From a young age, I have always loved church – the music, the holy space, and the community safety net it provided. I learned valuable lessons that I hoped to pass on to my children. Not only the big lessons about how best to serve G-d, and how to treat others, but also all the smaller lessons, like how to sit still for an hour and behave, even when you are bored; how to communicate with people from many generations, and how to reach out when others need you. These lessons can be easily taught through houses of worship.
My religious upbringing reached a turning point during high school as I prepared for confirmation. I took it seriously, as I did most things. I had many questions which I shared at a meeting with my clergy, which did not go well. It seemed that I left the meeting with more questions than I had answers. I was not ready to give up religion, I knew I needed it, but it was not going to come in this form. I put that piece of me on hold while I went about the business of growing up.
Judaism first entered my life when I was in third grade. Coming from a homogeneous town, I was always interested in meeting people from a different background. The Greenblatt family moved to town and soon introduced me to dreidels, latkes, and kugel. In a world of meat and potatoes, kugel was a dream come true.
Judaism came back into my life through a college friend who taught me (among other things) the joys of Yiddish and macaroons. Then, I met Josh. We spent many long hours talking about all kinds of important topics, including his connection to Judaism. He spoke like few people I had ever met. Judaism was not just his parents’ religion – it meant something to him and he knew why he believed what he believed. He told beautiful stories, and introduced me to a religion that felt familiar but refreshing. We grew closer and eventually had the “line in the sand” conversation. He said that he would only raise his children Jewish, I said that I had no intention of converting.
As we continued our journey together we encountered much pressure, anger, and hate from the Jewish community. The fear of intermarriage brought out the worst in some, with our wedding compared to the Holocaust and us, Hitler.
We worked hard to understand these fears and had many difficult conversations, all worth it. In the end, there was nothing that could change our path or dilute my husband’s Jewish identity. My real connection to Judaism came through raising our two children, whom we had agreed early on would be converted, and raised as Jews. In supporting this, something unexpected started to happen – I fell in love with this religion, its history, and its people. Each time I lit the Shabbat candles, fasted, or shared the Passover story, it started to take hold of me. I had considered conversion before, but each time decided to wait, not sure if I was doing it for myself or for someone else.
My trip to the mikveh started out as the final item on my checklist, an item that I was very apprehensive about. Mayyim Hayyim created an experience that was warm, welcoming and transformational, the emotional and physical culmination of a journey that began many years ago – exactly what I needed to begin my life as a Jew.
Tabitha May-Tolub officially became a “member of the tribe” on May 22, 2012. She was born in raised in Maine and now lives with her very patient husband Josh, her 11 year old son Jonathan, her 7 year old daughter Tovah and two crazy cats in Easton, MA. She is the Associate Director of Youth LEAD in Sharon MA where she empowers young people to have difficult discussions across differences.