by Gina Garda
Faith without rationale is the basis of religion. And so it began when my son Michael, at 12, came to me and said he wanted to be Jewish.
At first, I thought Michael’s interest in Judaism might pass, as was the case with fencing and acting. However, Michael was insistent. I called a cousin who connected us with Arthur Arkanese, a special man, and wonderful teacher. We figured out a plan and started weekly Hebrew lessons at Ahavath Torah.
Initially, I was along for the ride, accompanying Mike to lessons as I would any other activity. I was raised Catholic by my Italian father, and my mother is a mix of Jewish-Russian from her dad and Irish Catholic from her mom. Michael’s father is Irish Catholic, and since neither of us had a strong faith in anything in particular, we dedicated our two children as Unitarian Universalists. That was the last of our religious endeavors.
However, after a year of Hebrew lessons together, I saw how Michael took so passionately to the teachings and recognized it would be important for me to convert alongside him, to honor my son in his endeavors and beliefs, and to participate in his Bar Mitzvah. Mike often encouraged me to study, even making flashcards to help me learn my letters. Soon I found our weekly lessons with Arthur a pleasure to attend and began leaning on his weekly inspirations. Looking back, I see that my absorption into Judaism was inevitable, and I am certain our lives are much richer and meaningful with God a part of them.
Beyond Michael’s choice to convert to Judaism, what’s most impressive is his persistence in the face of adversity. He has been asked, “Why would you want to be Jewish? People don’t like the Jews.” We have been told by Christian family members that we would not go to heaven one day if we converted. There were even swastikas painted in Michael’s school last year – not once, but twice. Consequently, Michael is now selective with what he shares and with whom, but the negative resistance has only made him more determined.
Our conversion ceremony at Mayyim Hayyim was warm, beautiful, and incredibly meaningful. We both felt welcomed, loved, and pleased by our choice, and the effort that we put into arriving prepared. To think that my son found this light and shared it with me when I needed it most goes beyond a feeling of pride… more like pure awe.
So why did Michael choose Judaism? When people ask him, Michael has three replies. First, he will say that he wanted a religion in his life because he was never really given one. (Fair enough!) Second, he says that Judaism, with its emphasis on God, family, education, and giving back, suits him well. (I see that fit clearly.) Thirdly, he will say that he has studied the history of the Jewish people and was so impressed with their perseverance, he felt compelled to be a part of it.
Still, given the marvel of Michael’s choice, for some people, those three responses don’t suffice, and they press him for more. After encountering a lot of questioning over the course of the process, Mike spoke to me about it, saying, “Mom, I just can’t explain it anymore. I just know this is what I need to do.”
While it can’t be fully explained, what remains certain is that this story is one of pure faith, and we are beyond happy to share its wonder and joy with you, our new family.
Gina lives on the South Shore with her son, Michael, and daughter Marisa, who is “all set” with religion… for right now. They attend Temple Ahavath Torah under the warm leadership of Rabbi Jay Hausman and teacher, Arthur Arkanese, both of whom helped to make all this possible. They look forward to preparing for Michael’s Bar Mitzvah on June 30, 2018!