Imagining the Promised Land

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I never meant to be Jewish.

I mean, technically, I’m not Jewish yet, but I’m on my way; I’m converting.

I never even meant to be “religious,” or “faithful,” or any of those other words that used to make me uncomfortable. Religion never made sense; the word “God” felt foreign in my mouth. Growing up, the Bible was just a collection of interesting stories, the word “worship” reserved for my favorite sports teams.

I certainly never imagined identifying myself as a “person of faith,” or using my voice, my words to talk about God.

My partner and I often navigate the more challenging aspects of our relationship, and lives, using the language of “imagine.” For me, and presumably for her, the word itself feels better, carries less weight than perhaps, “hoped” or “wanted.” Meeting and falling in love with a person who is Jewish, whose life path is what keeps them close to their Jewishness, whose entire identity is so closely tied with their faith is not part of the narrative I dreamed up throughout my childhood. The amorphous “person” I imagined marrying was never, in any iteration, Jewish.

But here she is.

In my small town, we had very few Jewish families. The nearest synagogue is, indeed, a schlep. There are no Jewish butchers or bakeries; events are regularly planned on Friday nights and Saturdays, and the most I had ever learned about Judaism was, of course, during our unit on the Holocaust at school.

When I was younger, I felt supremely uncomfortable in church, was baffled by the concept of prayer, and honestly could not understand what it was that drew people to religion.

Now here I sit after a frustrating day at work, leafing through psalms, hoping that some words of comfort jump off of the page.

No, I never imagined a Jewish life for myself, could never even conceive of what a Jewish life would even look like.

But here it is.

In this life, I listen to recorded recitations of the Shema for comfort, and sing the Hashkiveinu to myself on nights when I can’t sleep. In this life, I bug my partner to read the Parsha with me every week, and drown her in commentary from Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Torah Queeries. In this life, I devour Midrash, look forward to attending Torah Study, and dream of helping my sweetie write dvars.

One Friday spent without her, I made shabbos over tealight candles, my roommate’s leftover wine, and crackers.

When the Israelites came out of Mitzrayim and into the desert, they began to imagine a life for themselves. They heard of the promised land, they had dreams of milk and honey. They imagined freedom from slavery, the space to worship as they chose, a new settlement, a new life. The amorphous place they were promised may have looked like an oasis to some, a mountain to others. The only way to know for sure was to do the work of wandering through the desert and finally arriving at this point, this event, this important time that was forecast, seen, promised.

We all imagine the promised land. Whether it’s the person standing across from us as we promise our lives to them, or the house we eventually live in, or the job we’ll one day find. The imagining itself is important, it gives hope in the desert, it allows us to tell our children and ourselves stories that comfort us.

But things hardly ever turn out the way we imagine. We worship idols, we make careless sacrifices, we lose friends and family, we sometimes turn against each other. Sometimes our entire worldview changes because one person enters our lives. Sometimes we witness awesome miracles. Sometimes we have a moment to pause and marvel at the world around us, at the circumstances that brought us to where we are, at how different it is in reality from what we imagined.

Then we get back to work, because the promised land is just around the corner, and no matter how different it looks from what we imagined, it’s there, and it’s beautiful, and it’s ours.

So now I have arrived, at this intersection of what was and what will be. From here, I can see shabbat dinners that fill my home with warmth, occasions joyous and solemn marked with a supportive community, committing to my beautiful partner in front of friends and family while standing under a chuppah. Sure, this view is far from what I imagined, but here I choose to step assuredly, confidently into this new life and ready myself for all of the unimaginable, unexpected things to come.

Becca likes: Coffee, Torah, being cozy (I’m a Cancer!), Yelling “I’m a Cancer!” at people, Superbowl champion Baltimore Ravens football, avoiding phone calls at all costs, Orioles baseball, lakes, waffle knit, Palestine, button ups, Boston. She dislikes: Washing dishes, most textures, things that are too hot/cold/not temperate, too many colors/sounds at once, student loans, slow drivers, capitalism, patriarchy, most cats, Soda Stream, when you walk by Abercrombie and all of the cologne smell comes out. Same goes for Yankee Candle, Bath and Body works, and any perfumery.

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  1. This made me smile, thank you for posting this. Oh, and a good Shabbos to you and your girlfriend. And welcome to the tribe.

  2. thanks for posting this! my jewish identity has been extremely important to me and i’m so glad to read about your experience. i wish i had a more well-thought out response, but mostly i just really really love jewish queers and queer jewishness, so thanks!

  3. I want to thank you for this. I’ve been wrestling with my faith for years. I began conversion classes a few years ago and abruptly stopped them, fearing commitment to a religion, fearing that believing in god made me an ignorant person. And on top of that, is it ridiculous to be queer and seek god, who I am so frequently told doesn’t like me for that very reason?

    You help me to imagine that it’s possible. Thanks.

    • You’re not ignorant and it’s totally possible. I prayed a lot when I realised I was gay and came to the realisation that I was made by God and I’m gay, and therefore God made me that way. I hope you can find a way to make it work for you. Attending the Metropolitan Community Church really helped me – it was set up for LGBT people

      • Agreeed, Josephine.
        Jayne, what incredible feedback, thank you. I’ve definitely had the experience of working through what being perceived as “religious” means, and what belief in G-d means. I grew up without that language and to hear myself talking about religion of all things is sometimes mind blowing.
        Something I really dig about reconstructionist judaism is the room to derive meaning from what works for you. It’s like, “here’s the tradition, here’s the history, let’s make it work.” It allows me to do what feels good (which for me is a lot of ritual), and look to the things that I hold close to help hold me up, but doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable for not believing enough or not being faithful enough.
        Best of luck on your journey and again, my deepest thanks.

  4. I was raised Jewish and still identify as such, but I’ve had many struggles with religion, especially in regards to my sexual identity. I was heavily involved in queer Judaism (it’s totally a thing) in college, and I hope one day, I can share my love of Judaism with a partner, whether or not she believes it. I’d love to hear more of your journey of finding Judaism! L’chaim!

    • I hope so too, Rachel! It’s truly a joy to make a jewish life with a partner (or even a house of wonderful friends!)

  5. Becca,
    This is a lovely and powerful piece of writing, a view into your life and growth…and one many Jews -by-choice, like myself share. Thank you for the vivid articulation. -Christina

  6. I love that this was published when I was spending Shabbat with my girlfriend and her cousins! I’ve thought about converting to Judaism, but I haven’t made a decision yet. This article was great, and I would also love to hear more about your conversion process!

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I was born Jewish but I wasn’t very observant or “religious” until college. Then as I started figuring myself out at college I started really learning about my religion and my sexuality. And I feel like I’ll have to choose. They’re both such strong parts of my identity but I’ve never met or heard of observant lesbians. I don’t know how that would work. I really liked this post, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was getting to the point where I was just going to stop learning about my faith. Thanks for the post and the comments. Happy chanukkah everyone!

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