|from "Songs Around the Table Zmirot" by Rose Bernard and Florence Sloat. 1963.|
I love these old song books--we have scads of them around here, sitting in boxes, collecting dust. They reveal an intentionality of purpose from a time not too long ago when our predecessors were as equally self-conscious of their own era as we are in ours--each devoted to honing in on the particular contemporaneous exigencies about the necessary project of finding just the right tone for passing Jewish life and its practices down to the next generation.
That's how I'd describe the intentions of the those converting to Judaism these days, inside our Shul. My children asked the other day when I told them I was heading off to the Mikveh again, "How many people do you convert, Dad?" And I figured somewhere around 10-15 a year, which seems up from the average some years ago. Where's Bill James when you need him?
Among the many overwhelming truths about this experience are the impressive hunger for connection to ancient communal structures; the desire to move beyond the usual expected aspirations of middle class and upper middle class American values of the twenty-first century; a strong commitment to create a base of values, deeply embedded in historical and religious traditions and pass those on to another generation of children; and the exercise of a faith in God that allows for both devotion and questioning, certainty and doubt. That values an argument but also privileges action over creed.
Some new Jews practically dive into the water, so enthusiastic are they for their immersion to begin. Others walk slowly toward the living waters, step in slowly, awaiting a much anticipated transformation.
In both cases, there is a deliberateness of spirit that speaks to the notion of a Commanding Voice of God calling them to Judaism, a humbling reality and awe-inspiring aspiration that those born Jewish would do well to examine.
"My wife intimidates now," one husband recently admitted. "She's read more and knows more than I do. I guess she really wants it."
It's not without irony that the Midrash famously teaches that God had to hold Mt. Sinai above the Israelites heads, threatening them with death before they would accept the Commandments.
Others walk into the water deliberately. And emerge, smiling.