Where to start becoming Jewish when family roots discovered

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  • #991104

    Mammele
    Participant

    I also wanted to add, in case you are not aware, that judaism does not recognize conversions away from its faith, so it doesn’t matter what church your maternal grandmother/great-grandmother was affiliated with, or if anyone was baptized, confirmed etc.

    Anybody born a Jew always remains a Jew according to Jewish law. And anyone born to a Jewish mother is Jewish ( again, even if said mother converted to Christianity, because Jewishness is forever).

    Also, you may find it interesting to read about spanish Jews returning to their roots, but realize that they would have had to trace (and prove) their maternal roots back over 500 years to verify their Jewishness and not need to convert, your situation is a piece of cake comparitively.

    #991105

    aurora77
    Participant

    Thank you Mammele, your perspective helps me keep the task of establishing my roots in perspective (sorry for the redundant vocabulary, I just finally finished skimming all the old threads in Decaffinated Coffee at almost 3 am, and my brain is glazing over with my eyes!).

    Reading the conversos story of Doreen Carvajal in her brand new book The Forgetting River, I was struck by how her Sephardic Jewish ancestors fought to survive, something I believe my Ashkenazi (I think that’s the right word?) family did too.

    Like those conversos, it would seem that my relatives assimilated as part of that survival process.

    When I have wondered in the past, how could they have affiliated with a new religion, a thought that initially frustrated and disappointed me, I have come to keep in mind several things:

    They must have thought and known that their lives depended upon it. I can have no idea what that was like first-hand and I am not to judge from my privileged position of comfort and convenience in the year 2012 in the United States of America. And, perhaps (this is the thought that still makes me tear up), they realized that only by staying alive could future generations like me be possible, and thus able to find their way back to what my MomMom called “the one true religion.”

    It is now a call within me to ensure that this precious and hard-fought-for family heritage is not snuffed out. I feel like a spark finding it’s way back to it’s original source of light. I feel like something is guiding me.

    It is funny how deep thoughts come to one in the middle of the night sometimes.

    You and each new person here are like lamps on the path back to where I belong. You illuminate the next step for me, and for that I am profoundly grateful. Thank you.

    #991106

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello Shein, somehow I missed your comment from yesterday, but I just wanted to say thank you for suggestions too and for reaching out to me. It really helps having people like you who take the time to explain what must be basic stuff to me!

    #991107

    JustARegularJew
    Participant

    Hi Aurora77,

    There is an organization called Tiferes Bais Yisrael that was created specifically for people like you. They work in partnership with the most reputable Rabbinic Courts throughout the world and guide people that are pursuing Orthodox Conversion to the right Rabbis, Mentors, and Conversion Courts. They will also help walk you through the process of investigating your heritage, or direct you to people that can help. Their web site is http://www.tbyisrael.org or (if that’s not allowed on the CR) you can google them – their office is in Monsey, NY.

    Good Luck!

    #991108

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello JustARegularJew, that sounds wonderful, because that will help me address both issues at once! I am thankful that there are organizations like this that anticipate the need for their help. That is exactly what I am looking for. Thank you for making me aware of them!

    #991109

    SayIDidIt™
    Participant

    aurora, it is very nice that you respond to each post and poster! It shows that you appreciate what they said. You seem like a special person!

    SiDi™

    #991110

    aurora77
    Participant

    Thank you SiDi, I want to make sure that each person knows that I am truly thankful for them taking the time out of their busy lives to share their perspectives, knowledge, and suggestions with me in such a warm and welcoming way. It means a lot to me, and at present, it is the only kind of Jewish community around me. I am really grateful for this! Thank you for your kind praise — comments like that warm my heart and stay with me for a very long time.

    #991111

    kollel_wife
    Participant

    I don’t often type here, more of a reader. I hope others won’t view this as a criticim.

    This is a very nice website. I am concerned, however, that blogs are places where the negativity is sometimes emphasized. It’s a place to gripe and vent or share one’s challenges with others. I have the feeling you may be getting a distorted picture of Orthodox Jewish life. Many basic wonderful things we take for granted are not discussed here at all. I hope you will find them here or elsewhere.

    Good Luck to you.

    #991112

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello kollel_wife, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me! I have been learning a lot reading here and getting all kinds of perspectives. There is so much beauty and wonder in countless aspects of Jewish life and culture. Indeed, some of my very favorite books thus far have been those that describe cultural practices from around the globe with historical information on where the practices came from.

