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Conversion in the Age of Coronavirus

This may be the best time to learn about what it means to be Jewish

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“Judaism often takes sadness and turns it into hope,” said the rabbi between the crackling of a spotty Internet connection during a recent class on Tisha B’Av.

 During this period, the familiar face on the screen explained, we remember the siege on Jerusalem and the destruction of the First and Second Temples. As someone who attended Hebrew day school and high school more years ago than I’d like to admit, I’ve heard the stories of pain and suffering giving way to hope and freedom throughout Jewish history many times over. For my fiancée, who accepted my marriage proposal this past January and is now in the process of converting to Judaism, it’s the first she’s hearing of this lesser known holiday. 

 For us, 2020 was already going to be a different kind of year as we progressed through the conversion process together. Regularly attending synagogue, weekly classes, monthly meetings with our sponsoring rabbi and observing kashrut were already a departure from our regularly scheduled lifestyle. Just as we were settling into our new way of life, however, everything changed once again.  

 As our classes, meetings and synagogue services moved from in-person to online, I feared that my fiancée and our fellow Judaism 101 classmates would be deprived of some of the quintessential experiences of modern Jewish life. After all, there are no words one can read in a book or hear through a computer that can describe what it’s like to sit around a Seder table with family, stare up at the stars through a tightly-packed sukkah or hear the shofar blow on Yom Kippur.

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Community is a key tenet of Judaism, as we’re often told in class, and I would be lying if I said we were able to enjoy that same feeling of community by watching live streams of prayer services or attending Zoom Shabbat dinners. Our rabbis, teachers and synagogue deserve a lot of credit for doing their best to fill those gaps as best they can with the tools available to them. In recent months we’ve booed Haman at Purim, attended a mock Seder, and listened to discussions and lectures all over Zoom and Facebook, but it’s much harder to transmit a feeling of community over the Internet. 

Jared and his fiance during a zoom seder

As we enter our third month in lockdown, however, I’ve come to the realization that the virus and social distancing measures that come with it offer a different kind of crash course in what it means to be Jewish. After all, there’s something distinctly biblical about waiting out a plague, fearing for our health and safety, being cut off from one another and being challenged to persevere our faith during times of pain and suffering.

 From the breaking of the matzah on Passover, to the breaking of the glass at weddings, much of our traditions are intended to offer a tangible representation of the suffering of our ancestors, even for just a moment. In our weekly classes, we’ve learned about the siege on Masada, how our ancestors were unable to bake bread as they escaped Egypt, and how the Jewish people were cut off from one another during the Roman occupation.

 As I remain trapped inside my home, cut off from friends and family, lining up for hours in hopes of finding flour at my local grocery store (usually without success), these relatively small inconveniences can serve as an even more concrete way to connect us to the suffering of our ancestors.

Jared and his fiancee on a recent trip (before covid-19 lockdown)

There are many important experiences that would be part of the typical conversion process to Conservative Judaism, that we will unfortunately be unable to take part in this year. At the same time, 2020 is perhaps the best year to learn about what it means to become a part of a people, a culture and a religion that has been defined by perseverance, by maintaining bonds across vast distances, and by using stories of the past to answer questions of the present. While I was worried that this would prove to be a difficult time for my fiancée to learn about Judaism, I’ve finally come to the realization that there may never be a better time to learn about what it means to be Jewish.

 

 

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist and public speaker based in Toronto. Beyond his regular columns in Fast Company and The Globe & Mail, Lindzon has also been published in The New York TimesThe Guardian, POLITICO, BBCRolling Stone, Fortune Magazine, TIME Magazine and many more.

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Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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