One might assume that my Jewish-by-birth partner asked me to take the Introduction to Judaism course with her so I could learn more about it. On the contrary, I asked her. My partner had introduced me to Judaism through some holidays and rituals, but never with the idea that I would develop any independent interest in it. It was “her thing” that she sometimes shared with me, and that could have been all it was.
As it turned out, I became a bit obsessed, reading Jewish book after Jewish book and even teaching myself to read Hebrew. The URJ’s Introduction to Judaism class provided a structure for me to supplement the constant researching and exploring I was doing on my own time. I saw the class as a way to gauge my own “progress” with all the studying and exploring I’d been doing.
While I did learn new things in the class, what ended up being most valuable to me about Intro to Judaism was the way it became a vehicle for relationships to grow. For one, I met more rabbis at once than I ever had before, each with their own interests and spin on our Jewish learning. These introductions gave me and my partner somewhere to turn with our Jewish questions.
We also were lucky enough to be in class with several other LGBT couples, some of whom are still our friends today. My partner and I are both queer-identified, and I am transgender, and it was affirming to be welcomed into a Jewish space with others like us. We also met several other couples where one partner had been raised Jewish and the other Catholic. Turns out it’s something of a pattern. We didn’t just meet couples either--some of my favorite conversations were with those attending the class as individuals, either out of curiosity or because they were pursuing conversion. I felt a strong need to assert an independent relationship with Judaism, and I learned so much about how to do that from the solo participants in our class.
But most of all, the class gave me and my partner a structure to discuss Judaism together. Sometimes, she would react to a reading or moment in class in a way that I didn’t expect, and these moments opened up places for us to talk about the Judaism of her childhood. We talked about her Hebrew school experience, her bat mitzvah, her parents’ Judaism, and more. I talked about the way I was coming to understand Jewish rituals and ideas that were completely new to me and why they did (or didn’t) resonate with me. Over time, we both went from seeing Judaism as “her thing” to “our thing.”
I later decided to convert, but no one--neither my partner nor anyone in the Intro class--ever asked or expected me to do so. Happily, my partner and I also decided to get married. Now as I sit one month away from the mikveh and three months from our wedding, I feel excited about our Jewish future together. I know that the conversations we had during Intro to Judaism helped us start to build the foundation for that future.
Alex is a transplanted Minnesotan living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He works at the Museum of Science, Boston, researching how people learn science in museums and how to improve the museum experience for everyone. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, playing video games, and hanging out with his partner and their dark matter cat.