“I asked my rabbi, ‘What will be­come of me?’”

Glamour (South Africa) - - Real Life -

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.”

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