Wednesday, July 8, 2009


One of my favorite parts of my job is participating in conversions. I'm not talking about the long, ongoing process of helping someone find their way into Judaism (well, that is a favorite part, but not the one I'm talking about today). No, I'm talking about the actual final steps of conversion - sitting on a Beit Din (a Rabbinical court), deciding to (and, on very rare occasions, not to) accept a convert and then, especially, going to the mikvah (the ritual bath) to perform the actual act of conversion. A non-Jewish person goes into the water, and a Jewish person comes out. Like most (all?) religious rituals, it is simultaneously meaningless (the water doesn't actually do anything. It isn't magic) and absolutely exploding with meaning - usually, the convert has put so much thought, so much love, so much time into the process of conversion, that this final act becomes incredibly poignant and powerful. It's one of those moments which never fails to move me.

Today, I had the chance to sit on the Beit Din and witness the mikvah of another convert (one who had worked with a colleague of mine, not one of "my" converts). One of the (usually) final steps in conversion is picking a Hebrew name, and most people try to find a name with meaning. It might be a Hebrew word that expresses some trait that they admire in themselves, or wish they had. It might be a biblical character they relate to. It might be after a person who was meaningful to them. Today, the giyoret (the Hebrew word for "convert") chose to name herself after her son. You see, her son had died, about a dozen years ago. And, it was that death which had led her to search for something, which had led her, eventually, to Judaism.

It is considered a high form of honor to name a child after a deceased ancestor. This is the first time I've encountered someone naming themselves after a deceased descendant.

If you have children, go home, give them a kiss, and thank God that they are carrying their own name.

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