30 Years in the Making

Conversion and Affirmation, Marriage and Relationships, Men, Mikveh Guides

by Jim Billings, Mikveh Guide

It is finished, and it has begun!

Over 30 years ago, I converted to Judaism. I would eventually marry a Jewish woman, and raise a Jewish family.

My rabbi was not “into” the ritual of mikveh as part of the conversion process, so I never immersed to complete my conversion, as many others do. At the time, I did not know I was missing anything because I was unfamiliar with what was typical of becoming a Jew.

As my Judaism became more important to me, I came to understand what I had missed. I was told that going to the mikveh would probably help complete the journey. I had an adult Bar Mitzvah… maybe that would be enough… I raised my two boys going to temple and Hebrew school through twelfth grade. I attended services. I was and still am a contributing member of the congregation. I even became a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim! But something was still missing…

A few weeks ago, I went to the mikveh to immerse before my wedding that would follow two days later. That morning at home, it hit me: I was about to complete my conversion at the same time as I was preparing myself for my new life ahead. I was overcome with emotion. At last, I would immerse and put behind me the question, “am I really Jewish?” I am… Hineni, here I am!

Rachel and I came to Mayyim Hayyim together and prepared for our wedding immersions. As a Mikveh Guide, I’ve told many people about the preparation process, to be present with intention. I had never prepared for anything in my life with such intent. I had scrubbed my nails at home, but scrubbed them again vigorously. The shampoo had never felt quite so luxurious; it was a marvelous experience, truly savored.

I entered the water quicker than I had expected; suddenly, there I was. Jim Ball, my Guide told me to open the bor handle to let the living waters rush in. Without his guidance, I probably would’ve gone through the whole thing forgetting to add that precious drop of fresh water. I, an experienced Mikveh Guide, was so overwhelmed by what I was doing. I will never view guiding in the same way again. Three immersions, three affirmed “kashers” (the Mikveh Guide’s pronouncement of a kosher, or complete, immersion), three blessings. Afterwards, Jim and I sang the Shema together. It was done, it was finished, and it had begun.

I sat alone for a few minutes; I sang, Yih’yu l’ratzon imrei fi v’hegyon libi l’fanecha. Adonai tzuri v’goali. May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable before God, my rock and my redeemer.

Two days later, Rachel and I were married at Congregation Beth El in Sudbury surrounded by family and friends from near and far, marking the end of a 30-year journey and the beginning of another.

Jim was born in England and now lives in Framingham with his wife Rachel, where he enjoys gardening, and BBQ’ing. You can find him most weekends at Congregation Beth El in Sudbury. 

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