By David Rickerd III
Temple Chai, Phoenix, Arizona
I finally found that home when I married Gloria. We had agreed prior to marriage that any children that we had would be raised Jewish. We also agreed that I would not convert, as I had absolutely no intention of becoming a Jew. This arrangement worked well for awhile, but after Nicoles birth, Gloria felt a growing need to be affiliated with a synagogue. Eventually, I started attending with her to watch Nicole. After a period of about six months, I asked Gloria to make an appointment for me with the rabbi to discuss conversion. After I picked her up off the floor, we began the journey that brings me to today. Along the way, there were multiple challenges, most notably my mother. She was not at all pleased about my decision to convert to Judaism, and many harsh words were exchanged. I also had to deal with the prejudice in my workplace, which was sufficient that I did not feel comfortable revealing my choices/religion. I also had to explain my desire to become Jewish to my other children. At the time, David was 19, Jessica was 18, Michael was 10, and Brandon was 8. None of the children voiced any strong objections or even much of an opinion. Michael and Brandon, however, were elated that they could have eight days of Chanukah instead of one day at Christmas.
Other challenges arose in celebrating holidays with my family. This occurred despite the fact that I was the only one of five siblings who practiced any religion. There were many offensive comments made which my brothers and sister dismissed as kidding around. Eventually these were replaced by apathy, if not true acceptance. Even my mother has quietly come to terms (three plus years later) and now says that I have a shoe-in to heaven with all the religions that I have tried. Clearly, she still does not fully understand or accept the depth of my commitment and faith, but she is trying. We no longer yell at each other.
Moving to Arizona 2½ years ago was a fresh start for me. I could finally be fully Jewish. I am open and proud of my religion. I am quite verbal about being a Jew. I have no need or desire to hide who I am.
This past July, Gloria and I took full custody of Michael and Brandon. I am now raising my non-Jewish 12- and 14-year-old children in our Jewish home. They had attended services with us back east, but this was now 24/7 into a much more observant home. There was also the issue of our youngest child, Nicole, who knew nothing but Judaism. She had attended synagogue-based nursery school and now attends Religious school. On a regular basis, she brings more and more Judaism into the household, including reciting Hamotzi on a nightly basis. After much anguish and discussion, we have decided to allow the boys to choose their own religion. They attend all synagogue events and services with us, but sometimes remain in the courtyard or lobby. I am saddened by the fact that they were not born Jewish, but my hope is that they will discover, as I have, the beauty and wonder in Judaism as I continue to expose them to it. I am encouraged by the fact that Brandon expresses some interest and enjoys learning Hebrew at the Looking Glass School. I feel blessed that there is no conflict among my children about religion.
I attribute much of my current, peaceful state of mind to the family and support that I have found at Temple Chai. Becoming Jewish brought a unity to my family and strengthened my relationship with Gloria in ways that I never envisioned. My children are growing up in a happy, stable home of which Judaism is the core. I continue to grow, becoming a better husband, father, and person. My journey continues, but I now know where I am going.