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Jessica #36 - Ring Around the Rabbi

Jessica #36 - Ring Around the Rabbi

Jessica thought that conversion would solve everything. But Rabbi Ringman throws a wrench into the mix.


There are two schools of thought when it comes to dainty crossings: the leg or the ankles.

I've always thought that the leg cross is far more sophisticated, more European, more je ne sais quois. But I am still pretty sure that the ankle cross is actually more appropriate.

Grace Kelly, pre-Ranier, would have crossed her legs. Post-Monaco, the ankles.

I had fixed my skirt about 19 times and readjusted my legs and feet at least twice that much -- and I'd only been waiting for seven minutes.

These are the serious thoughts that were running through my mind while I waited to meet with Rabbi Ringman, the rabbi Rick had been speaking with about converting.

"Jessica?" Rabbi Ringman poked his head out of his office door and, smiling, beckoned me in. "I'm sorry that I'm running late..."

I smiled weakly, and followed him, unsure of whether I was on the road to triumph, or a lamb going to the slaughter.

I sat down and crossed my legs.

Then uncrossed them.

And then crossed them at the ankles.

For a fleeting moment I considered asking his opinion about the Grace Kelly thing, but thought better of it. If he had noticed me fidgeting like a slapstick heroine, he didn't let on. Instead, he sat facing me, looking at me benignly.

It flashed through my mind that Rick must have sat here when he first came to talk to Rabbi Ringman, that he'd probably also scanned the certificates and pictures of (what I presumed to be) the Ringman family on the shelves behind the desk.

He must really love me to do this all for me!

If I was this uncomfortable, what must Rick have felt like?

Woooooooow, I sighed in my head. Rick must really like me to go through all this for me!

My drippy reverie ended when Rabbi Ringman leaned forward.

"Jessica," he said. "I found Rick to be very bright and sincere. And he obviously cares deeply about you."

I agreed, warily.

What? So that's it? It's finished? He can join the Team Yid?

"Um, Rabbi Ringman, I have no idea how this, uh, works..." I stammered.

"Hold on, Jessica," Rabbi Ringman said. "I wanted to speak with you because, after having met with Rick at some length, I want to understand where you fit in. My understanding is that Rick found me on his own, that you didn't encourage him at all."

I nodded.

He repeated what Rick had told him: that I had begun to distance myself from him because of the religious issues straining on me.

I nodded again.

"Do you think you would have ended the relationship if he hadn't come to me?"

"Well, I think I had a sense that our relationship was doomed to some sort of spectacular, fiery, multi-cultural failure," I grumbled after a moment's pause.

Our relationship was doomed to some sort of spectacular, fiery, multi-cultural failure.

He smiled gently and nodded.

I explained that I really liked Rick and that it just seemed horribly unfair (not to mention old-fashioned) that religion was coming between us.

"It's like another ethnic version of West Side Story, except in this case the Jets and Sharks aren't fighting but Maria's going absolutely crazy," I said.

I told him of my recent surge of melodramatic thoughts. I keep thinking about my great-great-grandparents in Russia and Hungary, all these stories I grew up with about running from village to village because of pogroms. They could have been baptized, but they weren't. Their lives were in danger because they were Jewish, but that was more important to them than anything else.

I shifted in my seat, re-crossed my ankles, and continued.

"I feel like that's an irrational reason, but I can't help it. It's more than just guilt, although that's certainly a part of it... I feel like I understand that drive toward Jewish preservation. It's an emotional understanding, rather than an intellectual one that I can explain, but it's there, rabbi, in my gut."

Will he share your gut-level drive toward Jewish preservation?

"But you like Rick?" the rabbi asked.

"Yes, I do," I said, pleadingly. "I almost wish he would do something horrible so I wouldn't anymore. And now he started this whole conversion thing. It's amazing that he would do this for me."

"For you," he repeated.

"Yes," I repeated, slowly. "For... me."

"Jessica, we're talking about a lifetime commitment. And do you think if Rick converts that he'll relate to your gut-level drive toward Jewish preservation? That's the question you and I both need to be asking."

By the time I got back to my office, it was close to 5 and I hoped that Rick's car wouldn't be there. I was overwhelmed by my discussion with Rabbi Ringman and I wanted time to reflect.

The car was there. And when I got to my office, there was a post-it on my computer screen to call him as soon as I got in. Before I even could, he poked his head in.

"Good," he said, seeming distracted. "You're, uh, back."

"Yes," I said, mimicking him uncharitably, "I'm, uh, back."

"So how did it go?" he asked.

I told him that I was surprised that the rabbi hadn't wanted to discuss our dating relationship, but rather we ended up discussing me.

"Rick, I don't want to alarm you," I continued, carefully, "but I want to propose something..."

He nodded warily.

"I am totally overwhelmed by everything that's going on and I am sure you feel the same way. I mean, you're talking about a huge decision..."

My voice trailed off. Rick was still listening.

"I think we should take a break to think about things. Let's say two weeks. I am NOT saying we should break up. Just that we both have a lot to think about and we can do that better on our own."

He gave me a lop-sided grin and seemed to sigh with relief.

Whatever will be, will be.

"I was thinking about the same thing," he said. "Great minds..."

He suggested that we go out for a nice dinner before our week apart. We went to a quiet mom 'n pop Middle Eastern place in Tempe. I relished introducing him to the wonders of falafel and shwarma.

