by Yasmine Moideen
My earliest memory is of being carried on my aunt’s back in a small stream in southern India. I was 4 years old. My 3 aunts, wading in, with their colorful saris floating in the water, laughing, taking turns with me on their backs, making sure I was safe. My parents, brother, and I would make the one hour trek to visit my father’s hometown in Tamil Nadu every few weeks. We visited my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. My mother, a Catholic, who had converted for the purposes of marriage, was accepted and loved by my father’s family, who was Muslim. Little did I know at that time, that in two years my family and I would be leaving that world behind and emigrating to New York.
Growing up in Flushing, Queens was like being in the center of a loud, tumultuous carnival ride of languages, cultures, and religions. It was messy. During my adolescence, I tried to make sense of this inner and outer chaos by going on a spiritual journey. My travels led me to many a Catholic church, Baptist prayer service, Baha’i temple, and talks with Hare Krishna. My encounters were usually preachy and filled with doctrine, resulting in more confusion.
At the age of 18, I left for college, at the University of Michigan. I fell in love with the easier pace of life there, felt more grounded. It was during my freshman year that I met a guy named Dave. He asked if I wanted to go to a small prayer service, called a havurah, at the Hillel on campus. There were about 15 of us gathered together. Someone played guitar quietly while someone else led us on a meditation.
The meditation and visualization were about a walk through a tranquil forest and coming upon a small ancient bathhouse. When you came upon the bathhouse, you walked in and found a stone bath filled with very cool water. You took off your shoes and socks, dipped your toe in the water and felt a connection to those that came before you. It took me back to a simpler time.
Dave became an important person in my life. Through his introduction, I embraced Judaism. We eventually married. We said vows under a chuppah and were hoisted on chairs by our friends and family. We had twins and joined a temple. We hosted seders, observed Shabbat, sent our kids to religious school and Hebrew school. Over the course of 22 years of marriage, I became quite proficient in observing the Jewish holidays and engaging in the rituals.
It was at this time that important people in my life asked if I ever thought of converting. To me, converting seemed superfluous. Paperwork. What truly mattered was your inner spirituality. I asked my friends why they asked me about converting. Their response was unexpected and simple: “Because Judaism seems important to you.”
I decided to take stock of my life. While Judaism was important to me, I had allowed it to become stale, rote, and soul-less. I found myself wading comfortably in the shallow end of the spiritual pool.
I realized then that I had stopped my journey, mistaking the midway point for the destination. Deciding to convert allowed me to move forward and to keep searching. I spent a year taking classes, meeting with my rabbi to explore where I had been and where I was going. At the end of that year, we set a date for the final part of my conversion – immersion in the waters of the mikveh.
It was a late October Wednesday afternoon. Dave and I drove through the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, in search of the mikveh. There was construction and there were road closures. We decided to park and just walk around. After a few minutes, we happened upon a 1920’s rambler and on the side of the house, it said “The Mikvah.” We went in.
I stood alone before the waters of the mikveh, with my rabbi at the side for support and guidance. I dipped my toe in. Warm. I stepped carefully on each of the seven tiled steps that took me deeper into the waters. I dunked my head in, lifted up my feet.
Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kid-shanu b’mitzvo-tav v’tzi-vanu al ha-tevilah.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with the mitzvot and commanded us concerning immersion.
I resurfaced. I went under again.
Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam she-heche-yanu, ve-ki-y’manu, ve-higi-yanu la-z’man ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Source of all Life, Who has kept us alive and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this day.
I went under for a third time. Curled in like a fetus. Free floating… It brought me back to a familiar time in a faraway river. I emerged a truer version of myself, with a clear view of my destination.
Yasmine Moideen lives in the Twin Cities in Minnesota with her husband and 14 year old boy/girl twins. She and her family are active members at Mount Zion Temple, in St. Paul. Yasmine works as a clinical psychologist, loves a good game of tennis, and is a foodie.