Choosing to Be Jewish

Choosing to Be Jewish photo

Everything is a choice. The shoes you put on this morning, the route you took to work, where you're eating lunch, your trip to the gym tonight. We're selecting and making decisions every minute of our lives. We accept these small and somewhat trivial decisions as choice, but what about the bigger, more solid pieces of our lives? Where does that fit?

Around seven years ago I made one of the biggest choices of my life. I decided to become Jewish.

I was very worried when I first converted that I wouldn't be Jewish enough. Do I have all the answers? Do I know all the words? Will they know I'm taking this on, becoming something I wasn't before? Will I do it correctly? Will I pass? As if some sort of Jewish perfection is reached by any of us. So many questions, so much worry. It was all very Jewish.

There's still a little of that old insecurity stuck in the back of the mind, but for the most part I feel confident and secure. I'm not sure why I was expecting to be confronted and questioned. That's not a thing that actually happens, and for as long as I can remember people have looked at me and assumed that I am Jewish. I think it's my frizzy, curly mop of hair, but it might have a thing or two to do with my looking a little like Ira Glass. Whatever the reason, real or imagined, I have felt safe and under the radar.

I think my anxiety has had more to do with my motives. How would I deal with someone calling me a fraud, a fake, or a phony? I married into a beautiful Jewish family (truly the best). My interest in Judaism predates my marriage, but what if someone thinks I converted because of marriage. It's enough of a reason to make the choice, but it definitely comes with a bit of judgment. "You know he's just doing this because they wouldn't let them be married otherwise."

That's simply not true, though I suspect some think that is the reason. I haven't talked about my decision at all, and haven't been asked. We converts aren't encouraged to talk about converting. Once it's done, it's complete and speaking of the conversion is seen as a way to diminish the act. While I agree that once you're Jewish you are Jewish, the silence keeps other Jews from discovering why a person would make such a huge choice.

I've waited for a very long time ready and afraid to be asked why I became Jewish. I'm not a big fan of silence, or keeping quiet when you're supposed to, so here it is.

I became a Jew because you let me have God.

That might sound dramatic and heavy-handed. I'm not even sure how I feel about God. The great thing about that is you let me have those doubts. It's a work in progress. I get to wrestle, worry, and question. I get to figure it out each and every day. I get to ask. I get to not have some of my questions answered definitively. I get to be frustrated. I get to do the work, and I love it.

I am a gay man who grew up in the south. I was led to believe if I wanted God, I'd have to be someone else, someone who isn't gay. The Jews I know and have known throughout my life have been loving, and accepting of me, even when I didn't understand that I could also love and accept myself. Sometimes I think that kind of love is God. Who wouldn't choose to be a part of that?

It feels weird to call something that most people are born with "a choice," but I think it's nice to remember that so much in our lives is chosen. I like to look at the big decisions in my life, all of those overlooked and taken for granted bits and ask WHY. What are you choosing? How could you choose better?

Jeremy Owens photo 375
Jeremy Owens is the creator, producer and host of the live-lit/storytelling show ... Read More

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