Feeling Jewish

by Stephanie Seiberg
Temple Emanuel, Kensington, MD

When I decided to convert I wondered often if I would ever really feel Jewish? I never could have anticipated that the death of my non-Jewish father would be the event that would take me there.

I had married a Jewish man several years before my father died. Prior to marriage, we agreed to raise our children Jewish, but at that point I considered myself a non-religious person and had never really considered conversion. Events in my life, including my father’s illness, over the years led me to feel a void with my lack of faith and as we started planning to start a family and I studied Judaism  I came to believe that becoming a Jew would enrich my life and allow my husband and I to raise our family in  a true Jewish home.

Although it did not occur to me at the time, I realize now my father’s death, almost 12 years ago, may well be the first significant Jewish moment in my life. My father was a non Jew and at the time of his death Iwas nearing the end of my studies in preparation for conversion. My father had been ill for a few months so I had naturally taken a break to help care for him. When I returned to meet with the rabbi to continue my conversion studies for the first time after my father died, probably a month or two later, I commented to her that I had felt conflicted sitting in the church during my father’s funeral. My father was not religious but my mother, a Presbyterian, is. I was not comfortable participating in some of the readings and prayers during my dad’sfuneral as they conflicted with my Jewish faith; however at the sametime I felt a sense of guilt for not participating fully in my father’s memorial. The rabbi comforted me and assured me that these feelings are common with converts. She encouraged me to  submit my father’s name  tothe temple office so that I could be reminded each year of his yahrzeit. She encouraged me to light a candle and come to services t osay kaddish.

At our next meeting, the rabbi announced that she believed I was ready for the beit din. She felt that my feelings regarding my father’s funeral service were a sign that I had truly embraced Judaism. My father was not a Jew, but that did not matter. What mattered to me at the time was that I wanted to grieve for my father in a Jewish way. It felt right to me. I was a Jew. I would honor my father in a Jewish way. And that was ok.

Through the years I have found much comfort each year in celebrating my fathers life through the rituals of lighting the yahrzeit candle and giving tzedakah in his memory. I will always remember my father’s death as a sacred time when my Jewish beliefs took root.

Stephanie Seiberg has been a member of Temple Emanuel since 2006. She currently serves on the Sisterhood Board and has also served on the Board of Trustees. In addition, she worked with the committee that opened the Temple’s Early Childhood Center in 2009. Stephanie lives in Bethesda, MD with her husband Jaret and her two children, Naomi and Jacob.

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2 Responses to “Feeling Jewish”

  1. avatar
    David Nachenberg Reply July 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Read your essay, and was moved…may Hashem comfort you along with all the mourners of Zion…
    I have a different situation…my father passed away on July 19, 2004 (1st of Av). His 2nd wife is a devout Lutheran, and he had commanded us to have him cremated (a few years before he passed away), and she honored his wishes, as a good wife should do, and I honored his wishes, though as you know Judaism does not favor cremation…it was a military burial conducted by my (former) Reform Rabbi. But because it was not a traditional Jewish funeral, etc, and there were few Jewish guests, I felt like I was not a part of
    the whole thing…
    Since there was noone there who would pay a shiva call, and when we returned to Israel, it was already a week later, I never sat shiva for him…and I could have used some consoling…but that’s all behind me now…
    I wish you, and myself, and all other Jews no more sorrow, and only simchas.
    Kol tuv,
    David Nachenberg
    Modi’in, Israel

  2. avatar

    Coming new into any established culture has its challenges. I became a member of Temple Sholom of Chicago when it had just appointed a new rabbi to succeed someone who had held the pulpit for some 36 years; and 15 years later, when I became president of the congregation, I was the first president “who knew not Binstock.” Whether I was justified or not, I always felt that the old-timers held that against me and weren’t sure they could trust me with the culture of the congregation.
    How fortunate you are to have had a rabbi who was a better judge of your readiness to be a Jew than you might have been. I like the term Progressive for our movement better than Reform, because it reminds us that our Jewish status is not static, that we are always in growth mode.

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