“Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
– Book of Ruth (Judaism’s first convert)
Why would a person choose Judaism? What does a person converting from Christianity do with his or her belief in Jesus? Are Jews from birth really accepting of converts? The following is from an interview I conducted with Torontonian Bruce Cowley, who was born a Baptist and five years into his marriage, having already had children, decided to study Judaism, go to the mikvah, undergo a brit milah and stand before a bet din. Why? Because he wanted to be a Jew.
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My conversion on May 13, 1995, was very natural and it all felt right for me. I always said I wouldn’t convert for marriage. I did it for the right reasons.
I didn’t want to be a passive parent who says to my children, about Judaism, “Go talk to your mom.” I wanted to engage with my children. I wanted to learn, to be informed so I could talk to them. Rabbi Reuven Bulka, from Ottawa, said, ‘Take a conversion course.’ I did.
Prior to my conversion, Linda’s parents weren’t pleased that we were a couple. Her father encouraged us to live together, hoping we would break up. We didn’t. They really are wonderful people though – her father is very smart, supportive and a great guy. Once they got to know me, they realized I was a good person.
My parents – who live in Calgary – they were a little quieter. My marrying a Jewish woman was not their fantasy, but they had been prepared because my oldest sister married a French Canadian Catholic and my other sister married an Irish Catholic. It was a bigger deal to them when my sister married the Irish Catholic then when I married a Jew. Linda and I were married on Oct. 29, 1988.
I was raised in a relatively conservative Baptist home. It was not evangelical. I draw parallels between my parents and a good Jewish home, because they lived their beliefs. My parents were always taking people in – you know, troubled people. They stressed tolerance. My father never said anything negative about anyone based on their religion, language or anything. Being a Baptist provided me with respect.
The fact that I was brought up in a good Christian home allowed my eyes to be opened to the positive stuff. When I was first exposed to Judaism, I think it was that kind of tolerance that allowed me to embrace Judaism.
When I finally converted it wasn’t like I was struck by lightning – you know, like all of a sudden, I went to the mikvah, had a circumcision and stood before the bet din, and I was a Jew. It was gradual.
Circumcision? There was a a urologist and some serious guys in the room davening. I was already Jewish in my mind, so I was happy to do it. I wanted to do it. It’s a mitzvah. A while later, I called in to a CBC show and assured the (circumcision) naysayers that it does not affect your sensitivity in the slightest.
I think Judaism is a model for living. It provides a set of moral guidelines for me and my family. It’s a model of goodness, one that human beings can live by and feel comfortable with. When I’m faced with a decision I try to find a reference point. I ask what is a good Jews supposed to do. You have to find your reference point and for me it’s Judaism. I bounce everything off it.
(“How do other Jews treat me?” Read part 2 next week for Bruce’s response.)