A Converts Story
Malcolm Parker-Lisberg
Words alone cannot hope to describe a faith in G-d that has come to me where none existed before.

My childhood was spent with my parents who were regular attendees at the Church of England. On finding that the answers to my questions were deflected, or seemed totally irrational and unacceptable to my emerging interest in science and logic, I totally rejected all that religion stood for and took an atheistic stance.

The question of a G-d still returned occasionally to challenge my atheistic beliefs.

I do remember a feeling of disappointment on finding that my fiancé, Jane, who’s Father was from an Orthodox Jewish Family and had married out, was excluded from following the Jewish Faith, despite this being the only Faith and way of life she recognised. She had attended Orthodox services with her Father, who continued to follow his Orthodox beliefs.

The passage of seven years of childless marriage and the birth of my firstborn, Mark, did cause me to raise the question with Jane as to whether conversion to Judaism was possible and would my conversion be acceptable to Jane. The second occasion arose when Mark nearly died of appendicitis, his survival helped by the persistence of Jane and myself that another doctor examine Mark and the removal of a peritoneal appendix and the subsequent written apology from the surgeon. Why I should ask this of Jane on these two occasions I cannot explain as my atheistic outlook had not changed. Jane’s response was to emphasise the difficulty of conversion, the non acceptance by the Orthodox Synagogues and the isolation from the Jewish community that living in Basingstoke, Hampshire entailed and without my having Faith conversion was meaningless.

After twenty years of living in Hampshire and the birth of a second son, Nathan, seven years after the birth of Mark we moved to Rossendale Lancashire.

Family discussions on the necessity of the cleaning of Jane’s fathers gravestone, the occurrence of Nathan’s thirteenth birthday, the landing on Jane’s head of her Father’s bar mitzvah prayer book from the bookcase, the racial harassment Jane had been receiving at work and a physical assault on Jane by a friend I had known for 45 years caused me to question my belief that I could handle any situation that arose, by myself. I felt inadequate in that I had failed to protect Jane and my family. I was deeply shaken that I could be so mistaken in judging the character of a man I had considered a trusted friend could behave in such a manner. My faith in my own abilities was destroyed.

In October 1999 I asked Jane to telephone her cousin to ask if there was any way to convert. Jane’s response was to ask if I was really sure. As a result of my response, that I was never so sure of anything in my life, I was enveloped with feelings and emotions that are extremely difficult to describe. Two sleepless days and nights of discussions with Jane followed with my attempt to rationalised what was happening to me, causing me anguish with the feelings within, that I have never experienced before.

Stability only ensued when I found that Jane had always believed in the existence of one G-d and my admission to myself, that she was always right. That I loved Jane deeply I knew, but could not describe love or offer any explanation for what love was. So it then posed no difficulty for me to then to accept a faith in one G-d. This was confirmed with the feeling that I had returned to my rightful home, with my attendance at Jackson’s Row the following Saturday. The turmoil within myself totally disappeared to be replaced by a feeling of calm, elation and joy. My first words on entering the synagogue were "I am home," these words seems to be a common thread that run through the story of many a convert to Judaism.

The requirement to gain knowledge of what was required of me as Jew and to do it correctly was almost obsessive. The World Wide Web was a ready source of information. The majority of information on Reform Judaism was oriented to the Americas. The many different Jewish sects are difficult to identify immediately from their web sites.

Caution must be used when absorbing such information. Guidance from a knowledgeable mentor would have been a great help. I could not wait for such guidance and read many web sites, impatient to acquire knowledge. Early contact with a Rabbi is essential, you here many stories of Orthodox Rabbis turning prospective converts away three or more times. This was not the case with our Rabbi, Dr Reuven Silverman. He readily accepted what had happened to me and explained the requirement of the Reform Beit Din registration and the path to conversion.

We started by lighting candles on Friday evening, saying the blessings in English, then in Hebrew from a book (Living a Jewish Life) purchased at the Jewish Museum in Manchester. Many strange events had taken place during this period. At the Jewish Museum in Cheatham Hill, there is a notebook called ‘Dora’s Notebook’, a record of births made by a midwife in the Manchester Jewish community during the early 1900’s by Dora Black. Jane touched this book which then fell open at a page on which it said ‘born to Sophia Lisberg. a daughter, in Camp Street, Salford.’…. Jane’s Aunt Ester the mother of the cousin, Sandra, she had phoned about conversion. There is an American web site I had read, giving the conversion story of David Barak. The girl he met and married turned out to be Sandra’s second cousin. I had met her father and younger sister at a birthday party for Sandra six months earlier. We visited a friend with whom I used to work, before I met Jane, that we had not seen for 30 years, and Jane had only met briefly on one occasion prior to our marriage. We find that he is related to Jane by marriage.

I needed to read Hebrew immediately, following the service in English just would not do when the service is 60% Hebrew. Reading the Torah in English left a strong feeling that much was lost in the translation. The poetry certainly was.

Following the service with stuttering Hebrew is difficult when sections are missed out, or included on festivals or in the event of a new moon. Pronunciation is the most difficult as there are many differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic pronunciations. There are several sites on the WWW that are useful for learning Hebrew, RosettaStone, Davar and bible.crosswalk

Reform conversion classes start once a year, a year is a long time to wait when you have a insatiable hunger for knowledge that generates deep voids that must be filled. Patience is a virtue that is difficult to acquire if you are not already blessed with it. My wife, as moderator, assisting me in learning patience and that you cannot always do everything right first time. You must learn from your own mistakes.

I believe that Faith in G-d can only come from within oneself, until I allowed the door to open I was not able to admit the Truth, now I cannot consider Life without Torah and realise that my marriage of 27 years has already given me much, but there is even more to discover and enjoy through Study and following of a open and proclaimed Jewish Life.