Written by Todd Kates
On July 26, 2011, the 6th anniversary of his adoption by me from a Russian orphanage, my son officially converted to Judaism at Mayyim Hayyim. On October 1, 2011, he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in front of 145 family and friends. It was probably one of the most profound moments since the judge in Russia declared the adoption final.
The road to get us to October 1 was challenging, but we made it! Finding a welcoming community and process of conversion that was acceptable to a young teenager was met with many roadblocks. My son’s past is not a happy story; I often tell people he was subject to more adversity in the first 7 years of his life than many people see during their entire lives. After moving to the United States from Russia into a family of Conservative Jews, the acculturation process began. My son participated willingly in all aspects of Jewish life we celebrated – observing the holidays, attending services and even observing some rules of Kosher law. However, he did not want to attend a traditional religious school; our attempt to do so failed miserably.
As he approached Bar Mitzvah age (and many of his friends were preparing for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs), it was time for us to pursue this more seriously. We found a wonderful tutor who taught my son Hebrew and the basics of the religion. However, the issue of conversion was most difficult because his circumcision was not fully done in accordance with Jewish Law. Therefore, an immersion would need to be done in conjunction with blood being drawn again. This, as you can imagine, was not met with the greatest of enthusiasm by a teenager!
We were led to Mayyim Hayyim by the recommendation of his tutor. Our experience at Mayyim Hayyim from start to finish was completely inspiring. My initial contact with Carrie and our subsequent conversations were re-affirming of our Jewish identity. I toured the site so I could describe it to my son to set him at ease that this was not going to be something traumatic for him. Carrie introduced me to a Rabbi who would perform the immersion ceremony. He was very warm and welcoming. To keep things simple, we just had the Rabbi, a witness, and me at the ceremony. My son was very relaxed that day as everything possible was done to keep it as stress-free as possible. Within a short period of time, the immersion was complete and we were off to Cabot’s for celebratory hot fudge sundaes and then to the Red Sox. Probably not your average conversion, but for us, it worked.
Mayyim Hayyim allowed us to find our own meaning in the conversion process – and one that was the least anxiety-provoking for a boy who had already been through so much. Our thanks to the staff and the wonderful service they provided to us in making our immersion a memorable occasion.
Todd Kates is the single parent of a child adopted from Russia. He works in the Boston area as CEO of a non-profit and teaches as an adjunct professor at Northeastern University and Boston University Medical School.