Before we paid, he pulled out a flower, a bright Gerber daisy, which he'd somehow purchased on his way down to the restaurant (we'd gone in separate cars).

When I got home that night, I flopped on the couch and flipped channels until I came to an old Hitchcock movie.

"Que sera, sera..." Doris Day sang, "Whatever will be, will be."

Twirling the flower in my hand, I sighed deeply and hoped that whatever was going to be... would be for the best.

March 31, 2001

Article 36 of 66 in the series Jessica's Journal

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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) Sarah, May 19, 2005 12:00 AM

I think the rabbi seemed to assume straight from the start that Rick was converting for Jessica and whilst it may be true I think the rabbi was acting very harsh towards them. I think the rabbi needs to be careful that in acting so harsh to potential converts them and there partners could be put of the religion even more and not even try where the couple see the rabbi and the religion as harsh and maybe even discriminatory. There are so many Jews who have been brought up Jewish and don't keep kosher and aren't at all interested in the religion but are still Jewish so it seems obvious that being Jewish is and never had been about being the most religious person.

In some cases non Jews might not know about Judaism enough to know whether they want to be Jewish so I think the rabbi should have asked Rick why Rick wanted to be Jewish, find out what Rick knows about the religion/ whether he has been to any Jewish events and judge from that. I am living in an area that has barely any Jewish community at all which is due to the size of the religion and this makes it hard for me to get involved in the religion and meet other Jews.

From my and other people's experiences the reason why a lot of Jews marry non Jews is due to the size of the community making it very difficult and finding that even when people do live in areas with a bigger Jewish community they are still always meeting the same Jews. So I think being too discouraging towards converts and having such high expectations puts a lot of them of and decreases the Jewish community making it even smaller and very hard to get involved in.

(11) Anonymous, May 9, 2001 12:00 AM

I feel jewish, therefore I am

You're either jewish or you aren't.. it doesn't really matter how you get there, or why, as long as you convert your heart as well as your mind.
As someone who spent more than a year in orthodox conversion classes learning everything from the alefbet to holocaust history, I must admit, I get really upset when people ask me if I converted for my boyfriend's sake. As much as I love my boyfriend, there is just no way I could have made it to the mikveh if my heart wasn't in it. (in fact, we had never even discussed the possibility, he had no idea what was going on until about 2 weeks before the conversion took place.. it was never about him, why should he get all the credit??) HOWEVER, he was an influence, I had wanted to convert for a long time before I even met him, dating a jew just made the whole process easier.
For those out there who took the easy way out and took a crash course in reform judiasm just to please their partners know that your conversion will last about as long as the relationship does. Since you didn't earn the title "Jew" it won't ever mean anything to you.

Just like all things in life, converting has to be sincere, done for oneself and with a whole heart, otherwise, it just won't work.

(10) Anonymous, April 16, 2001 12:00 AM

Thoughts for

A few thoughts for It is good that you and your girlfriend are speaking about the religion issue before getting married. Some intermarried couples do manage to raise serious Jewish kids without the spouse converting. The statistics do not favor that outcome, but it is possible and I have seen it done. Having said that, I was in exactly the same boat as you when I married my (Protestant) wife 10 years ago. I have found myself becoming more and more observant the past 3 years, something I NEVER would have anticipated or believed was even a remote possibility at the time we got married. My wife, on the other hand, has pulled away from organized religion in ways she never would have anticipated. And we now have a son. Needless to say, we now have issues neither of us anticipated. Quite curiously and paradoxically, you state that you would not marry someone more religious than you are, but than go on to state that, by marrying a non-Jew, you are more likely to become more religious! I am not going to say, as some might, that you shouldn't marry a non-Jew. But I will say, from personal experience, that there are many issues that intermarried families face that in-married families do not (even if their level of observance differs). You and your girlfriend would do yourselves a real service by speaking at length with a Rabbi (or several or other interfaith counselors) who has extensive experience with interfaith relationships. It is not enough to say which religion you will raise the kids. It is incredibly important to work through in detail exactly what that means for you and for your potential children, and what your underlying feelings and rationales are on a whole host of issues. And a qualified professional, as in any other area of life, can bring up critical issues that you and your girlfriend may not have thought of on your own. The simple fact is that the divorce rate for intermarried couples is significantly higher than for inmarried couples. This is mostly due to either inability or unwillingness to anticipate the issues that may appear down the road. Take it from someone who has been there and would go about it just a bit differently if he could do it again. Best of luck as you and your girlfriend navigate this path.

(9) Anonymous, April 14, 2001 12:00 AM

Judaism - not persecution

As Jews it is time to take initiative and move on in the world. We can no longer survive as a people if we are to encourage others not to join simply because we were once united by our persecution in Europe. This is the persecution complex that Hitler and his "ancestors" succeeded in giving us. It is time to move on, drop this attitude, and graciously accept others into the religion and yes - ENCOURAGE others to join in a sincere manner so we can become stronger. Judaism is a religion of the pious and all men and women should have the opportunity to share in this piety.

(8) Anonymous, April 12, 2001 12:00 AM

On the right track, proceed with caution.

Could have done without the preamble. This is more about Rick than Jessica. Bottom line...if Rick converts without an ongoing relationship with Jessica, he's one we want. It must come from his heart or it makes a mockery out of conversion. I know, I converted from my heart.

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