Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
As I write this post, a conversion certificate is making its way around the world.
Last week I was the Em Beit Din, the head rabbi on a panel of rabbis, for an extraordinary conversion. The woman we were converting was in New South Wales And the rabbis on the beit din were in Georgia, Tennessee, New York City, Chappaqua, New York and New Mexico.
Diana, the woman we converted, has been living life as a Jew since she was a teenager. She is currently in her 80s. For a long time she did not convert because it would have hurt her mother deeply. After her mother passed away, Diana began a formal conversion process which was interrupted when she moved to New South Wales (N.S.W.). Once there, she found no clergy or educators with whom she could finish the process. She thought a formal conversion to Judaism would never happen. She one day learned about an online conversion program and suddenly her dream could be realized. This is where Diana and I met.
After completing her program of study, it was time to bring Diana before the beit din. Ordinarily, coming before the beit din happens in person. It is a very powerful and joyful experience which usually ends in hugs, kisses, singing and sometimes a little dancing. But with Diana in N.S.W. and no beit din there, it was impossible to complete Diana’s journey to Judaism without the use of technology and cyberspace.
I reached out to my Rabbis Without Borders community to find other rabbis who would be willing to sit on a virtual beit din. I had so many volunteers, we ended up with five rabbis on the panel instead of the usual three.
The six of us, pictured above, met for Diana’s big day on a video conference in the cloud.
We spoke with Diana for nearly an hour. As our conversation drew to a close, we muted Diana so we could discuss her candidacy. Usually the beit din would excuse the candidate from the room for this part of the conversation, but mute was going to have to suffice. We unanimously agreed that this woman who had been living Jewishly for over 60 years would be a beautiful addition to the Jewish people.
We un-muted Diana. We each said yes. Diana cried. We all cried. She was so happy at long last to be officially a part of the Jewish people.
One of the rabbis on the call had a Torah out in her office. She turned the camera to the Torah and offered Diana, who took the Hebrew name of Ruth, a blessing, acknowledging and sanctifying her connection to the Jewish people and to the Torah. It was a stunning unplanned moment. We sang siman tov u’mazal tov — a song of rejoicing and congratulations.
I was worried it would not feel right to do a conversion in virtual space. In the end, being able to extend the the reach our arms all the way around the world was so gratifying that the cloud based meeting did not matter. In an age when connecting to Judaism or faith in general seems to be universally hard, there was something especially touching to bring this woman into the Jewish people in this way.
The only thing missing were the hugs.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.