I do a surprising amount of significant things for reasons of style. It’s not my only reason, of course, or even the main one, but the promise of accessories is alluring. Hats, pins, commemorative drinking glasses, feelies, etc.; to me that’s oddly holy…metaphorically, of course.
I started this road to conversion to foster a sense of community, and oneness with the sacred. Seriously. But, as luck would have it, Judaism comes with a lot of bling possible. And we’re talking bling that’s thousands of years old. It doesn’t get much more retro hipster than that.
I’m looking forward to a long lifetime of collecting cool Judaica, but it’s presenting some problems. First is authenticity. The chances of us going to Israel any time soon are slim. We love shopping online, however, but everywhere we turn, we run into warnings about shady people selling forgeries. I buy a mezuzah online and it could have anything scrawled in it, written by anyone. Are you even supposed to open them? I don’t know. For all I know it could say, “Ha ha, you stupid gentiles bought a fake mezuzah!” I mean, how am I supposed to know if the teffilin I’m getting is authentic? The only way, it seems, is to get the one that cost four hundred dollars. Well, that’s awfully convenient.
That brings me to my second problem, which is that everything is pretty pricy. This certainly isn’t limited to Judaism. The prices of most quality religious paraphernalia makes the $1000 by parents dished out for an E-meter from the Church of Scientology sound not so insane, but it’s still a bit restrictive. It also bumps up against my whole religion = humility thing. That you get more points for doing what you can with what you’ve got than by mortgaging your house to get the most awesomest Shabbat candlesticks ever. However, I don’t want to get a shofar that won’t last through a single blustery Minnesota winter, and have to buy a whole new one by the next Rosh Hashanah. And knowing that the best keepsakes are the ones you can actually keep, and pass down to your kids, my wife and I have decided, though, that things you’ll cherish the rest of your life are worth the extra money you spend.
Of course, that brings me to my third problem. My wife and I have completely different tastes in Judaica. One of us like rustic, the other likes elegant; one likes organic, one likes angular; one likes bright colors, one likes understated simplicity. And there’s really not a pattern. I think we spent over an hour picking out a hanukiah. We swapped condescending looks over the center displays at Brochins while taking turns holding a 900lb baby and chasing after a three year old trying to figure out what a dreidel is (but having no trouble deciding that she wanted eleven-hundred of the tackiest plastic dreidel’s from the tacky plastic dreidel bin) until we finally settled on the only one we could agree on, and knowing that it will be relegated to a side table someday when we get the really final one.
Don’t even ask about the kiddish cup.
There are some happy stories in this bling hunt. I eagerly look forward to getting my own tallit and tzitzit, when I get the only say. And I’m not converting Orthodox or anything, but I admit I love the look of the simple black coat and hat. They always looked like God’s cowboys to me, and I want to incorporate the look in some kind of I-feel-Jewish-but-don’t-look-so-Orthodox-that-a-Lubavitcher-is-going-to-stop-me-on-the-street-and-argue-Torah way for the days when I’m feeling super-duper Jewish. But the happiest story is my kippah.
Being a convert is hard, because we’re lost in the wilderness. Converts often have no tradition of our own to fall back on, and while we seek to find that connectivity with the community and the sacred, we can’t draw from anything. I do, however, have my one and only family heirloom. My kippah, though not the one I’d have personally picked out at Yarmulkes ‘n’ Stuff, is dear to me. I found as a child in my dad’s top drawer. It was in the box of some sort of Jewish-themed board game my parents never played. I figured it came with the game, but later my mom told me that she was given that by her aunt who bought it for her while on a trip to Israel. So despite having a totally non-Jewish family (believe me, I’ve looked), my kippah has actually been in my family for three generations…technically.
It’s a bit of a cheat, but I’ll take what I can get.