    Sometimes conversations can become heated it is true. Like you, I am more typically a reader here (I had been reading quietly for more than a year before I posted several days ago).

    I am trying to read widely of Orthodoxy to get a sense of the beliefs, practices, and areas of agreement and disagreement. I feel like I have barely scratched the surface!

    Your well wishes on this journey of mine mean a great deal to me. Thank you for your support!

    #991113

    Borough Park Mensch
    Participant

    aurora77, welcome to the Coffee Room.

    kollel_wife noted: “I have the feeling you may be getting a distorted picture of Orthodox Jewish life.” This may be true.

    Note that the name of this website is the Yeshiva World, not the Orthodox World. There are different forms of Orthodoxy although unfortunately many here believe that only their way is the “right” one.

    I belong to an Orthodox synagogue that is part of the Young Israel movement. We are a member of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, popularly known as the OU. This is the same organization that is responsible for the major kosher certification service in the United States.

    Some of the people on this website disparage my congregation and people like me as “modern Orthodox,” and call us “MO” at least when they are minding their manners. 🙂 This is because, by and large because although we follow Jewish law, we do not follow chasidic or chareidi customs.

    As noted in one of the first replies, you may or may not already be Jewish. According to Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz, the head of the Beth Din [religious court] of America (and former rabbi of my congregation), a person who was born Jewish, even if he or she does not know it, does not need to convert.

    Instead, such people are often referred to classes such as those from the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) headed by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald of Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue.

    I would suggest you start with a consultation with an Orthodox rabbi or contact the Rabbinical Council of America for a referral to determine whether or not you need to convert.

    There are plenty of good Orthodox Jews who do not wear black hats. I am sorry if this starts a flame war but it needs to be said.

    aurora77, may you blessed with finding the path in life that G-d intended for you.

    #991114

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello Borough Park Mensch,

    Thank you for your well wishes and suggestions on next steps. Everyone here has been very kind and generous with both.

    I would feel terrible if any thread of mine here, or any questions of mine as a newcomer, were somehow the source of strife, controversy, or ill-will within this wonderful community where I am trying to learn so much and begin to develop a sense of identity and belonging.

    In my work as a child advocate, I am always trying to bring people together — in that context, to help abused and neglected children. It has felt like a calling for me, and trying to bring people together has come to be a big part of my life in general — it is something that I ask G-d to help me do. It would break my heart to be the root of any divisiveness, here especially, where we are so concerned with G-d and the laws, traditions, practices, and customs that we use to express our love of G-d.

    I hope that this makes sense, thank you all for considering what I have written.

    #991115

    RebRY
    Member

    BP mench maybe in your shul MO people follow Jewish law but alot of people that call themselves MO leave out alot of halachas that have to do with tznius and shomer negia, eynaim, kol isha and other things pertaining to men and women.

    #991116

    Borough Park Mensch
    Participant

    Rebry, you have proven my point, and in the month of Elul no less. How rude! It’s the Orthodox Union, by the way, not the Modern Orthodox Union.

    aurora77, according to traditional Jewish teachings, rabbis are supposed to discourage prospective converts by, among other things, asking them why they would want to assume the burdens of being Jewish.

    As you can see from this brief exchange, there are many Orthodox Jews who believe that only their way is the “right” way. (As an obvious exaample, for those who believe it is “wrong” to have internet access, we are all in trouble.) As far as some posters are concerned, not only are those with whom they disagree not Orthodox, they might even consider them not Jewish. In my humble opinion, this is wrong according to Jewish Law.

    For many people here, they were born into families that followed a particular Jewish philosophy and so they continue with what they learned at home or in school. You, however, are in a different situation as you can choose which rabbi you wish to consult who represents which group you might wish to join.

    I understand what you mean when you speak of being an advocate as I am an attorney. Within my Orthodox congregation there are both men and women who are lawyers, physicians and all sorts of professions. There are also Orthodox (actually chareidi or chasidic) congregations where the rabbis and members believe that women should not attend college or law or medical school and not engage in occupations like this. If this way of thinking works for them, fine. Does it work for you?

    FYI, here in New York, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin keeps a shomer shabbos courtroom.

    Former Attorney General and former federal judge Michael Mukasey is a member of the Orthodox congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and attended the Ramaz yeshiva. I could go on, but you get the picture.

