I am not Ruth. The commentaries explain say she was a princess from Moav. My family was working class and lived in Denver. Dad was a WWII veteran, and my mom’s family had come to these shores in 1632. They married the local Native Americans and assimilated into the fabric of American life. Think Norman Rockwell with attitude.
My parents were not deeply religious, but took us to Sunday school each week. I was in second grade Sunday school when I heard about, “the Jews.” There was no anti-semitism, just admiration. For whatever reason, I decided then and there I wanted to be Jewish. I would have years to think about my decision, but nothing would change it. Being assured of eternal damnation by my cousins, didn’t sway me. I knew that we all have a direct line with G-d was direct and no intermediary was necessary.
The same year, I received my library card from school, as an incentive to read. While my friends were reading, “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” I was reading the only book on Judaism I could find, called “Why I am Jewish.” It was a short book, and I have no idea who the author was. It was more of a synopsis of Jewish history and the traditional view of G-d. It was a big step when I could drive and visit the main branch of the Denver Public Library. In my mind, that was a collection.
In learning about Judaism, I learned that it was not a “closed” religion. Judaism did not seek converts, but accepted them (often begrudgingly). I read about the journey taken by Devorah Wigoder, who broke a lot of barriers when she wrote, “Hope is My House.” She wrote about her life, conversion, marriage and immigration to Israel. She wrote of her challenges, and determination with warmth and unwavering commitment.
I was 19 and in college when I found a rabbi who was willing to study with me. Potential converts are supposed to be turned away until they demonstrate their commitment to the religion. After hearing my story, and picking up his jaw upon learning that this potential convert had decided she wanted to be Jewish since she was seven, he decided my commitment was sincere. I was told to purchase some books including a prayer book, and work with him. A few months later I went to the mikvah and received a Hebrew name. Since my English name was Donna, it was suggested I choose a name that began with a “dalet,” the Hebrew equivalent of “D.” The two most popular names are Devorah and Dina. I decided on the latter. This was about the time that Chabad established a presence in Colorado. Although the rebbitzin had never met someone who was in the process of conversion, she was convinced I needed the Rebbe’s blessing when it came time to take a name. Dina was agreed upon, and since my conversion was about to take place near the time of the birthday or yahrzeit (I don’t remember which) of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe’s mother, I decided on her name, Nechama Dina. The name means “compassionate judge” and fits my personality.
Hebrew names are important to Judaism. All Jews are supposed to have a Hebrew name and their full name is whomever bat (daughter) or ben (son) and their father’s Hebrew name. Since converts are considered children of Abraham the first Jew, they take his name. If they are receiving tehillim (psalms) because of illness they are “ploni(t)” bas or ben Sarah. If your mother is Jewish and your father is not, you receive a Hebrew name and then are called bat or ben and your maternal grandfather’s Hebrew name.
It is good that G-d created an open religion, but many people don’t realize that Judaism is matrilineal. It was Sarah who passed on Judaism to her son, Isaac, not Abraham. Women in Judaism have real power. For some reason this bothers intermarried Jewish men, because their children are not Jewish. Patrilineal descent has been much discussed and endorsed by the Reform movement, but that doesn’t change anything. Calling an apple an orange doesn’t make it one. To be a Jew you either have to have a Jewish mother or convert. Case closed. My children are Jewish because of me, not because of their father (who is a nice boy from Gary, Indiana). As I look at my children, and enjoy the warmth and love of my community and friends, I am grateful for the journey that G-d gave me and the people I am now a part of.