by Ashley Loc
“The main difference is that hope is based on precedent, while faith is the strength to believe when there may never be proof.” Button-down shirt, slightly wrinkled pants, and a distinct hairline. With his almond-toe oxfords never ceasing to slam against the floor, my 8th grade History teacher is still worth remembering five years after the fact.
I responded to him by saying that “religion is just another word for superstition,” and most of my peers agreed.
Growing up outside of Boston, we all received a standard suburban upbringing and only looked to G-d when there was a family death. Even my parents, who claimed to be Buddhists, only practiced the contemporary religion of China–eating mooncake and burning incense. For years, this was enough to keep me satisfied, and the only savior that concerned me was myself.
Then, certain events forced me to accept the fact that I was far less progressive than I let on, and that my life felt unrewarding. It took months of coaxing, but I eventually found myself in several different churches, countless Buddhist temples, and a seminar for the Islamic faith. And yes, I was amazed, but only by the stained glass and the stonework, not by the prayer services or the details that should actually matter. So, it was almost by accident that I applied for Brandeis University’s Genesis program. Once I began to read Midrash and celebrate Shabbat, I actually found myself falling in love with the entire community. And better yet, all these people were opening their arms out to me, excited to answer questions I had.
I cleansed my hands for ritual purposes, tried to fast during Tisha B’av, and sang niggunim (wordless melodies) with wine in my hand. For once, I felt comfortable in my religious surroundings, and this held true until I stood outside of Mayyim Hayyim’s gate. All I could think was, I must have been fooling myself all along. How could I enter an establishment that I may have criticized if I was just three years younger? And why was it that the apprehension and angst that had eluded me before returned at that distinct moment?
With great hesitation, I finally did step into the building, and felt immediate relief when the furniture and paintings reminded me of my own home. Leeza, the Associate Director of Education, spoke of how inclusive this space truly is, and motioned towards all the different immersion ceremonies–healing, transformations, a woman’s monthly cycle. Of course, I focused on any resources that pertained to conversion, and I realized that I would definitely continue to study Jewish texts long after the Genesis program came to an end. I watched as Leeza pointed to the aesthetic touches of curving doorknobs or dynamic ceilings, and I dipped three fingers into the warm water as a prelude to the day in which I will officially descend those seven steps.
Ashley Loc was a part of the “Gender and Sexuality” course for the Brandeis Genesis summer program. She is currently working on a Tikkun Olam project, in which she rewrites popular fairytales through the feminist perspective.