Friday, September 27, 2013

This is an attempt to be one of the super-cool, counter-cultural bloggers that every internet head aspires to be. I realize this probably isn't going to go very far, I'm a realist; however, I really want to put forth some effort.

So here we go. (This is going to be a long post. Don't say I didn't warn you...)

My name is Taylor Smith and I am becoming a Jew.

Rewind to last November
(if I was a cool video editor this is where I'd post a video of the yearly cycle rewinding in a fast pace accompanied by the all-too-familiar rewinding sound)

Scratch that... rewind to five years ago
(Again, insert video here)

The year was 2008. I was 18 years old young and my human geography class took a field trip to a Catholic and a Lutheran church, a Muslim mosque, and (you guessed it) a Jewish synagogue.

I'm not afraid to admit that I payed little-to-no attention when we were at the Catholic and Lutheran churches. It just didn't interest me. Sure the history and art in the churches was cool... but that was about it. It wasn't like I was learning anything new by visiting these churches. Both were Christian establishments-- I'd heard the story before.

So after we went to the Christian churches we headed on over to Temple B'Nai Israel
Photo credit,
Photo credit,
 which was in Downtown Victoria. It's safe to say that I've never been into a Jewish place of worship. I had driven by the temple many times on my way home and the building had always interested me; and, the Jewish people have always interested me as well. Dr. Gary Branfman, the father of one of my classmates, led the educational presentation at the synagogue and I listened to every second of it. I was fascinated by the basic difference between Christianity and Judaism: the absence of a messiah. Jesus Christ played no role in the religion. There was no Holy Trinity; God was not the father, the son, or the holy ghost.

This was a novel idea to me. Growing up in South Texas, Jesus is someone that you hear about A LOT. He's someone you start studying in bible/Sunday school at a very young age. If you ever-so-much as mention that you might be questioning the validity of his story, or the fact that he rose from the dead after crucifixion you were ostracized by friends, parents of friends, parts of the community, you get the picture.

As Dr. Branfman spoke, I found myself wanting to study this religion more. Search about it on Wikipedia and so forth. We left the synagogue, went to the Muslim mosque, which I won't discuss here because it plays no role in this story. (The place was cool and the people were nice. Here's a pic).

Photo credit: Victoria Advocate
Photo credit, Victoria Advocate
I'm not sure what happened after that. And by that I mean I'm not sure why I didn't start looking in to it then, because I should have. I suppose I was just preoccupied with finishing out my senior year, graduating, high school, whatever else people fixate on when they're 18 and about to graduate.

Fast forward to fall of 2008. I'm a freshman at Texas State University. By happy chance I got involved in an organization called RHA and one of the officers was Jewish. I found this out because someone made a very tasteless Holocaust joke and she flipped out. This is how I found out that Sara Tesson was a Jew.

Before I decided to meet with her I did my research. I found out there were three major sects of Judaism: ReformConservative, and Orthodox. I read about each one, decided that it was something that I still wanted to look in to, so I reached out to her.

We met over lunch and discussed. I had so many questions and so little knowledge. Ultimately she told me that conversion was going to be very hard. Sometimes rabbis turn would-be converts away three times (a la Sex and the City) before they can even start studying. It was a lot of information. I was lost.

It was hard enough adjusting to college life after having graduated from Memorial (RIP) and this whole conversion business just didn't seem like it was going to work out at that time. If only I had known then what I know now.

Let me just switch tones here and say that leaving college before you've graduated is seriously a hard thing to do. If you've ever done it, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about here. This is exactly what I had to do.  I went to school at Texas State from 2008-2012, but unfortunately I ran out of money, so I had to finish out my semester and move home. This is also something that's hard to get used to: living on your own for four years and then moving back in with your mom... It's difficult.

In the fall of 2012 I found myself living at home with my mother and working as a waiter at a restaurant in attempts to save up money to go back and finish my degree. Let me tell you what a humbling experience THAT was for me. Little did I know that by not being enrolled in school bundled with an exorbitant amount of free time, I was able to begin my journey to conversion.

The month is November. The year is 2012. The location is Greeks 205. The friend was Shaina Branfman. Somewhere along the lines I reconnected with Shaina, someone with whom I'd been friends for quite some time. She went to University of Iowa for undergrad and I hadn't seen her since graduation. She was essentially my only Jewish connection in Victoria. We were sitting on the patio, having a beverage. I was probably drinking scotch and she was probably drinking a Guinness. I remember looking at her and saying something along the lines of... "You're Jewish... I've always been fascinated with the religion and I've wanted to look into possibly converting ever since we took that field trip senior year," to which she suggested that I should meet up with her mom who was apparently super Jewish.

So I did.

One day last November I met Susan Branfman at the Temple downtown and she gave me some literature to read (I'll review this literature in a later post). She gave me:

  1. The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism
  2. The Complete Book of Jewish Observance
These books got me started and this is where this post will stop. It's long I know, but I had to start somewhere with my story and usually the beginning is the longest. 

I realize that maybe I should have created this blog last year and updated it on a week-by-week basis as I was diving into Jewish literature and holidays; but, I didn't. 

Since then I've attended about four Shabbat dinners with Mrs. Branfman and friends, eight services at two different synagogues, and had meetings with different people including the rabbi. All of that is to come. I hope you follow this blog. I've created hashtags on Twitter and Instagram entitled #taylorconverts in attempts to act as a companion to this blog. 

Read along and comment. This is #TaylorConverts