In My Skin
Having completed my official conversion to Judaism, I had emerged from the Upper West Side Mikvah just moments earlier. With a scrutinizing look on my face, I stood in front of my private changing room mirror inspecting every inch of my dripping wet body. How can it be? I've been preparing for this moment for the last year and half and I look exactly the same as I did 10 minutes ago. Had I said the Hebrew prayer wrong? I had practiced the precise pronunciation for weeks. I must have misspoken in my nervousness.
I went through the checklist: giveaway Irish pale skin, blue eyes, a sweep of freckled constellations across my nose, the chicken pox scar on my right cheek from the 2nd grade, birthmark on my hip. It was all still there.
My initial delight in having officially joined the "tribe" was flooded with a rush of panic and fear. I was a fake, an imposter and the entire Jewish community was about to know! How was I supposed to walk outside and face my rabbi?
My story started 2 years prior after meeting the Jewish man of my dreams. Coming from a small, country, predominately Christian town in PA, I didn't even know anyone Jewish, let alone fully understand what that meant. I fell head over heels after only a few dates, only to be ultimately crushed by a conversation that was summed up in the words, "I'm sorry, you're not Jewish." I fought tooth and nail as I was in complete disbelief that the timeless clique of love is enough, wasn't enough.
I lost, and was devastated to the point of giving myself a stomach ulcer and having no shame in sobbing openly on the subway during NYC rush hours. Two agonizing months passed and in the end, love prevailed. It turns out that Mr. Right was doing some agonizing of his own and we reunited, this time falling even harder in love.
It was too soon for happily ever after. "You're not Jewish" cropped up again six months later and I went into battle a second time. I wasn't going to lose the most perfect relationship I'd ever known to something I couldn't understand. What was so compelling about this religion? What could I learn in order to arm myself against it? I studied. I studied harder than I've ever studied for anything in my life. I had an armory of books from the library and my Amazon account was on fire. I wasn't doing it with the intention of converting. I was preparing to go to the trial of the century. Love vs Judaism.
In the end, both parties won.
I'm not sure when it happened, but my compulsion to know more out of confusion and anger began to soften and bring about a sense of peace, love and fulfillment. It started with an intro to Judaism class at the JCC. From there, I found a rabbi, a teacher to study with, a wonderful synagogue and community to call home, a band of engaging Jewish friends and loving supporters. I started a private blog for my family called "Jewish Joanie" to help them understand what I was going through. I
learned to read Hebrew. I attended Shabbat services every Friday evening and learned to bake challah. I became the go-to person for all religious questions from my Jewish friends. Don’t know what holiday is next? Ask Jewish Joanie. Can’t remember what prayer to say over the bread? Ask Jewish Joanie. I completely immersed myself in the culture and loved the new flood of traditions, holidays and customs that accompanied my new beliefs. Even if things hadn't worked out with "Mr. Right", (in case you are wondering, they did.) I found an even greater gift. I had finally found spiritual peace and felt at home after many years of floundering.
It wasn’t an easy transition. It was filled with many hardships and a lifetime’s worth of tears. I had to come to terms with losing holidays like Easter and Christmas, the knowledge that my own family won’t grow up with the traditions and memories that I will always hold true to my heart, the confusion and feelings of abandonment that came from many family and friends. Deep down, I knew I was making the best decision for me and had to remind myself of that daily as I fought ridicule and skepticism from the well intentioned loved ones around me.
Fast forward to year and a half of study later, I’m standing naked, in front of a mirror, searching for my new skin, when suddenly my fear was followed by a deep, warming wave of relief. Absolutely nothing had changed. It didn't matter that I didn't fit the traditional Jewish looking mold. I had managed to stay true to myself throughout a life changing process. Nothing was taken away from the identity of Joanie. A new world of love, comfort, knowledge and experience was only added. I was now Jewish Joanie.
Joanie Johnson, a proud Jew and founder of Motivated Nutrition, is a certified health coach (CHC) through the Institute for Integrated Nutrition. Joanie is board certified through the American Association of Drugless Practioners (AADP), holds a B.A. in dance, is a certified Pilates instructor, TRX trainer, professional modern dancer, trained organizer and an all-around busy, motivated woman in New York City. She believes in everyone’s right to live an active, healthy lifestyle and enjoys sharing her passion of optimal wellness through movement, fun and delicious food!
*Please note that not all experiences, beliefs and ideas are shared by each member of the “The New Hollywood.” We are a group of shepherds, not sheep.