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I Left Islam And Converted To Judaism — For Love

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I Left Islam And Converted To Judaism — For Love

As Told To Marisa Belger

It was during my second month of medical school — as I was cutting anatomy class — that I met Ron. We bonded over our mutual dislike of the subject, and I felt like we had an instant connection.

During the course of that first conversation, we also wound up discussing our backgrounds. Ron, I learned, was Israeli-Jewish. I was Iranian-Muslim.

We quickly fell in love.

Ron proposed a year and a half in, and we planned a Jewish-Persian wedding — where we drank wine, did readings in Hebrew, and let my relatives grind sugar over us to add sweetness to the marriage (according to Iranian/Persian tradition).

The Conversion To Judaism Conversation

Six months after we married, we began discussing the idea of conversion. Ron and I had both been raised in secular homes, and he felt connected to Judaism on a cultural, rather than religious, level.

I, on the other hand, have never really felt tied to Islam. I believe in gay marriage, and I believe that a woman can do anything a man can do. I don’t think there’s a lot of room in Islam for liberal (or even moderate) viewpoints.

With Judaism, I felt like there was still a way for me to be progressive. Though Ron told me early on that he didn’t need me to change religions, I decided I wanted to convert — for love, and for the family we would raise.

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Ron and I were going to medical school in New Orleans, so we spoke to a rabbi about the process and began attending services at a Reform temple. At first, I found the commitment tedious. I was in my third (and roughest) year of school, and I had so much work to do. Now I also had to attend conversion classes each evening and services Friday and Saturday — plus, I was pregnant!

Pregnant And Ready

Initially, there were times when I didn’t know if I could handle everything. But as I adjusted to my hectic schedule, my conversion classes became a retreat, in a way, from the day-to-day demands of school and life. They were grounding. And interesting. By the time I was eight months pregnant, I felt ready to convert.

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But Hurricane Katrina intervened.

We had to relocate to Houston. And my conversion ceremony, which would have taken place in front of our congregation, wound up being quite private: just me, Ron, two very good Jewish friends, the rabbi and the cantor from New Orleans. I felt very connected to each person in the room. I had traveled so far in this journey already: medical school, marriage, pregnancy, the hurricane. And these people had all come to another city, another state, to witness my conversion.

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First, came the mikvah — the ritual bath. I disrobed, immersed myself in the water, and prayed. It was very serene — just me and my friend Natalie in the room together. Then I tried to get out, only I was so pregnant she had to help me! (And of course forgot a towel, so Ron ran off to Target.) After my bath, the rabbi blessed me. It was such a momentous moment: I felt so relieved to finally be able to call myself a Jew.

"You're Not Welcome Here"

Even though I found my religion, at first it was hard to fit in. Ron and I moved to Los Angeles, where there are a lot of Iranian Jews. But they were born that way and don’t usually approve of converts. I went to an Iranian-Jewish website and asked a rabbi if I would be accepted. Because I don’t keep kosher and was a reformed Jew, he said I wasn’t welcome there.

It was a slap in the face.

At first, I was angry and disappointed, but I realized I didn’t convert for acceptance — or to join some sort of club. I converted for my own (and my family's) spiritual development. The most important thing was and is feeling like I was Jewish.

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Feeling Accepted

And we found a synagogue that makes me feel that way: It has female rabbis and emphasizes community and continuing education. That was essential to me. Studying the Torah is a lifelong work, and I’m up for it, now that I have a sense of place for me ... and my family.

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