Doolies's Jewish Essay

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Here is Doolies's essay on her thoughts on her conversion to Judaism.

I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved to Dallas, Texas at the age of six in 1983. My parents are entrepreneurs and both have business backgrounds. I am the oldest of three daughters. My sisters are currently on the East coast. My middle sister is studying for her PhD in International Relations, while my younger sister is a third-year undergraduate student at Harvard, majoring in anthropology with an interest in education.

I didn't grow up with any religious affiliation but in the 1990's, my parents became involved with the local Dallas Buddhist Association. The sect of Buddhism focuses on Buddhism more as an education and daily way of life, than as a religion. Buddhist values of compassion, filial piety (respect for elders and teachers), and rationalism are embodied by different Buddhas and Boddhisatvas. The statues of Buddhas and Boddhisatvas serve as reminders to embody those virtues in daily life, rather than as idols of worship. My parents are now currently in Taiwan, and have established a TV satellite station devoted to teachings of Buddhist saints and sages.

After graduating from high school in Dallas, I attended Stanford University for my undergraduate education. I then studied medicine at The Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. I met David during my last year of medical school. After a couple of months of dating, he told me about his impending job transfer to Oslo, Norway. So I then decided to leave Houston for my family medicine residency at the University of California, Irvine. David's transfer, however, fell through and we continued to see each other and accumulated miles flying between Houston and Irvine. About a year ago, David moved out to the west coast and is currently working as a licensing attorney in Seattle. On June 7, 2005, David and I got engaged. I have six more months of residency in California, and then plan to move to Seattle in July 2006. I will then start my fellowship in geriatrics.

I want to convert to Judaism to feel closer to the Jewish community and to share a religion with David. I also feel that it is important our future children be raised in the Jewish tradition, for family unity and harmony. I have participated in Jewish celebrations with David's family, including the lighting of the menorah on Hannukah and Passover Seder, and I enjoyed the family gatherings and hope to continue those traditions in my own home. Since our engagement, I've made contacts with the Jewish community in Irvine and have attended Shabbat at a conservative synagogue. I've also attended a monthly noon series with a Chabbad Rabbi at the hospital where I work, and have been invited to Shabbat dinner by an Orthodox couple I met through the Chabbad series. I've done reading on my own and with David, including Embracing Judaism by Rabbi Kling and Becoming a Jew by Rabbi Lamm.

One of the beliefs and values in Judaism that is most appealing is Chesed, the act of loving-kindness. In my work as a physician, I treat my patients with compassion. I also have a soft spot in my heart for the elderly which is why I decided to pursue specialized training in geriatrics. I did a month's elective in Seattle and enjoyed caring for the elderly in a variety of settings, including nursing homes and assisted living. I also find Judaism appealing in that it focuses on our current life, and not so much on afterlife as in Christianity, or in leaving the life cycle to achieve Nirvana as in Buddhism. Life is short and precious and I want to learn and experience as much as I can in this life. What I also find fascinating in Judaism is the emphasis on questioning. Through questioning and debate with one another, one can arrive at a deeper understanding of the Torah. This is in contrast to traditional Chinese way of thinking which is to accept what you are taught.

Aspects which may be challenging as I convert to Judaism include my relationship with my family. I've discussed with my parents and my sisters about my decision to convert to Judaism. My parents are open to other religions and are generally accepting of my decision. My mom was surprised though that there was a formal conversion process which would take about a year to complete. My sisters were mixed in their responses. My younger sister was more critical as she had grown up with Buddhism more than I or my other sister had, and asked if the conversion was really necessary. I explained to her that my future children will not only know about Judaism but will be exposed to their Chinese heritage by attending Chinese school to learn Chinese. They may also learn about Buddhist philosophy and education if they so choose when they are older. I think it will be a continual process of reassuring my younger sister that I'm not turning my back on my Chinese background. My middle sister, on the other hand, was more receptive and said she supports my decision to convert, as long as I feel that it is important to me.

Other aspects I find challenging is whether I will ever really feel Jewish. Because of my ethnicity, I will not easily blend into a Jewish congregation. I wonder if people will be accepting of me as a convert. I suppose with time and with observing mitzvot and shabbat more regularly, I will feel more Jewish. And with attending a synagogue more regularly, I will come to be accepted as a Jew.

Conservative Judaism is most appealing to me. I don't feel comfortable with the sexism apparent in Orthodox Judaism. Prior to meeting the Chabbad Rabbi, I was forewarned that he wouldn't shake my hand because I am female. I've also read that women do not count as part of the minyan in Orthodox Judaism, and only males can be ordained as Rabbis in the Orthodox tradition. There are appealing aspects to Orthodox Judaism such as the strong sense of community. Reform Judaism is almost too lax in their requirements for conversion and for their congregation. Also, a reform conversion would not be recognized by Conservative or Orthodox Jews. As David's family is Conservative, it makes more sense for me to undergo a Conservative conversion and to belong to a Conservative congregation later. Also, I find appealing that Conservative Judaism still holds the Torah as binding but evolves with time, such as egalitarianism in Conservative synagogues.

I've read and heard that the conversion process is a life-altering experience and I look forward to that experience. I look forward to the learning and the discussions and the new friendships I will forge along the way.