On Being a Goy

I was born into a family wherein my father had been born to Jewish parents, but my mother had not. My mother converted at a Reformed synagogue, and she believed that made her Jewish.

Fast forward sixteen years. Hot on the path toward becoming a more observant Jew, I am told by a dear (modern Orthodox) friend that I am not actually (i.e., Halachically) Jewish. Needless to say, that was upsetting, and it began a journey of 15 years wherein I wandered away from Judaism. I was brought back into the fold by a group of friends who cared less for my parentage than my beliefs, and then deeper into the fold by Chabad rabbis who understood that it was the inner spark (what the Lubavitcher Rebbe called the pintela yidI) that made a person truly Jewish.

Yet despite all of that support, I am not considered Jewish by those among my friends and mentors who are bound by Jewish law. As a result, my wife, who went through a conversion similar to my mother’s long before we met, is also not considered Halachically Jewish, nor is my son. The problem has not gone away.

So why do I react differently now than I did when I was sixteen? Apart from a few more years (and a few more pounds) under my belt, what has changed?

I think the answer is in the journey. Having spent years sampling from the tables of many faiths (the Episcopal Church, Roman Catholicism, Atheism, Agnosticism, Islam, and Buddhism among them), I kept coming back to where I found my soul, and that was in Judaism and Torah. Regardless of my status under Jewish law, I realized, I felt Jewish, thought Jewish, acted (somewhat) Jewish, and related to G-d as a Jew. Nobody, not even a beit din, had the power to give that to me, or my wife, or my son, or to take it away. What a Halachic conversion can (and, please G-d, one day will) confer upon us is the legal status of a Jew.

I my wife, and my son all live in this Halachic limbo, at best b’nei Noach, at worst goyyim, and will continue as such until our level of observance has evolved to a point where a beit din in good standing will declare us othewise.

And that’s okay. If our forefathers could wander in the Sinai for 50 years before G-d was ready to let them into the Promised Land, I suppose we must take our own journey of hardships before we reach our (spiritual) Canaan.

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