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Tess Doan


By Tess Doan, high school student at University of Winnipeg

There  are  a good number of people who look astonished when they find out that I am converting to Judaism. These people are not surprised to find out that I am converting, but  they are surprised to find out the circumstances of my conversion. I am a single , high school student with no Jewish family members. I was born in a small town that was, for the most part, very Christian. My parents, on the other hand, raised me in a way that allowed me the freedom to discover what I believed when I was ready for that discovery. At age 12,  I suffered from eating disorders. At that time, I was very lost, but I had a thirst... for what I did not know. When I was in treatment for my eating disorders, many subtle signs were revealed to me, and some might consider those signs to be a foreshadowing of things to come. The Jewish lifestyle seeped into my life. I encountered it in the people I met and the things I read. Every night I prayed to a Higher Power that I was not sure existed. I will always remember the day that those uncertain prayers were answered.

A fellow musician and friend of mine offered me a gig to play guitar for a Winnipeg singer/songwriter. I, having nothing to lose, agreed to this half-heartedly. The day I picked up my guitar and chose to play music with this band turned my life around. I had a new spark, a new hope, and the belief came back to me that I was on this earth to do something special. 

At this point, I had already looked into Judaism a bit. At that first band rehearsal, I saw the Chai dangling from the neck of my new lead singer. Eventually that lead singer became my best friend. My physical and emotional health began to improve because of the newfound opportunities I had, and because of the ability to do what I love – play music and write. Before I realized it, I was no longer doubting the existence of a Higher Power, because I could feel that Higher Power’s quiet presence in my life. I gradually began to do more and more research into Judaism. When I read descriptions of the basic Jewish beliefs it felt as though the words were being pulled right out of my soul. As my research progressed, I found that I was drawn toward not only the beliefs of Judaism, but also toward the Jewish culture. Although this was not enough to entirely quench my thirst, it was enough to make me crave more. One step at a time, I was immersed into the Jewish lifestyle. I fell in love with this religion. I fell in love with life. I found a place where I was no longer judged. I belonged; I felt at home, and most of all I found myself. 

With the support of my entire family and friends, I enrolled myself into the Choosing Judaism course at Shaarey Zedek. I am still in the process of converting, and I am loving every moment of it. I am lucky and blessed to be so supported by my family. I have heard that support is rare to have. I envision day having a family of my own one day, and I see us lighting Menorahs and having Shabbis dinners every Friday night. In fact, this past Hanukkah I was blessed to receive beautiful Shabbat candle holders from the family of the lead singer I mentioned earlier. I will cherish them always, and I use them already. When I have a family of my own, those candle holders will grace my table every Friday evening, and I will pass them on to my children and my children’s children as the first symbol of my Jewish faith.

Although I am very new to Judaism, I have already encountered the occasional anti-Semitic comment aimed towards me. “Why would you ever want to be a Jew?,” some have said. The most outwardly offensive situation occured  when someone I knew would no longer talk to me because I was now Jewish. Most of these encounters are purely symptoms of ignorance with the occasional incident, but that is no excuse. These comments have not only opened up my eyes to this unfortunate reality, but it has opened my family’s eyes too.

My family has always respected and revered Judaism, even before my conversion, and we have been shocked at some of the comments I have received. Meanwhile, when I mention these comments to my Jewish friends, they respond, “Oh yes. That is expected. Just wait!” The thing is, we should not have to expect that. We are all victims of racism and discrimination in one way or another. Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist; we have all experienced it. The best way to deal with it is through sharing your personal experience, and listening to the experiences of others. We have the power. YOU have the power. Whether it is through media, music, school, family, sports, work, we all have the power to make a difference. You excercised that power right now by listening to my story. These seemingly small things can add up to monumental changes. We all have a purpose in life. We all have a reason for why we are here. I believe that through music, media, love and action we can bring the world together. Together we can change the world. Judaism has changed my world forever.

 One of the main beliefs in Judaism is forgiveness. That has helped me let go of the past and create a bright future. I still have a thirst that will probably never be quenched. No one can ever really truly be satisfied and obtain all of the necessary knowledge to understand life. However, my thirst has been relieved by my newfound faith, and I am so very excited to learn and live. Rabbi Pinsker once explained this process as “the journey home.” I have never felt more at home in my life.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.