Finding Your Way into Judaism

I was touched by a recent column my friend, Mark, wrote for his synagogue’s bulletin. He journey is worth sharing with you.

Mark Fickes
Mark Fickes

Jewish Live Evolves, “One Step at a Time”
By Mark Fickes, president of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland
If I were able to travel back in time to just 15 years ago, I would never have imagined that today I would belong to a Conservative shul, serve as its President and send my children to a Jewish Day School. I grew up in San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My grandparents were secular Jews who could not embrace religion after losing their friends and families in the Holocaust. My family was not observant. Like many Jewish kids I know as a child, I attended an Episcopal grammar school and had a Christmas tree every December.

As a young adult, I avoided religious institutions believing them to be too fundamentalist. It was not until I was in my mid-30s that I became interested in Judaism. One day my partner Billy and I were in the doctor’s office when we learned that we would become the parents of twins. The moment I saw and heard two hearts beating during an ultrasound, I know that my children’s lives were a miraculous gift from G-d. Within a day or two, I told Billy that we had to raise our children in a Jewish home. Imagine his surprise as the topic of G-d had never come up in the fourteen years we had lived together.

Our family began our Jewish lives at a Reform synagogue. At the advice of one rabbi, we started with baby steps… lighting candles for Shabbat. At first, the ritual had no meaning. But soon, our babies loved looking at the lights and we saw the joy of Shabbat through their eyes. Next, we cut out pork and shellfish. Again, at first, there was no meaning. But, over time, we became more mindful about the food we eat and why we eat it. Each new mizvah we undertook was simple on its own, but over time, each added to the sense of fulfillment of being Jewish. After a few years I started studying Hebrew; I learned to chant Torah and Halftorah, and at the age of 40 I had an adult bar mitzvah. The experience was among the most meaningful of my adult life. After that I knew I wanted to join a Conservative congregation but felt that I could not support the Conservative movement through membership and financial assistance because of the ban against gays and lesbians serving in the rabbinate. At the urging of a friend I decided to come to Temple Beth Abraham one Saturday in December 2006. As chance would have it Rabbi Bloom gave a drash on the December 6, 2006 Responsum which effectively lifted the ban against gays and lesbians from serving as Rabbis, Cantors and educators. The reaffirmation of human dignity and the recognition that we are all created B’tzelem Elohim (in the image of G-d) paved the way for my family and so many others to join Conservative congregations.

As I write this column seven years after first walking through the doors of Beth Abraham, I see how much Judaism has changed me. Every day I try to live my life Jewishly. At the end of the work week I get to go home, sit with my family to light Shabbat candles and bless my children. And for 24 hours I experience the joy of being a father, a spouse, a friend and a Jew. Judaism has the inherent power to transform each of us if we let it. And all it really takes is one small step at a time.