By: Diana Lando
The winding pathway to my connection with Judaism was certainly not conventional but I believe happened for many important reasons as I continued my relationship with a faith and lifestyle that has served me well.
I was born into a very kind and loving family in Salt Lake City. And yes, I was born into a large family network of Mormons. I was taken to Sunday School every week and no choice about participation ever occurred.Programs for youth and teens continued. I grew up with high expectations for school and personal accomplishments,as both of my parents were college professors in their lifetimes. After High School, I attended and graduated from Brigham Young University.
But as many years progressed, I began "questioning" the beliefs of that faith. There were many "rules" that I felt I could not adhere to and subsequently began to pull away and ask myself why I should feel guilty about not following all the dictums and feeling "bad" about myself because I disagreed about a choice to live my personal life differently.
I had chosen for some time to begin looking at other faiths and beliefs. Organized religion was important to me and having a community with which to relate was just as valuable. I thought about Judaism, read about it and did some geneological investigation about my family. I did discover that quite certainly my father's side of the family (who had just immigrated from Holland a generation before) had Jewish family members.(Interestingly, my grandparents never spoke of this, but as an adult have a much better understanding of why).
By now, the separation from my birth faith was complete. I "wandered" through my twenties experiencing life but always feeling like something was missing. And then I met my future husband, who just happened to be Jewish! He was quite concerned I would attempt to convert him to my previous faith. (That amused me!) So here was a person who really understood what it was like to be a Jew who had been raised in a Conservative and later Reform family. I really felt like I had found my "home".
Not long after we began a family we found a wonderful ReformTemple in Fremont, Ca.(Temple Beth Torah) that we remained involved with for twenty years. As soon as we joined I was able to begin classes with the Rabbi and other instructors to begin a lifelong journey of learning and work towards my conversion. The more I learned the more I felt I knew who I was. The Temple was our second home, a place to pray, chant and join our Chavurah family in celebration and companionship. It was through the Temple that I was able to work with Sisterhood, be responsible for the kitchen operating smoothly, teaching 4th grade Sunday School for some years
while my husband worked with Brotherhood and served as grounds chairman for a very long time.
And when I completed all my classes for conversion and went to the Mikvah with a dear friend, it was truly one of the most joyous moments of my life. I had remembered being baptized in my former faith at age eight.I felt no connection other than being in a "swimming pool". But when I was finally groomed and prepared to enter the Mikvah bathed in candlelight, beautiful scents drifting around the water, the towel dropped at the edge and I alone submerged myself in the water, I knew this was what I had wanted for a long time. I knew I was connected with my maker and that it was my choice, my path and it was where I was meant to be.
We gratefully raised our son and daughter in the Temple seeing them through Sunday School, Hebrew School and the hours of study and preparation for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah's. We committed ourselves to listening to them while they read their Torah portions and learned all their prayers. Every person who has been through that knows the joy of accomplishment that brings.
We supported them through their Confirmations. We knew they would take a "break" from their Faith at some time. As high school ended and college began, that did occur but gratefully, they knew who they were and they've never felt they had no roots.
As their educations came to an end, I was suddenly faced with the passing of my husband from cancer. Life was in an upheaval. By then I lived about twenty miles from Temple, the Rabbi whom I'd know there for over twenty years had retired and a new Rabbi replaced him.I was unable to attend more and more. I looked for a new congregation but did not find what I wanted. A long period of Temple separation occurred.I celebrated holidays with friends and family. I knew what was missing.
I knew retirement from years of teaching was imminent. I chose to move to Seattle to live with my sister and be closer to other family members. I joyously connected with a large (1000) Reform member Congregation in the city.(Temple Beth Am). The two years there were unique. The Rabbi of twenty years there had left to move on, and we used lay people.We had an amazing Kletzmer
Band that played twice a month with our musical director. It was like going to a concert. There were Yiddish classes, art, Senior groups- we were spoiled. It was also difficult to find close contacts with a congregation that large. With mixed feelings, I made the decision to leave the months of rain and gray skies and join my daughter and son in law here in Melbourne. Long before I moved I had found Temple Israel and knew all about Rabbi Pat.She had tutored my son in law's younger brother and sister in Jacksonville when they were preparing for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah's. With high recommendations, I knew this would be the right place, the right size. ( A bit like Goldilocks must have felt!)
I began attending Temple within the month I arrived. It felt like home. Rabbi Pat and Cantor Ray were so embracing. The Congregation was friendly and I knew this would be the right place for me. I am so grateful to be here, surrounded with kind and caring people. When Rabbi offered to teach the Chai Mitzvah class it was the perfect opportunity to continue the learning process. Rabbi offers her thoughtful dialogue and observations along with others in the group.
As the class has continued I've been able, with Rabbi's help, to read more about Jewish history and literature. This is ongoing I realize. You can read ten hours a day and never "catch up" on all you haven't read! The Chai Mitzvah class has brought me to Temple every Friday night and also familiarized me with Havdalah services on the Sat. nights when we meet once a month. Rabbi is now beginning to work with us on all the Prayers in the Prayerbook. I light my own candle in Temple and am trying to say some prayers in the morning. With the Social Action portion of the Chai Mitzvah program, I have undertaken responsibility for planning Onegs. Without a doubt this has been one of my biggest challenges. But with help from so many good and generous people, we've made it! I have also been able to serve on the Hadassah Board as the Sunshine Committee and temporary Program coordinator. The beauty of this class I realize is that the three components of Study, Ritual and Social Action are guidelines for working at being a better Jew in the years to come.
This class has given me the challenge of looking inside myself and seeing who I really am as a Jew- how I can improve myself, help care for others and remind myself you only get as much out of an experience as you are willing to put in. My goal is to continue to strive for that!