Sydne’s Conversion Talk
October 1, 2009
As promised, below you’ll find the talk Sydne Westorff gave on Friday night or her conversion. It was a glorious day at my home that day doing Beit Din and then mikveh followed by a celebratory meal. As you may know, Karen, Sydne’s mom, converted and it was an added joy to perform these rituals with and for a mother and her adult daughter. It was so moving….We’re very fortunate to have people like Karen and Synde choosing Judaism and I hope it sweetens your entrance into Sukkot to read Sydney’s talk.
It is our tradition to begin the month of Tishrei by taking time to determine where we will stand with God and with each other when the new year begins. We do so by looking both at our own life and by listening to Moses retell the story of how we became the People Israel. We are here on Shabbat Shuvah, in a time between what was and what will be, to make a choice as to where our journey will go from here. In order to prepare my self for this new beginning I have been reflecting back on the journey that brought me to today; a story of my own that joins me with this people.
Growing up in a Lutheran family there were times when I was deeply devoted to the teachings and other times when I found myself at odds with the tradition. It wasn’t any big deal, this is where I came from – so I figured this is what I’ll be. There came a time in college however, when I was taking a philosophy class, where I learned not only a new way to approach a text, but a deeper and more thoughtful way to understand myself. Looking for a similar type of study and encouragement during the summer, my mom brought me to Torah study. It was then, in this space where I realized I had a choice in who I would be.
With this ability to choose comes time spent between making a decision and fulfilling the commitment of that decision. During the transition from Rosh Hashanah, our potential and Yom Kippur, our actual, we are suspended in a time of waiting and contemplation. In this space we can feel uncertain about our relationships with one another and with God. We may feel uncertain about ourselves. These days are difficult for us because this is the time in our journey when we are pushed to discover what we truly want for ourselves and if what we want going forward is worth the sadness that can come with letting go of the past.
Making the transition to live a Jewish life has been difficult because while today my future opens to the community I have been longing to be a member; it also separates me from the memories, traditions, and people of the time before. Winter comes and I remember the smell of the spruce tree and the seven boxes of Christmas decorations left unopened in the basement. Spring arrives and I am aware of the family gathering on Easter Sunday without me. The journey has been uncomfortable, but I have been willing to move through it because I saw the promise of who I would be out ahead.
The time we spend determining who we will actually be is a challenge and at the same time a blessing of Judaism because we hold the responsibility in creating our existence. We take responsibility for our name, for the actual placement of our name when it is sealed on Yom Kippur. At the culmination of our story; the closing of another year is here and we must consider what we wish the next year to be for us. We either choose to stumble on the sands of the desert or we look within ourselves for what makes us feel whole and we walk towards that which will actualize our best self.
In order to do this, we must choose what pieces of ourselves we bring with and what we leave behind. We determine what we will face God with; who will we be when we return to God. I will be leaving behind a theology, as well as the experiences of Christmas and Easter, but I will keep with me the love and respect of my family. I am Sydne Charlotte because I have their blood flowing through my veins. Their nurturing allowed me to grow and think for myself, allowed me the ability to find the place and time right for me, allowed me the freedom to discover the teachings and traditions that help me get to my best. I will bring with me what I have learned about Judaism and my intent to learn more; the time I have shared and relationships I have built with all of you. I step forward with confidence because you welcomed me in and gave me a home to return to.
On Shabbat Shuvah we have the great fortune of being called to return to God. This is our opportunity, no matter where we find ourselves in our own personal desert to stop and refocus our steps in the direction of the Divine. Today I made that determination as I walked into the water, having stood at the edge of my potential, looking into my actual, having made a conscious decision about my future and what my story would be going forward. I felt the water scrub at my skin with each step, each movement causing a soft newness and comforting familiarity to grow within me. After being suspended for so long, I left, and returned to a new shore, having crossed into the land that was promised by God, making for a new journey.
I will move into this next year as an adopted member of a new family. Slowly I will build new traditions and memories, create distinguishing smells of Pesach, and have seven bins of Sukkah materials in the basement. This will take time and patience; time I am willing to give and patience I am willing to learn. The roots that my parents and grandparents have established for me made it possible for me to grow into the family of the People Israel. In doing so, I have taken the name Noa; a woman in our tradition who went to Moses questioning the law of God and consequently God changed the law giving justice to the women of our tribe. I take her name with great humility and it is my hope that I may embody the same passion and strength as Noa, that I may speak out against injustice and be a positive influence in our community as the matriarchs of the Jewish People have done.
The person who I have been needing to become, I find her among the people, in the teachings, and in the traditions of Judaism.
At this time of year we are asked to renew our covenant with God. Today I made that covenant; today I not only return to God, but I return to God as a Jew.