Originally posted on February 1, 2017. In honor of the recent launch of “Now What?,” Mayyim Hayyim’s newly-available post-conversion curriculum for new Jews and their partners, we wanted once again to share this reflection from Cantor Treitman on the next steps for new Jews after conversion.
by Cantor Louise Egbert Treitman
I converted to Judaism almost 45 years ago and have been immersed in the Jewish world ever since. I was still in college when I began studying with my sponsoring rabbi, went to the mikveh, converted, and got married. But what happens when you get out of the water? It can take a while to feel Jewish. The important thing is to connect with a community of like-minded people who want to “be/do Jewish” together. Thankfully, that’s what happened to me in college. I had started attending the Introduction to Judaism course offered by the Reform movement. This program is a wonderful way for folks to learn about Judaism, whether or not they choose to convert. For me, I wanted more. I decided to take a course in Jewish philosophy with a young Jewish instructor at my college. She became my mentor and helped lead me on my journey. She came to celebrate with me at my mikveh in Boston. I continued to study with her; the next year it was Biblical Hebrew, Bible, and Jewish History. By that time, I had made friends with the other Jewish women in my class, but I still didn’t feel Jewish.
That took years, but these friends were the beginning of my Jewish community. They made me feel welcome, they taught me, they took me to the synagogue and helped me find my way around the siddur (prayer book), they celebrated holidays with me, they cooked Jewish food with me. All of these women are still my friends. This ultimately led me to a double major in music and Judaic Studies. I went to college not knowing what a hazzan (cantor) was. It’s ironic that my studies were, in fact, critical in leading me to my life’s work as a cantor. I’ve been swimming in the “deep end” as Jewish clergy for many years, so something must have worked for this convert! In fact, many of my congregants, students, and colleagues may not even know that this all started when I chose Judaism.
I was fortunate to find a space where I felt comfortable exploring my Judaism after I converted, but oftentimes that space is missing. Mayyim Hayyim is always thinking out of the box and coming up with creative ways to serve the Jewish people. Mayyim Hayyim’s “Now What? A Post-Conversion Program for New Jews” program is exactly that space – a wonderful opportunity to wrestle with your toughest questions while connecting to others.
In a way I think my Biblical Hebrew class became my own personal “Now What?” program. It is next to impossible to be Jewish alone. I am forever grateful to my sponsoring clergy, Rabbi Herman Blumberg, who has remained a dear friend, to my professor at Wellesley College, Myra Siff Weiss, as well as my Wellesley classmates – Muriel, Dorit, Karen, Sally, Abby and Barbara, and to my Hillel director, Danny Freelander (now a rabbi and president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism).
“Now What?” can be there for you in the way these friends were there for me. I have been so fortunate to build this community. Perhaps you will find yours at Mayyim Hayyim.
Contact Associate Director of Education, Leeza Negelev at email@example.com for more info about next year’s “Now What?” program at Mayyim Hayyim.
Cantor Louise Egbert Treitman currently serves as one of the spiritual leaders at Beth El Temple Center in Belmont after spending many years at Temple Beth David in Westwood. She also teaches at Hebrew College in Newton and sings in the Zamir Chorale of Boston. In 1972 she decided to embrace Judaism and has never looked back.