    Again, good luck.

    #991117

    aurora77
    Participant

    Thank you for your well wishes Borough Park Mensch.

    I haven’t thought at length about many of the issues you raise concerning work. That may be because I am already 35, have not married yet, and likely can not have children. I have just assumed that I would be the one supporting me because it really seemed like my only option. Being a child advocate attorney gives me the opportunity to still have children in my life and be able to help them. Already being closer to 40 than 30, I have come to accept that I may always be single.

    I am not sure how my situation in this regard will be viewed in various Orthodox communities as I try to find my way in this world. Sometimes I feel lonely and discouraged by how far I still have to go on my own. I am trying to take things one step at a time.

    #991118

    oomis
    Participant

    How are things going for you, Aurora?

    #991119

    SayIDidIt™
    Participant

    I know others have mentioned them, but I was just browsing through Chabad.org and was amazed about the welth of information they have there! And all very simple to understand with words transelated and some even transliterated! Check it out! You can learn a lot from there! (Some have mentioned not to get involved with Chabad. But I don’t tink they would have a problem with most of the website. I really didn’t go through the whole site, but from what I saw amazed me! Check out the Jewish Practice section, which includes the Brachot Handbook – Blessings for Food & Drinks, Yom Tov (Holiday) section, and what really amazed me was the Online Siddur with Commentary – very cool stuff!!

    SiDi™

    #991120

    SayIDidIt™
    Participant

    1. Sorry about any spelling or missing letter mistakes in the post above and/or in this one. I am using an ancient keyboard and its almost 6AM IST! Why I’m up, I don’t even know!

    2. If you search Gooooogle “learn to read hebrew” you will find some very helpful, free stuff! Hatzlacha (not exactly Good Luck, but something like that!) and have FUN!!

    (Who ever has fun learning?? Well , not me!!!)

    SiDi™

    #991121

    aurora77
    Participant

    Why hello oomis1105, thank you so much for inquiring of me! I am inundating myself with information and checking out resources whenever I get the chance. People here have been very friendly, helpful, and welcoming to me — it is a good feeling to begin to be a part of a community! It is a bit hard for me right now to do some of the explorations that I want to do because I am caring for my mother as she undergoes chemotherapy, but I am at least trying to learn more by reading and reaching out in some way everyday. I hope that everything is going well with you? I always enjoy reading your posts on the various threads 🙂

    #991122

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello SiDi, thank you for your recommendations, especially given how early it is where you are! I look forward to checking them out. I hope you have a wonderful day on the horizon, just as mine is winding down here on the East Coast!

    #991123

    SayIDidIt™
    Participant

    I think I’ll sleep the same time as you people!

    May your mother have a Refuah Shelamah, a complete and speedy recovery and many more happy years!

    #991124

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello SiDi, I really appreciate your thoughtful, healing wishes for my mother. I hope you get some good sleep!

    #991125

    SayIDidIt™
    Participant

    I had her in my thoughts during Shachris (Morning Prayers)

    I hope so too, but I doubt that will happen soon . . .

    SiDi&tade;

    #991126

    zahavasdad
    Participant

    OP

    You mentioned that you would have to drive to an orthodox shul. While others discouraged it, I do not think they are correct on this.

    I have occasionally when Ive been out of time been to chabad houses where the Rabbi knew very well that certain people who regulally came drove to the shul and I have definatly heard that some Big Rabbis have permitted driving to shul at least at the very begining especially in your case where you might not know anyone at the Shul.

    Going to the Shul on Shabbos and introducing yourself to the Rabbi might be your best first step, (In person introductions are much better than on the phone) Perhaps he can help you with further Shabbos until you are able to move.

    #991127

    Mammele
    Participant

    Hi Aurora,

    Best wishes to your mother for a speedy recovery; and to you on your journey of discovery.

    Please do not let BP mensch scare you about your most worthy occupation. Even though college education is not encouraged in some very religious communities, nobody in the US will expect you to forget your training post-facto and switch careers.

    Many women work outside the home regardless of how religious they are. The main issue SOME have is with MOTHERS of young children working at the expense of their families.

    Again, good luck with everything and don’t let CR politics discourage you…

    #991128

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello SiDi, your thoughts and prayers are very much appreciated! And my mother is having a really good day today, so all of those kind, healing wishes are helping 🙂

    #991129

    CallMeDave
    Member

    Hi, and welcome.

