By Luana Dias
When I was first introduced to Judaism four years ago I didn’t know that I would ever consider conversion. I grew up in a small Christian town in the northeast of Brazil, in a Christian family, attended Christian schools and even went through communion. But growing up in such a small place Christianity was really the only religion I ever knew. Although my family identify themselves as Christians I don’t remember ever going to the church or being part of a Christian community.
When I met my future husband I did not know he was Jewish. When I found out he was Jewish it made no difference because I didn’t know what that meant. As our relationship developed and time went by I had the pleasure to experience some of the Jewish holidays and traditions like, Shabbat at Aunt Linda’s house and Chanukah with cousin Dave.
Years went by, and still no thoughts about conversion, but then we were invited for a Seder dinner in my hometown in Brazil. We did not know the people, but through a friend of a friend of a friend somehow these people got in touch and invited us to their Seder.
I was a little uncomfortable going to stranger’s house for dinner, but my husband saw no problem with that. I remember him saying, it is ok they are Jewish, it is all good. Of course at the time I couldn’t understand what that meant, but he was right. It was ok because he was Jewish and they were Jewish. As I watched my husband interact with the “strangers” I realized they were not “strangers” at all, at least not to him.
They were his people. They shared the same history. They had the same beliefs. They had the same memories. And that’s when I realized there was something missing in my life for all these years. I realized that I missed the sense of a community. I realized I wanted to be part of a community, and I never really had one. I knew that by becoming Jewish I would be part of that community and more importantly my kids would be part of it too. Because I never had a religious community growing up it is really important to me that my kids do. I want to make sure they are involved in the Jewish activities and in the Jewish community. I want them to go to day school, I want them to participate in Jewish youth groups and go to Jewish summer camps, just like my husband did.
From that day on I knew I was meant to meet my husband. Not only because of our relationship, but because through him I would find a religion that is meaningful to me. Most people think I want to convert because of him, but that is not true. I want to convert because through him I found something meaningful and fulfilling. It is hard to explain, but long story short I loved how the Jewish community works and the beautiful history, the idea of learning Hebrew, I have learned a lot of the prayers in Hebrew, I have a kosher house and I have Sabbath dinners every week. I just love it. It was all fascinating. There is no clear and easy answer. The truth is something inside me made the decision. I believe it was God’s plan to put my husband Ben in my life to help me find peace.
Although my family and I almost never went to the church and we were not involved in a Christian community, I have always had a very close relationship with God. I believe that God is always around, guiding and protecting me. Among many other steps for my conversion I had to learn how to pray and connect with the god inside me. Changing the image of Jesus to Shechinah was not a big challenge. What I always needed was to believe that there was something bigger than me out there. Something that I can pray to and this thing is always going to be there to guide me, to protect me, to simply let me know I am never alone in this world. Yes, I prayed to Jesus for my whole life, but only because that is what I taught to do. The way I see Shechinah is like the way I saw Jesus for all this years, but not like a person, just like energy, just something bigger that I can connect to.
For many years now I have lived a Jewish life. I keep a kosher house because I believe that we are what we eat and if I want to be holy I should start by eating holy foods. I observe Shabbat, I light candles, and I say prayers. To me Shabbat is one of the most important things in the world. I see Shabbat as a gift from God. God gave us one whole day to heal from the stress and agony of the week. Shabbat brings us the time our bodies need to recover. It gives us time to do nothing, but interact with our families, friends and community, bringing the balance and spiritual health we need.
I have learned many amazing things during this process, but I recognize there is no end to this spiritual journey. This is just the beginning of a lifetime of studies, questioning and learning.
Luana Dias is a college student in Columbia, Md.