Setting the Stage 

 

It is 8:42 am. I’m in the office overlooking NE Broadway and 18th. I have just unpacked my biker-style, faded, powder-blue backpack of:

  • a computer
  • an insulated water bottle
  • a pear
  • a diminutive 7.5 ounce can of Coca-Cola
  • a pencil box
  • a charging cable for my headset
  • two types of snack bars

 I’ve started typing what you are reading now, and it will become a spiritual-religious article about practice.

On the docket is an online counseling session at 9:00am about converting to Judaism, followed by routine paperwork, two spiritual direction sessions – one online, one in person — and then more administrivia. Then, home to bake a challah and make a meal.

 

 

Golf

On my bike ride to the office, I was thinking about golf.

I don’t like golf.

Golf is stupid crazy hard.

Stupid crazy practice is required to improve at getting a slightly-larger-than-pinball-sized ball into an ashtray-sized hole from an “I’m going to look for a closer parking spot than this; this is too far away” distance using absurdly inefficient technology. 

Some people like that particular challenge.

Not me.

I like that I have some mastery over the challenge of cooking dinner for four, using only ingredients on hand, in 30 minutes.

Human beings enjoy getting better at things which are initially difficult.

It’s what led me at age 49 to take up the french horn. (I’m not any good yet, but better than I was, of course.)

When we know we are able to do something we previously could not do, we feel good. Accomplishment equals massive amounts of dopamine. We feel great. 

People climb mountains and run marathons because they can do these things, even though they’re hard to do.

We enjoy getting better at crazy stupid hard things.

Just for me, I seriously doubt it’s ever going to be golf.

 

Converting to Judaism

 

My intake style for people who tell me of their intention to convert to Judaism is conversational. 

Here are parts I usually include:

I’ve already seen the paperwork. Your paperwork. 

My buddy Penuel works in the department of art and records. Up in the courts of the heavens. And, Pen told me they have already filed your paperwork. Apparently, the paperwork has been filed.

You already are Jewish.

This gets a very similar reaction to magic tricks I do. 

A little astonishment. A little incredulity.

Hesitant, but coerced to play along, we process their reactions to the idea — I am flipping the script a bit from gatekeeper to cheerleader – that now the only person we have to convince is themselves. 

I continue:

I’m already convinced you are Jewish. 

So, what do you imagine we might do in our work together towards our common goal of you feeling comfortable telling people you are Jewish?

I listen and help them to create a “Dorothy list” — tasks they need to be accomplished before they get their Oz-ian certificate.

As we work from their lists, I practice taking shots at their future possible feeling like an impostor until they are like Walter Sobchak, “as Jewish as fucking Tevyeh.” Because feeling authentically Jewish takes practice.

 I relate this story:

 My grandmother, Grandma – that’s what everyone, including the Forest Hills bank tellers, called her – was upset at the party celebrating Jane’s official conversion to Judaism. At the party at Triplet’s Romanian Restaurant, Grandma held up the paper and said: “Jane has a piece of paper that makes her Jewish. My whole life I’ve thought I was Jewish, but I never had a piece of paper. How do I know that I’m Jewish? I don’t have a piece of paper. Maybe I’m not Jewish?”

 We talk about the importance of a certificate. It’s never about the certificate itself, but the larger knowledge of what the paper stands for.

 

 

Spiritual help

It takes time to feel confident saying to people, “I’m Jewish.”

Mastering golf takes hours of practice. 

The same is true of the people I speak to for spiritual direction.

Most of the time they can tell me the type of the person they want to be – more patient, more loving, more accepting 

And that, too, takes practice. 

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