    You can check out http://www.hineni.org/ (mods please allow) led by a wonderful woman Rebbetzen Esther Jungreis. They also have programs events and services. So if you are located in NY it might of interest to you.

    I hope that you find the right source that brings you one step closer.

    Wishing you you much success and a Happy New Year

    #991130

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello Mammele,

    I can always count on your kind, encouraging voice to lift my spirits! Thank you for what you said about me and my work — that means a great deal to me. Thank you also for your healing wishes regarding my mother; she means so much to me, and I think that everyone’s prayers are helping 🙂

    #991131

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello CallMeDave,

    Thank you for the welcome and the link to Rebbetzen Jungreis’s programs. I will check out that site. Happy New Year to you as well, with wishes for your health and happiness!

    #991132

    oomis
    Participant

    I hope that everything is going well with you? I always enjoy reading your posts on the various threads 🙂 “

    Thank you, and thank you. I am sorry to hear about your mother’s health right now. May her recovery be speedy and complete, so she can have nachas from seeing her daughter’s life-changes and growth.

    #991133

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello zahavasdad,

    Thank you for your suggestion regarding how to get to shul.

    #991134

    zahavasdad
    Participant

    It would be better of course for you to call before shabbos, but in my general experience in life an in-person meeting is taken alot more seriously than a phone call.

    #991135

    aurora77
    Participant

    I feel that way too zahavasdad. It’s nicer to make a personal connection too!

    #991136

    Borough Park Mensch
    Participant

    Please do not let BP mensch scare you about your most worthy occupation. Even though college education is not encouraged in some very religious communities, nobody in the US will expect you to forget your training post-facto and switch careers.

    Mammele, I am glad you consider law a “worthy occupation.” Nevertheless, you have told only part of the story.

    aurora77, it may be true that a certain Jewish group would not ask you to give up the practice of law but would you like to belong to one where they say you are doing something that would be prohibited to them?

    How would like to have your daughter come home from school and ask you if going to college is forbidden, why did you go to college?

    I repeat what I said earlier; you have a choice in which group you choose to join. Ask and go into things with your eyes open.

    #991137

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello oomis1105,

    I am sorry that I somehow missed your post from several days ago! Thank you for your well wishes for my mother — she has been having some good days lately, so people’s prayers are helping!

    It was also kind of you to say what you did about enjoying my posts on various threads. I often think when I am posting that my questions must seem so stupid and basic and boring to people who are all so learned in their faith, like people in the Coffee Room are. Everyone is so generous with their time and help in responding, for which I am very grateful.

    I know it’s still a few days away, but I hope that you have an absolutely wonderful New Year!

    #991138

    ready now
    Participant

    #991139

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello Borough Park Mensch,

    There is much for me to consider, it is true; I am trying to get as much information as possible.

    Regarding a daughter, or children more generally, what they would be allowed to do, and your question about how I would feel telling a daughter that college is forbidden — this situation is not something I have thought much about, due to the fact which I mentioned in a reply post above that It is likely that I can not have children.

    I am not sure at present how I would negotiate a situation where my work is something that other women in the community were discouraged from doing.

    #991140

    zahavasdad
    Participant

    OP,

    This needs to be emphasied and I hope you dont get discouraged, this website is YESHIVA world news, not Jewish world news meaning many of the posters (but not all) represent the more right wing elements in the jewish community. and you might be getting a slightly distored view, (Read some of the threads and you might get it) They are probably very nice and very sincere people in real life and mean well

    I am not sure if you have ever seen an orhtodox jew in person and Id really recommend trying to see some and maybe this might shed some light on the differences.

    To see a more modern orhthodox community you might try Cherry Hill, NJ but a better option might be Teaneck, NJ (Near NYC)

    To see a Yeshivish jewish community Your best best would be Lakewood, NJ (Its exit 89 on the Garden State Parkway, about 50 miles south of NYC and maybe 50-60 miles east of Philly)

    To see a Chassidic community your best bet would be to visit Borough park in Brooklyn and especially walk down 13th ave.

