“I asked my rabbi, ‘What will become of me?’”
Virginia Heffernan, 47, converted to Judaism when she got married. When the marriage ended, she converted back. “In my 20s I called myself a moderately devout Episcopalian. I only went to church on Easter or Christmas. Then my fiancé, who was raised as an orthodox Jew and wanted his children to be matrilineally Jewish, asked me to convert before we married. And so at 33, I began converting to conservative Judaism. It’s a complex process. As part of the ritual, the rabbi turned me away three times. I had to study the Torah for a year and reject holidays like Christmas.
“At first, I thought my conversion would be like moving from one city to another, a practical adjustment; but it was much stranger, like moving from the city to the colour blue. A prayer from childhood would come to mind, and I would think, ‘No, no, you’re Jewish now, you can’t do that.’ Converting tore me up and caused tension in my marriage. My husband wanted me to try harder; I wanted him to appreciate what I had already done, learnt and given up.
“Our relationship ended, and when it did, I asked my rabbi, ‘What will become of me?’ He looked very sad.
“Eventually I decided to go back to the Church. For Episcopalians conversion can be as simple as accepting Jesus, but because the Jewish conversion was arduous, I liked the idea of marking the passage with a ceremony called ‘reconciliation’. My priest put his hand on my forehead and said, ‘You’re forgiven’ – for turning my back on my religion – ‘and you never need to be forgiven again.’
“Returning to the church feels like returning home. My belief is now a blend of Christian contemplative traditions with eastern meditative practices.
“And I know this is trippy, but as someone who has always found mysticism in the idea of a collective unconscious, I also put faith in the internet; I’ve found inspiration and relief from loneliness online. Wherever you find faith, appreciate it.”