Verna Gindoff: Conversion in the Time of Covid

Although I was brought up in the Church of England, I have long felt a strong affinity with Judaism. I had thought about converting many times over the years but there was always a part of me that knew my mother would disapprove. Her Christian faith was very important to her. I respected that. Yes, with an ocean between us, I could have avoided telling her but that never felt okay to me.

However, beyond that, isn’t there a time for everything?

In the Fall of 2018, I knew it was time. At age 67, and keenly aware that my time left on earth was not infinite, I was feeling an ever deeper need for a “spiritual home.”

And so this 2-year journey formally began. I was excited. Although the process of learning even elementary Biblical Hebrew was not without it’s challenges, I looked forward to Renée‘s classes with a determined spirit. Shabbat services took on a new meaning as I became more familiar with the prayers and blessings, and I eagerly attended Torah Study on Saturday mornings.

A few months later, my mother passed away. Then, just as my heart was healing from the loss and I was emerging into the light again, we were plunged into the dark and tragic world of COVID. We prepared for what we knew would be a period of isolation. I was not prepared for it to be this long. I was not prepared to be watching my nine year-old granddaughter grow up on FaceTime.

But, in spite of the emotionally painful aspects of this pandemic, there is so much that Bryan, my husband, and I are thankful for. Of great solace is the vibrant Jewish community we live in that gives nourishment to our hungry souls.

Almost overnight, Zoom became a vital lifeline across the world, keeping us all connected while we “sheltered in place.” Being in the midst of my conversion studies, this innovative technology made it possible to continue attending my Hebrew and Judaism classes, to participate in services, Torah Study, Jewish holiday celebrations, and to be dazzled by Avivah Zornberg in her inspiring presentations from Jerusalem.

Reading assignments helped me gain a deeper insight into the Jewish experience. In particular, Heschel’s “The Sabbath” had a profound effect on me as I contemplated his exquisite idea that “Judaism is a religion of time: it finds meaning not in space and the material things that fill it but in time and the eternity that imbues it, so that the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.” During these long months of uncertainty, Bryan and I have truly come to embrace Shabbat, a welcome constant in our lives.

My conversion took place over two warm October days. The nerves that had been building up in the preceding weeks dissipated and I felt only the love and support emanating from those around me. As the water washed over me and I came up to chant the Shehecheyanu, I knew I had found my “spiritual home.”

The following morning, an intimate group of us gathered for a memorable service. It didn’t matter that we were wearing masks and keeping social distance … we had come together, not in a virtual space but in a beautiful garden looking out at the mountains. It was a joyful and moving celebration that marked this major milestone in my life.

I am deeply grateful to Bryan, to my teachers, to those who have shared their wisdom, and for all the encouragement and kindness I have received on this journey. I am truly blessed.

And how perfect that the parsha for my conversion was Beresheit … for this was the beginning of my life as a Jewish woman.

There is a time for everything, even in the time of COVID.

Verna Gindoff: I grew up in London and enjoyed a career in the performing arts. In 1985, I moved to Los Angeles where I worked in the film and technology industries. My husband, Bryan, and I retired to Carpinteria 8 years ago. We feel very blessed to be living up here and to be a part of such a wonderful community.