    Finally do not consider you degree an impediment, there is nothing wrong with it, no matter what anyone else says. Plenty of people have degrees (including myself, although I dont have a professional degree, just a regular BA)

    #991141

    zahavasdad
    Participant

    And if you want to see a Sephardic community, that is a little tougher there are decent sized communities in Brooklyn on Ocean Parkway (Syrian) Deal , NJ (Also Syrian) and Great Neck (Persian)

    Your best place to see them would be Paris, France (Many Jews from North Africa emigrated to France after the revolutions in those countries in the 1960’s)

    #991142

    ready now
    Participant

    #991143

    aurora77
    Participant

    Thank you both zahavasdad and ready now for your suggestions about how how to make more connections with the Orthodox community.

    #991144

    zahavasdad
    Participant

    I do want to add, while I think you should make contact with the Rabbi asap, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are probably not the best time to do it, not because they arent important, they are VERY important, but Because The Rabbi might be a little more busier than normal and might not be able to give you as much attention as you need and I would not want you to get turned off because the rabbi didnt give as much attention as you need because he was busy with lots of things during the high holy days and it might seem as if he was blowing you off, when he wasnt.

    #991145

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello zahavasdad,

    I think that’s a good idea — I can’t imagine how busy rabbis must be at this time of year.

    #991146

    repharim
    Member

    Didn’t read what everyone else said but when my family became orthodox the first thing we did was start to keep shabbos (and learn about it). And I’m glad we did it that way because any jew coming back should keep shabbos – the single most important mitzvah to prevent you from ending up in a lovely eternity of hell.

    #991147

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello repharim,

    Keeping Shabbos seems like a good place to start to me as well. Along with doing a lot of reading, that is one of the things that I have begun trying to do.

    #991148

    zahavasdad
    Participant

    Take things at your own pace, Do not rush at anything. There is no need to jump in the water.

    I dont think where to start other than reading or asking basic questions is best to take from an internet chat room.

    You will need to figure out how to fit everything in your life, there are people who know better than me what should be done first as they have dealt with people before and know what works and what doesnt work.

    I do know from my own lifes experience, that rushing things is a really bad idea, Its like building a building too fast. The building can collapse into a pile of ruble (I know people where that happend to and its not been pretty)

    Since you have not experienced Shabbos, I would not recommend starting there until you have been to someone who knows how more than a few times . You are going to wind up staying in the house all day , be bored with no friends , in the dark with. and while this might work for a few weeks, it wont work in the end.

    Better take it slowly to make of a chance for success

    #991149

    aurora77
    Participant

    Hello zahavasdad, I see what you’re saying. I’m taking it slowly also because I’m caring for my mother during her chemotherapy — in this situation, it is definitely to be more like the tortoise than the hare!

    #991150

    aurora77
    Participant

    It’s also a lot of information for me to process — I am trying to learn an amount of information that many people learned more gradually throughout childhood. What I would give to have the sponge-like brain of my childhood back — especially as it relates to learning new languages more quickly!

    #991151

    zahavasdad
    Participant

    I am trying to walk a thin line and I dont mean to be mean, but I suspect your desire to explore judiasm is related to your family crisis (Usually people find religion during family crisis)

    I am somewhat afraid that if the crisis is not solved favorably when you find religion, you might blame relgion for “Not Helping”. Thats why I feel its better to go slower.

    Because ultimatly there will be big changes in your life if you decide to go all in , you will have to move for example to be in an area with more orthodox jews, you might have to give up your job to move to this area.

    #991152

    daniela
    Member

    First of all, allow me to say I am heartbroken about your mother’s health issues and I wish her a complete recovery. I know words are empty when someone has serious problems, yet I care.

    I think maybe you should ask someone in person and everything would be much easier. It’s not difficult to observe Shabbat for someone who wants to, while 200 years ago it was. But your situation is different, because you don’t know the rules and how to do. Also I would not discount the comment of zahavasdad, which asks you if you plan to get bored in the house for the whole day, possibly in the dark or in the cold. It is my opinion you have to think of the seemingly simple problems, because they are important in the long run, and make the difference in committment.

    Are there other jews where you live? Consider that older people are likely to have had some sort of jewish education, also secular jews with secular parents used to; someone who is aware of the basic laws could give you suggestions. Take everything with a pinch (or a handful) of salt, it goes without saying; but you seem to be completely alone, which is tremendously difficult.

    I have not understood why you are not asking a rabbi, and if it is your choice, or contingent problems (all of those can be easily solved).

    The other thing I have not understood is what your mother thinks about all of this.

    #991153

    ready now
    Participant
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