"Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who directs the footsteps of man."

Judaism teaches that the way to begin each morning is by reciting a blessing giving thanks to G‑d for preparing the road ahead for our life's journey. As a convert to Judaism this blessing holds particular significance to me. My journey has taken me from my grandfather's primitive Baptist Church in Arkansas, to an ashram in the Catskills, and finally to Orthodox Judaism.

Christianity never took hold on me, even though my grandfather was the pastor of the church my family attended. I daydreamed and played albums in my mind during the hour that my grandfather was on the pulpit preaching. It wasn't that I lacked an interest in connecting to G‑d; it was that I wanted an unadulterated relationship with G‑d that did not involve praying to a human being.

When I was thirteen, while reading a book on various religions, I felt as if a spark had been lit in my soul, and I became consumed with a love for G‑d and a desire to connect to my Creator. It would be another two years before my longing and search for connection would lead me to explore Judaism.

I remember the joy that I felt when at the age of fifteen I went to the library and discovered the section on Judaism. For some inexplicable reason I assumed that my parents would be pleased with my newfound reading material; needless to say, they were not. My mother told me that I was not allowed to bring those books into her house. However, I would not be deterred and I continued checking out Jewish books and began hiding them and reading in my closet.

(It has literally taken me twenty five years to understand my mother's point of view, and to see that she was justified in her stance against my bringing home books about a religion with beliefs that were in contrast to her own. Undoubtedly, I would be upset if my daughter brought home books which would help her to seriously explore a religion outside of Judaism.)

Over the years my parents had to adjust to the reality that their youngest daughter was religiously rebellious. While other teenagers were out on Friday night dates, I was lighting candles, reading my "Jewish" bible, and lying on the living room floor pinching myself to atone for my sins. I knew that pinching oneself was probably not a Jewish custom, however, in my limited imagination that was the only method I could come up with to tell G‑d that I was truly sorry for everything that I had done wrong in my fifteen years on Earth.

During the next four years, I continued to read about Judaism and wanted to convert. Although at the time, conversion was not in my vocabulary. I simply knew that I wanted to live as a Jew.

The author as a child (left), with her father and sister
The author as a child (left), with her father and sister
When I was nineteen, I moved to Atlanta to be with my sister who was attending Emory University. I remember one night during that time period I was watching a special on PBS about religious Jews. As I was watching the special, I told myself that I would never be allowed into that special group, and that I should forget about converting. I am not sure what it was about that documentary that deflated my aspirations for conversion, I just remember the hopeless feeling of believing that I would never be accepted as a Jew.

Having given up hope that conversion to Judaism would ever be a possibility; I became increasingly depressed and dissatisfied with my life. I applied to college, was accepted, and chose piano as my major as I had taken piano lessons for many years.

I respected and trusted my piano teacher, so one day during a lesson I confessed that I was depressed and needed direction in my life. She invited me to attend a program at her meditation center. I was somewhat hesitant, as I was a girl from Arkansas who for years had dreams of becoming Jewish. I had never entertained the least bit of curiosity about Eastern spirituality. However, out of sheer desperation, I agreed to go with her to a program.

At the meditation center, I entered a darkened room with candles and incense burning. Men and women, most of them appearing to be in their early to mid forties, sat barefoot on the floor facing an empty chair with a large picture of a beautiful Indian woman hanging above it. I was later told that the woman in the picture was their Guru, who resided half of the year in India and the rest of the time in the Catskills, in upstate New York.

The program was a combination of chanting in Hindi and meditation. As foreign as the whole situation was to me, I found that the chanting lifted my depressed spirits and I actually began to feel good.

Over the next five years I became increasingly active with the meditation center. I took on many volunteer positions at the center, such as Master of Ceremonies for the programs, musician, hostess, and audio visual person. My life was centered on the meditation center. I even made several trips to the ashram in the Catskills, so that I could be in the presence of the guru.

After five years of actively attending services at the meditation center, I had become increasingly discontent with meditation as a spiritual path. At times I would become aware of how odd it was that I was sitting on the floor, cross legged, barefoot, and wearing a sari. I had divorced myself from the outer world and lived a more or less ascetic kind of life. I cared very little about material things, and focused only on achieving "spiritual perfection." I bowed down to an empty chair and prayed to a guru, a mere human being. I was far from being the teenage girl that had longed for an unadulterated relationship with G‑d.

One evening a Jewish friend of mine, from the meditation center, asked if I would like to go with her to explore various synagogues in the area (she had assumed that I was Jewish since my last name at the time was Jacobs). My friend knew very little about Judaism; however, at the age of forty-three she was ready to begin exploring her Jewish roots.

On a Friday evening in August, my friend and I attended Shabbat services at an Orthodox synagogue. We parked at a nearby grocery store and walked to services, as we had heard that Orthodox Jews walked instead of driving on the Sabbath. That experience of walking to shul was one of the most satisfying walks that I had experienced in my life. My friend and I walked surrounded by men wearing black hats, women in long skirts and head coverings, and young boys running with their tzitzit, ritual fringes, flying behind them. Even though I had never been exposed to religious Jews, for some inexplicable reason what I was seeing and experiencing matched my imaginings of what Judaism looked and felt like. At the synagogue I was completely lost during the service. However, I knew that my journey had carried me to the place were I would ultimately find Truth.

During the months that followed I reached new spiritual heights. At times I felt that I was on fire with my desire to connect to G‑d, and at other times I felt as though I were drowning in a sea of spiritual ecstasy. It was in this state that I approached the rabbi to ask for conversion to Judaism. The rabbi told me that he didn't want to play down the spiritual experiences that I was having, but that conversion was about more than my feelings, it was about a commitment to keeping G‑d's Torah. At the time I was too young and lacked the maturity to appreciate the self-discipline that was needed to live as a Torah Observant Jew. A couple of months later, I approached the Rabbi again to ask for conversion, and once again I was turned away. At that point I decided to give up on the whole idea of becoming a Jew.

The author with her father on her wedding day
The author with her father on her wedding day
For the next few years I was lost in a spiritual wasteland; I tried to distance myself from my spiritual proclivities. I put Judaism behind me. One night, four years after my last meeting with the rabbi, I had a dream that I walked into a library that was filled with Jews and Jewish books. I awoke from the dream with a sweet and comforted feeling. However, I was also confused, as I thought that I had put all thoughts of Judaism behind me, and here I was dreaming about a Jewish library and feeling renewed by the experience.

For the next few years I tried my best to ignore the dream about the Jewish library. However, every fall I would feel a sweet and painful longing for Judaism, then I would look at a calendar and see that the High Holidays were near. I realized that I had never stopped wanting to be Jewish and that my longing to live as a Jew would never go away, as it was the cry of my soul yearning for connection to its Creator.

Finally, I could take no more of the painful longing for G‑d and Judaism. I returned to the Orthodox rabbi that had turned me down eleven years before. Thank G‑d, this time I was accepted as a candidate for conversion.

In my wildest dreams I would never have imagined that it would be twenty years from the time that I began my exploration into Judaism before I would receive an Orthodox conversion and live the life of a Torah Observant Jew. My journey has been long and at times quite difficult, but it has also been incredibly rewarding. With the spiritual treasure that I have been given, I can truly say, "Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who directs the steps of man."