The Journeys to Judaism

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November 1, 2008
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Laura Wiessen

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The proselyte is more beloved unto God than all those multitudes who stood at Mount Sinai. 
—Midrash Tanhuma, Lekh Lekha

Why on earth would anyone choose to become a Jew? That was the simple question with which I began my documentary film project, “More Beloved by Gd.” It’s not that I don’t enjoy being Jewish — I find great beauty and wisdom in the religion and culture. In fact, my own journey has brought me closer to Jewish cycles of time, Shabbat, kashrut, and serious study of Jewish text. As I’ve moved deeper into Jewish circles and a Jewish lifestyle, I’ve met many committed Jews who started their lives in other faiths or in no faith at all. I’ve been struck by their choices, and curious about their decisions, especially since my fully born-Jewish, New Jersey, suburban family has moved further and further from any type of Jewish observance (and has a nearly 100 percent record of intermarriage). So, I set out to explore conversion through some of the amazing people who have chosen this path.

I began by talking to friends and people I’d met along the way who had decided to become Jews. And these people led to others who were generous with their stories and often eager to participate. Each meeting began with an explanation of who I was and why I was so fascinated by this topic; I usually became more interviewee than interviewer! But I understood that to gain people’s trust with such intimate details of their personal and spiritual lives, I needed to share some of my own personal history.

While this film project is in the early phases of shooting, among the people you’ll meet onscreen (visit shma.com to view) are: an Italian, Catholic-born rabbi from Sicily, an African-American hip-hop artist from East Baltimore, and a former ballerina whose half-Jewish status led her through the challenging year of an Orthodox conversion. We’ll meet her as her journey reaches a climax…and begins anew. Each story is unique. And it is through the openness of these individuals, and their willingness to share their journeys with us, that the Jewish world can gain new appreciation and understanding of itself, and of what the newest Jews bring to the Jewish people.

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Laura Wiessen is a writer and documentary filmmaker whose work has appeared on PBS, A&E, CNN, MSNBC, The History Channel, and Bravo. A graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Chicago, she was a 2007-2008 Arts Fellow at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. Her most recent project, More Beloved by Gd, examines what people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives bring to the Jewish world through conversion. A trailer of the film can be viewed on shma.com. Wiessen can be reached at MoreBelovedbyGd.TheFilm@gmail.com.

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