I converted to Judaism (conservative). My husband is a born Jew. For all the "rules", you will really have to talk to your rabbi (we can give ideas and our experiences, but when it comes to the official stuff, it will be the rabbi who will have the final word), but I thought I would share a bit of the feelings...
It WILL feel out of your comfort zone. You will be "confronted" with your former self, over and over. And all this will still happen after your conversion as well. The reason it takes at least a year to officially convert is because at every turn, it is creating a new self and reconciling the old self. I remember my first winter as a Jew. I was so excited to light my first hanukiah as a "real Jew" and I burst into tears at the mall over a Christmas tree. It wasn't an ounce of regret, but it was saying good bye to the "old comforts". And, I wasn't that attached to Christiantity in the first place! It is making new memories while finding a place to keep your old ones that are not you anymore, but are still important to you because they are your past. And, this is not easy. It takes time and support.
It comes back with your children. I was never a Jewish child to experience Passover, Hanukkah, etc. It takes courage to raise your children on (and IN) a faith that you do not have memories from. And, to some degree, it will come back throughout your life. I, for the first time recently came to terms with how I may need to advocate for my son (and his Jewish identity) in the schools. My husband, a born Jew, has experienced life in public school as a Jew. I have not. Again, I am in new territory. But it does get easier with that acceptance. As time goes on, it is easier to reconcile and you feel more comfortable in your "Jewish skin". But my son is living a very different life than I did. And his growing up Jewish has me ever changing as I figure out what it is to be a Jewish mother at each step. And each step is new to me.
Also, there really and truly is no rush to the conversion. The exact same things are expected of you before and after. By the time you are ready, you will be so integrated in the community that the day after will not be any different. And, G-d is happy with you both before and after. It is YOU who is changing. Honestly, by the time conversion day comes, it is more of a threshold than a leap. Allow yourself the time to go through it, enjoy the learning. Allow yourself the questioning and frustrations (Jews are cool with that
). I remember one time after a session with the rabbi just throwing up my hands and saying "All the rules! Don't you think it is a bit much?!?!?"
. And him saying. "Eh. They are what they are...". And he smiled. ALL Jews grapple with the rules, what they mean, how we live them (and, truth be told, occasionally are frustrated by them). Converts do that even more so. And that is good. If you're accepting everything and never wonder why, if you never question others, etc... You're doing it wrong
During some parts of the conversion process, I looked toward the end- "When I'm a Jew..." and you know what? The day after the conversion, I was the same me. I know that I emerged from the mikveh officially a Jew, but I had "really" become a Jew somewhere before that. It is not a sudden turn. It is a slow one. And it is a "forever" process. The day after you convert, you will STILL be learning Hebrew, STILL be reading, STILL be asking people to tell you what the biddies are saying in Yiddish
. And you may still very well feel different than what you think the born Jews feel. And... that is OK.
You will experience life as a minority- but a very visible one. You mentioned you were not part of the Christian mainstream, but being a Jew will be different still. You will start to see the more subtle aspects of discrimination. Even if you thought yourself pretty empathetic, when people make jokes or you see a swastika, it will be different. And, as a Jew, you will be in a position where you MUST speak up, where people will expect that, and will look to you to interpret "How Jews feel.". You will find yourself "The Jew" and realize that to the larger (non-Jewish) community, you are a "representative" and it becomes yet another identity, another role to assume and figure out.
You will find yourself surprised along the way. For example, I watched Schindlers List as a college student. I remember thinking "Aw. That's sad. How terrible." and it faded in my memory. A few years later (after my conversion, before I was a mother) it was on a re-run on TV and I found myself watching it. I felt like I had been punched. I burst into tears. I was afraid. I was angry like I had never been. Outraged. Wounded. Sickened. My heart was breaking. That little girl in the red dress who wanders the streets and in the end is in a pile of bodies- she is MY little girl. Those men, my husband. Those women, my friends. Me. It turns, and it can sneak up from behind what it really means to be adopted into this Jewish family.
And, there is this issue of faith. Though I more of a "default Christian", the idea is that if you have faith, you're fine. As a Jew, it's not quite that way. It is more about plugging through with the community knowing that our individual faith and relationship with G-d will have its ups and downs. So, those first times when you go to services and just find yourself thinking "Eh, I just am not into it and want to go home." or "I didn't really say that prayer and feel it." Or, even more profound issues- "How could G-d have let the holocaust happen?" it feels like a personal crisis. I once told my rabbi (with me all in a panic) "I'm not sure what I think about G-d..." He told me "That's your own business! You just come to services every week." The idea is that we are ALLOWED to question. Not every prayer will connect. We will have times when our faith is at a low. And if we keep going, keep praying, keep being involved... it comes back. And we have learned something. That the prayer we do in a rote fashion tonight may, in the future, strike us and come alive. That our relationship with G-d is personal, and has aspects that are private. And that life and faith has its ups and downs and through it we look not only to G-d but each other.
OK, enough for tonight...