Laura McCreary’s Words on Becoming Jewish

Let me tell you a story.

So it’s a Monday night in April and I’m getting ready to go to my first Passover seder. And despite the little notebook in my pocket that tells me that maror is the bitter herbs and charoset is a mixture of apples and nuts, I have exactly zero idea what it is I’m actually getting into. I’m pretty nervous. Excited, but nervous. So I turn to my roommate, Adiv, whose family seder we’re going to and I ask him, “When we’re there, is it okay if I ask questions?”

And he looks at me, looks at me, like I asked if water was wet, or if air was good for breathing and he says, “That’s the whole point.”

And we just, we stare at each other, and it’s this complete moment of utter bafflement because we’re friends and we’re roommates and we’ve been to the same schools and had the same teachers and grew up in the same neighborhoods but we just can’t understand what the other person is saying. In this moment, I realize there’s this disconnect between our worlds – my own, where asking questions is, at times, near-taboo and his where questions are as necessary as oxygen.

It’s this moment, this question, that tips the balance. Here is the fork in the road that marks the start of my new path. Today, standing here, I have been Jewish for three days and seventeen hours. But, really, I have been Jewish since that question, standing there with my coat half on, in love with the thought that that was, in fact, the whole point.

Have you had any of these moments? These questions that mark the boundary between one life and the next, questions that catapult you dizzily into a whole new realm of possibilities. Questions that change the course of the future.

The Torah is rife with them, which should be of no surprise. Questions are very Jewish, after all. You can mark the fate of the People Israel through these questions: “Did God say you cannot eat the fruit of any tree in the garden?” to “Will you let my people go?”

Today’s parshah marks another one of these boundaries, a question that changes the fate of the Jewish people. It’s all the more amazing because the one being questioned is God, and because the question seems so trivial. “What would the neighbors think?” Moshe asks. “No God, I know they screwed up, but you can’t kill all the Israelites and start over. What would the neighbors think?” This question – and the reminder of the promises made to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs – is just enough to tip the scale in Israel’s favor. We survive the episode of the Golden Calf. Life continues. But what would the world have been without Moshe standing there, ready to say, “wait, wait, wait, hold up?” And what would the world have been if God hadn’t been ready to listen?

Because asking the question is only half of the story – a big half, mind you, especially when the one you’re questioning has an unfortunate habit of making frogs fall from the sky and having rivers run red with blood. But if Moshe’s voice had fallen on deaf ears, then poof! No more Israelites. We talk a lot about asking questions, but what we forget sometimes is listening. Just think. What if you hadn’t been listening the day your teacher said, “Have you ever thought about med school?” Or the day when the person who would become your future spouse asked if you wanted to go catch a movie sometime. How different would your life be if your ears had been filled with anger or sorrow or even just the general hustle and bustle of life?

I wouldn’t be here in front of you today.

Not that it was easy. I’m standing here in front of you encouraging you to listen, to keep your eyes and heart and mind open for those questions that will change the balance of the world, but, to be honest, I didn’t listen.

I didn’t listen when a soft, small voice said in the back of my heart, “What if I’m Jewish?” I blocked my ears when the Hanukkah songs sounded like coming home, when the faces lit by candle light looked like family, when pieces of prayers followed me home, dancing through my mind like an errant wind. I refused to even think the word “conversion” for months and months and months – what if there was no place for me? What if I didn’t belong? What if I fell in love with these people and this place, these stories and these songs, this unbearable sorrow and indescribable joy, what if I fell in love and I wasn’t wanted? I couldn’t stand that. I couldn’t bear it.

When I was a kid, I left my family’s church – I had so many questions and all of them had answers, answers when I thought there should only be more questions. What started it all was a debate over the Tenth Plague of Exodus, how a loving God could kill all those children. I tell you this because a decade later, I was here and steadfastly Not Listening when I asked, could I be Jewish?

And the thing that changed it all was a two-by-four of coincidence straight to the forehead. The first time I ever came here to Beth Jacob, of all the weeks in the entire year, that week the reading was Parsha Bo – the story of the final plagues of Egypt. And the dvar torah was someone asking parallels of those same questions I had bothered my teachers with, questions with no answers. I was a stranger in this place, but, in that moment, it felt like home. The question became louder than my fear. And here I am.

I’m here with you today, celebrating my conversion, but I want to take a moment to thank you all. Thank you for loving me, for welcoming me and supporting me, for taking the moment to talk with me when I came to you wide-eyed, asking, “what if I am Jewish?” My story is one in a million, because I have been so surrounded with light and love, support and acceptance. To have you all here with me this morning is a blessing beyond measure.

Thank you, each and every one of you. Shabbat shalom.