When I posted a generic ‘seeking a summer job’ post on my Facebook page in March 2021, I never expected that what would come from it would be so meaningful. Within 20 minutes of posting, I had a message from my rabbi, Lexi, in my Messenger inbox asking me if I would be interested in working at URJ Jacobs Camp. The second I read the message, an unexplainable wave of assurance washed over me. Rather than hesitate, I immediately responded “I absolutely would!”
Unlike many of my fellow staff here, I did not grow up coming to Jacobs or even going to a Jewish summer camp at all. That’s because I did not grow up Jewish– I chose to affirm my Jewish identity as an adult by undergoing conversion. In September 2019, after many years of deliberating, I reached out to Rabbi Lexi to begin the process. I began attending services when I could– the nearest synagogue was an hour-long drive from my college town– in February 2020.
I don’t have to remind you what happened in March 2020. All this while, the isolation that the pandemic brought made it difficult to feel truly in touch with my Jewish community– that is, until March 23, 2021, when I made the decision to join the Jacobs family. The offer from Rabbi Lexi to join the Jacobs family at camp felt like an affirmation that not only did I belong in this community, but that this community wanted me here.
A week before arriving at camp, Rabbi Lexi and I met up for lunch in New Orleans. I had come quite a way in my studying but had not yet completed the conversion process, which includes sitting before a beit din– “a house of judgment”– and immersion in a mikveh– a ritual bath. Rabbi Lexi mentioned that it would be possible to do my beit din at camp and I considered it, but I wasn’t quite sure. It wasn’t until staff Kabbalat Shabbat and maariv services at Jacobs Camp, standing arm in arm with my Jewish peers that I was filled with an overwhelming sense that I was home– these were the people with whom I had stood at Sinai. Any question I may have had that this place, and these people, were for me was erased. A day or two later, Rabbi Lexi asked me again if I would be interested in completing my beit din at camp, and my answer this time was an enthusiastic “Yes!”
When the day finally arrived, my beit din– consisting of the camp Jewish Life team (Jessica and Michael) along with Rabbi Lexi– convened in Anna’s office. I took the Hebrew name Yael Yehudit, which was bestowed on me by my dear friends from the Mishlachat (camp’s Israeli Delegation). We had previously discovered that our Community Care director, Leah, is a bonafide “mikvah lady” with Mayyim Hayyim and would be able to assist me in that process in Jacobs Camp’s very own mikvah– Lake Gary (although I was not able to Blob in.) At Shabbat services that night, we congregated in the Ed Center due to rain and I was presented to my community for the first time not as a ger– a stranger living in the land of Israel– but as a member of Am Yisrael. Following services, the Solelim and my closest staff friends joined together at dinner to announce that it was a Very Special “You’re a Jew!” Day in the style of our usual birthday announcements and at Song Session that night, they lifted me up and danced the hora around me.
Completing my conversion was a day I had dreamed of for years. I never imagined it would happen in the middle of nowhere at a summer camp, but now I can’t imagine a more perfect way to have joined this kehilla kedosha– this holy community.
Kristin joins Jacobs Camp this summer as Solelim Advisor and Chalutzim Counselor. She is from Hammond, Louisiana, and attends Southeastern Louisiana University, where she will be completing her Bachelors Degree in English Education (6th-12th Grade) in the Fall. The featured photo is Kristen receiving the Torah from Rabbi Lexi Erdheim.