About a year ago today, I officially became a Jew.
On June 13 2021, I drove over to a temple member’s house to meet with the beit din. After an hour’s worth of questions, it was time for me to go into the mikveh — which for me, in this case, was an outdoor swimming pool. I came out of that swimming pool a Jew.
I had a weird conversion, no doubt. Not only did my conversion entirely take place on Zoom (my temple takes pikuach nefesh very seriously), but it was also only nine months long when most conversions are a full year or two, or sometimes even three. Hell, I know someone whose conversion process has taken a whole decade!
But because of life circumstances, I had to always do things a bit differently. During the early part of my conversion, I had to observe Shabbat on Wednesdays because it was the one day of the week I didn’t have work or a university class. I ate kitniyot during Passover because kosher — let alone kosher for Passover food — isn’t really available here, and I would’ve starved if I didn’t. I felt like my neshama accepted most aspects of Reform Ashkenazi minhaghim, but rejected others. I liked how progressive Reform Judaism was in terms of socio-political issues, but I sometimes felt like a different movement might’ve better fit me.
But it wasn’t only that. Was having only a total of nine hour-long meetings, nine months of services, and nine months of reading books thicker than a Katz’s roast beef sandwich enough to make me a Jew? Well, technically, yes. The rabbi said I was ready, and so did the beit din. And so did the act of dipping myself three times into the pool-turned-mikveh. But why didn’t I feel like a Jew?
I often feel like I simply didn’t know enough to be considered a Jew, even though I most certainly am. Due to the nature of my conversion, there are a lot of things I didn’t learn. I wouldn’t be able to recite the alef-bet if you asked. I honestly didn’t know how to perform the havdalah ceremony until recently — and I’d probably struggle to do one by myself now. But does my ignorance make me any less Jewish?
I even began to question the validity of my conversion, on both technical and emotional levels. Was my “mikveh” kosher? More importantly, I wondered if I had even made the right choice in converting to Judaism at all. Should I have chosen another religion? Maybe I should’ve become a Quaker instead. I felt so self-conscious about performing Jewish traditions that I began to feel like a complete sham.
Some have compared Jewish imposter syndrome to a dybbuk, a dislocated soul. But I realized that my imposter syndrome is something else entirely. I already confirmed through my small Jewish friend circle that Jewish imposter syndrome was not a feeling unique to me. Everyone I spoke to — born Jews, converts, shomrei Shabbos, to the completely unobservant — seemed to suffer from imposter syndrome. Although we shared different opinions on various religious matters, everyone seemed to feel they were somehow inadequate, somehow not Jewish enough. As my Jewish friend circle began to grow, I realized that Jewish imposter syndrome was the common denominator among us. Indeed, Jewish imposter syndrome is a feeling as old as the Torah.
Everyone knows the story of Moses, even if you’re not a Jew. Moses comes across a flaming bush while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep. While investigating said bush, G-d speaks to Moses and tells him to remove his shoes because he’s on holy ground. Moses follows this command. G-d then explains itself and tells Moses to demand the Hebrews’ freedom from Pharaoh. Moses immediately questions G-d. Surely, he thinks, I cannot be the one to complete this monumental task. G-d keeps trying to reassure Moses that he is the right person for a task, but Moses protests a total of five times, just in that one encounter! And Moses goes on to protest against G-d’s commands for the remainder of Exodus. He certainly seemed to have a touch of ye old imposter syndrome.
I’m not saying I’m Moses. My internal, weekly debate over whether or not I should attend service is no match for what Moses had to accomplish, but the story does give me insight as to how imposter syndrome can be a beneficial tool for one’s Jewishness. Jewish identity was born in the desert, and so was mine—at least, metaphorically.
I try to tackle imposter syndrome through metaphor. I think of my Judaism as a mikveh, not a mythical beast. Traditions, mitzvot, all those beautiful things, those are the act of dipping yourself into the mikveh and reciting the blessings. It doesn’t matter how gracefully I dunk myself into the mikveh; it doesn’t matter if I stumble through the blessings themselves. As long as do these things earnestly and to the best of my ability, I will emerge from the waters still a Jew. It doesn’t matter if I accidentally turn to the wrong page in the Etz Hayim during Shabbat service, or if I knew the significance of everything done during service. As long as do these things earnestly and to the best of my ability—and with an open mind willing to learn from my mistakes—I will emerge from the waters still a Jew.
Allow yourself to go in front of the metaphorical mikveh, rendered naked by imposter syndrome, which has damaged your sense of identity. And emerge from it still a Jew.
Such an insightful, inspiring, and lovely read! Jessica, you’re so awesome and such a talented writer. Thanks for sharing your story!