists in with a gun pointed at her (she’s never going to forget that, ever), and I hope they find these guys and put them on trial speedily.

Shabbat Recap — Leafy Green Problems

When I left for shul, the weather was clear and cold. By midway through the service, it was snowing hard. By the end, it was freezing rain mixed with sleet. I think the weather people quaintly call that “wintry mix,” which sounds like some kind of candy you buy at the Bulk Barn.

The rebbetzin invited me to come to lunch again, which was nice. Vegan food — I’m not sure they eat much meat, although I’ve seen them eat fish. I skipped the pareve chulent, as I’ve discovered that chulent really isn’t my thing.

In conversation I discovered something that might cause me some problems down the road. A lot of these people apparently just avoid most green leafy vegetables for fear that there might be insects in them. The rabbi says they’re hard to check properly. (I have eaten parsley and spring mix in Israel, so they can’t be that difficult.) This is an issue for me, because I really like a lot of those things, with the exception of many of the brassicas, which are often bitter. LZ related that her mother used to soak romaine lettuce in salt water for three days before she’d eat it. I’m really wondering how romaine lettuce soaked for three days in salt water is edible at all…

I guess I’m just going to have to ask him to give me a really thorough tutorial on how to check vegetables, although I have never seen an insect on those kinds of vegetables. Found one in a cauliflower once, though — I removed it and a section of the cauliflower it was in. And when I see spitbugs on my mint plants in the garden, I remove them with extreme prejudice. I actually worry more about cupboard weevils than thrips or aphids in my green veg. (And, speak of the devil, see his horns, I found some in some pasta last night. Time to KILL THE PANTRY CUPBOARD WITH FIRE.)

And yes, I look. News for Jews — goys aren’t too fond of eating bugs generally, either, the existence of chocolate-covered ants notwithstanding. (Ew.)

Anyway, I think this could be a problem, but we’ll burn that village when we come to it.

Recap of my first lesson coming up!