by Janine Preston
Temple Or Rishon, Orangevale, CA
Anyone who really, really knows me was not surprised to receive the announcement of my conversion to Judaism. When I very seriously told my two best friends from college about my decision last fall, they started to laugh. “Janine,” they said, “you have been talking about this since 1985 — we would only have been surprised if you had decided not to make this official!”
I was first introduced to Judaism by a boyfriend back in college. I started studying about this religion that made him so happy, that created a framework for his very loving family, and that seemed so familiar but at the same time so different. And, to be honest, so his mother would stop calling me his blue-eyed shiksa girlfriend. I loved so much of what I read — it seemed to resonate with me.
I loved the richness, the pragmatic approach to a inherently philosophical topic, and generally optimistic look of the world. I loved the idea that only G-d could forgive transgressions against G-d, and that only people could forgive transgressions against them. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone knew that they have to ask forgiveness directly from the one they hurt? Would they think twice?
Years passed. I tried to find my place in the Christian world, but I never quite fit in. And all the time, I kept coming back to Judaism. But I wasn’t quite ready yet.
I tried the easier paths: denominational churches, non-denominational churches, and even a purely spiritual path in an effort to fulfill my desire to be closer to G-d. To borrow a phrase from my dear friend Katharine, inevitably something would happen that would “make my heart recoil.” Not that whatever happened was wrong…it just wasn’t me.
Let’s face it. Sacramento isn’t exactly known as the “Manhattan of the West,” and it takes effort to seek out a Jewish experience here. But as G-d always does, he led me to the right place at the right time. On my first visit ever to a synagogue, I was greeted warmly at the door of this Temple one Friday night by none other than Rabbi Sheryl herself. She was so kind and made sure my first Shabbat service was a memorable one. I continue to be struck by the acceptance I have found within the Jewish community. That night, I thought that I had finally found a spiritual home in Judaism. Today, I know it.
This year has been such a blessing to me. In all the studying, classes, reading, and personal interactions, I receive such joy. My heart is so happy! Pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. By incorporating the rituals and practices of a Jewish life, I find I am growing closer to G-d and becoming a better person. I am aware of the larger world in a way I never was before. I am learning to be aware of others like never before. And I share my gratitude every day in my prayers for the many, many blessings I have received.
And part of my blessings is to have such wonderful people in my life. From my family and friends here today, to members of this community, I know G-d exists simply by looking around this room. Thank you.
Janine Preston was raised in the Midwest and moved to California in 1991. She is a regular attendee at Temple Or Rishon in Orangevale and is working to perfect her challah-making skills.
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