By Lauren Maher
Beautifully delicately embroidered with silky thread, intricately detailed, made with care and love. Wow, this wasn’t just any kippah.
For the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve been experiencing intensified thoughts that can often consume and distract me in as many ways possible. These are the result of spiritual searching and time spent seeking more meaning to my life.
I approached the elderly gentlemen, fixated, head tilted, staring at their heads the way a three-year-old fascinated child would watch a butterfly’s final metamorphosis.
“Hello there,” they said. Yes, I thought, they know! They want to tell me about conversion, ask me some questions, give some advice, tell me about their experiences and what it means to them to be Jewish. They’re going to invite me for coffee, introduce me to their family, give me their number so we can keep in touch…
“Do you have a moment? Do you mind please taking a photo of us as we cross the road? We’re concerned about the danger of the crossing and want to draw attention to the situation…”
Oh. Yes, of course. I love this about Jewish people; their sincere passion to make the world a better place. I took 37 photos (just to be sure).
It began when my nana passed away. I had Jewish friends, an understanding of Jewish customs, traditions, festivals and beliefs but here began a deeper connection on another level. I’d lost a relative and had never felt so alone.
Several years earlier, I’d moved to London away from family and friends. With this void, I didn’t know who I was reaching out to, who or what I was praying to or who was listening. I began thinking about afterlife and developed a genuine desire to wholeheartedly embrace Judaism.
Throughout the process, there have been moments when I’ve felt spiritually inebriated. Visiting Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and feeling an indescribable bond. In Budapest, about to turn around for the opposite direction but feeling a strange pull to keep going… As I turned the corner, the sensational Grand Synagogue greeted me welcomingly – the sun shining violently lightening up its ornate façade.
Inside, I slipped into meditation, broke down crying and succumbed to emotion. The dizzy feeling continued outside as I visited the memorial park.
My readings, learnings and experience so far have opened my mind further than ever imaginable. There’s always an added element of sensitivity and I’m as respectful as possible. In the early days, my boyfriend found six library books piled up next to my bed – The Holocaust! The War Against The Jews! Eichmann in Jerusalem!
“A little light bedtime reading?” he asked. Confused as to how to respond, I stammered: “Sorry, oh no, sorry… sorry”. “Why are you apologising?” he asked. I’ve many probing questions and everything provokes a connection; coming home after a hard day and seeing the mezuzah on the door frame makes me feel safe, secure and protected.
Dealing with attitudes of others provides opportunities for me to draw a closer relationship with the faith. “Ooooooh, I bet your craaaaaving a bacon sandwich?” asked the guy in Pret (I was obviously a little worse for wear that morning). “No, actually”… “Ahh, you vegetarians!” “No again, actually….”
People’s faces when they see me pull out my copy of Judaism For Dummies on the Tube, my sister-in-law’s face when offering me chopped liver at seder, dancing at Jewish weddings, speaking to my boyfriend’s granny about Jewish life in Vienna and Poppa’s Jewish life in the navy; it’s wonderful to see how others react to my path of discovery.
“Wow, you’re the real-life Charlotte from Sex and The City”. I take that as a compliment – she does have lovely hair! Telling my family of my conversion was easy. They welcomed the news and offered support, but their knowledge was clearly limited.
“Do you need some new pens and notebooks?” asked my shopping-obsessed mum. “So is that why you don’t eat pork?” asked my grandad, before sending me away with four ham rolls, forgetting we even had the conversation.
“That’s fantastic. Does your boyfriend know?” asked my Catholic father. My boyfriend is of the Jewish faith. It was crucial for me to be with someone Jewish and who would share the beliefs so we could eventually have a Jewish family together, our children immersed in the faith and, most importantly, knowing the history of the (our) people.