Keeping the Faith at 16

fabulous_flores

Why Fabulous Flores became determined to convert to Judaism at the age of 16.

by Fabulous Flores

As a small child, no more than five or six, I remember sitting on my mother’s bed while she read from a large tarnished book. The fading pages made crinkling noises whenever she touched them, and different places were marked off or highlighted. What she read were the books of Exodus and Job, and she taught us (my brother and me) about King David and Solomon. Sometimes my mother would stop and ask what we thought a passage meant; other times my brother or I would have a question. These moments of family time were some of my most enjoyable with my little family. At the time, I did not have the intellectual sophistication to know this was the Old Testament.

Church, on the other hand, was an entirely different experience. I grew up in a Christian household and loathed Sundays. This day of the week meant getting up really early and going to church, where I ended up sleeping through the entire service. Sunday school for the children was not any better. I used to cry when my mother made me go off with the other children to learn about how, if we don’t accept Jesus into our hearts, then we would never go to heaven, and would instead burn in hell. I had questions about Christianity that the teachers refused to answer; or they gave me an answer that was not suited to the question. So while I always knew I believed in God, I felt there was something wrong with me because I felt such a disconnect from what I learned at home with my mother and what the church community presented.

It was in high school that I became fascinated with Judaism – after watching documentaries and reading books on Judaism and the Holocaust – and ended up taking a class on the Holocaust. The idea that a group of people were being persecuted for their religion or ancestry made me begin to think more about my own religion – what I believed versus what religion I had identified with all my life. The class then inspired me to learn about other religions as well, both out of curiosity and as an attempt to see if I could find one that I identified with. I studied the history and doctrines of other religions, but Judaism kept coming back into the frame as a potential solution to what I was spiritually searching for.

I admired and identified with the brave history of the Jewish people, appreciated the beauty of the rituals, and ultimately realized that, if I should happen to have children one day, I wanted them to be raised Jewish. It was also during this time that my mother told me my father’s grandmother was Jewish, thereby making him Jewish as well. This was treated almost like a secret. How could no one have ever talked about this? I suddenly had further validation that I was resurrecting a religion in my family that had long been pushed aside and kept hidden. At the age of 16, I decided to convert.

My mother and father were completely supportive. My mother told me that in her 20s, she herself even considered converting. Soon after making my decision, I was at an Israel Independence Day Festival, where I stopped at a table for a newly opened temple, Temple Israel, in Winter Springs, Florida. I spoke with the people at the table, and they gave me pamphlets. I was ready. When I went home, I looked into the process of converting: First, I had to determine the denomination into which I wanted to convert (I converted into Conservative Judaism), and then I went in person to ask a rabbi from the temple to convert me. The rabbi is supposed to turn you away three times before agreeing; this is what happened, and I kept coming back. Then the conversion process included a year-long commitment to classes in order to learn about Judaism and Israel, and to gain a basic knowledge of Hebrew. A year came and went, and on the day of my mikveh, a beit din convened and asked me questions to prove my knowledge of Judaism. Satisfied with my answers, I immersed in the mikveh with a female witness present, my brother’s Jewish girlfriend, and the beit din outside the door, while the rabbi recited the conversion prayer. On May 28, 2009, I officially converted into the Jewish faith.

For me the Jewish faith has been pivotal in understanding and dealing with life. I have a peace and centered quality within myself that I did not get from Christianity. I enjoy going to Shabbat services and dinner, studying the different texts, observing the holidays, as well as the more far-reaching facets of Jewish life. I do feel some sadness knowing I missed out on certain things that many children who grew up Jewish got to experience: summer camps, learning Hebrew, growing up celebrating the holidays. Also, my family is still Christian, so during holidays and times of worship, it’s just me, myself, and I representing Judaism, which is pretty lonely.

However, my conversion offered me a new beginning into faith and a new way of worshipping God. After my immersion in the mikveh, I emerged feeling as though a new chapter of my life had started and as if I was finally part of a religion that I was excited to be practicing. My rabbi gave me the Jewish name Efrat, Hebrew for fruitful, with the hope that all areas of my life would flourish.

About the Author

fabulous_floresFabulous Flores, 22, is a senior at Penn State University, majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in Jewish studies. Her long-term goal is to work as an overseas correspondent, particularly in the Middle East area. At her HBI internship over the summer, she worked on an individual research project concerning the stigma of multiculturalism in Judaism, research that inspired her to one day have her work published.

One Comment

  1. ruth housman October 20, 2014 Reply

    I find personal memoir fascinating. Is there something in the genes… an ancestral code? How interesting Judaism ran in this young author’s family but she only learned later. Maybe within us are links to our ancestral histories!

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