Jews By Choice: Stephanie Deutsch

Publisher’s Note: This begins our series Jews by Choice. We will be publishing these profiles on a monthly basis. 

 

Stephanie’s journey to Judaism commenced early in life, even while growing up in a Protestant church in the suburbs of Ohio.  “It was a typical Midwest conservative-Christian upbringing,” she recalls. Even then she was developing an emotional connection to Judaism, a theme that shapes our interview. This connection was borne out of a deep-seated respect for the Jewish people’s “special relationship with God.” She elaborates: “It may be hard to understand for someone who hasn’t experienced a draw to another faith, but looking back, I was always drawn to Judaism.” In college she even took Biblical Hebrew and several Judaic studies courses, a choice which seems almost poetic.

This steady draw towards Judaism culminated in the mid-2010s when Stephanie began the conversion process after several years of attending services at several synagogues and learning about Judaism on her own. At this time, she began attending Adath Israel’s introductory class on Judaism, led at the time by Mrs. Kathy Wise. Stephanie fondly remembers the class for its lively discussion and Mrs. Wise’s helpful resources. Mrs. Wise “was an excellent teacher. She encouraged questions and her deep love for Judaism was inspiring,” says Stephanie. Her class helped Stephanie “put all the pieces together,” and ultimately encouraged Stephanie to move forward with the formal conversion process.

Having made up her mind about her conversion, she took her time and focused on learning as much as she could. For those looking to convert, she advises, “Judaism is a lifelong commitment. You cannot rush something like that.” So, she began meeting regularly with Rabbi Irvin Wise, the senior rabbi of Adath Israel, in 2015. After about a year under Rabbi Wise’s tutelage, which included participating in other classes, services, and independent reading and study, Stephanie met with her beit din to complete the process. She reminisces, both humorously and reverently, on how stressed she was during her final interview with the beit din. “What if I say something stupid or get something wrong out of sheer nervousness?!” She realizes now that Rabbi Wise’s tutelage had more than prepared her for the beit din. “Rabbi Wise would not have let me move forward in the process if he didn’t feel I was ready.” Before the beit din she was asked to recite a declaration of faith. She was to confirm her intent to obey the mitzvot, promise to cultivate a Jewish home, and vow to raise any future children as Jews.

Stephanie took the plunge into the mikvah in March 2016 and admits she was “nervous about remembering the words to the blessing.” Besides that, she remembers very little about the moments just before her submersion. “It was a blur.” However, she vividly recalls how she felt after emerging out of the water. She describes those feelings as if they happened yesterday. “It felt like I had embraced my destiny. I was so happy to have arrived at this moment,” she says, voice trembling. “It just felt right.” It is here that I finally understood what Stephanie meant when she said she always had a deep emotional connection to Judaism. Those emotions which bubble up so easily as she reminisces on her mikvah experience, those feelings of arrival, structure her religious devotion even today.

A large part of Stephanie’s current religious expression is facilitated by the Jewish calendar. “Shabbat is my favorite,” she laughs, responding to my question about her favorite Jewish holiday. By fully disconnecting from electronics, not driving or shopping, “I get a respite at the end of each week.” She attends Shabbat services at both Sha’arei Torah and Adath Israel. Sukkot is a close second favorite holiday of hers. “There is something special about sitting together and sharing a meal in this little booth outside with your friends and family. It is cozy.” After a moment of levity, Stephanie allows me into her religious world, characteristic of our conversation: “Sukkot is a reminder that God takes care of your basic needs. It reminds you that he protects you, watches over you, and knows what you need.” 

However, the holidays do not come without their challenges. The Jewish holidays bring immense joy, but Stephanie suggests the holidays may have caused tension in the past with her parents and two sisters. “When I put myself in my parents’ shoes, I am certain my conversion was difficult for them.” She recognizes it was likely jarring to have their daughter “choose another religion than the one she was raised in.” During the holidays “we all feel that tension most,” she states sensitively. Most families share holidays together, which “is hard because I want that for myself. I want family at my Shabbat table and for the chagim,” Stephanie says sentimentally. Quickly though, Stephanie embraces the positive, “I spend more time with them throughout the year to maintain that relationship.” Thankfully Stephanie, her parents, and her sisters have come to respect each other’s religious choices.

Judaism’s call to integrity resonates with her deeply. There has been little tension between her being a practicing Jew and working as a conduct and ethics professional for a financial services company. Perhaps this is because her occupation and personal life are both intimately devoted to ethical practice. She notes how Judaism and her strong sense of fair play mesh perfectly. Regarding the importance of both personal and business ethics, she stresses how “words and deeds matter, even when—especially when—other people aren’t looking!” She affirms “the Torah is the ultimate code of conduct” and provides a framework for how she treats other people. Regardless of one’s social status, “you don’t cheat and take advantage of others.”

Her conversion has not “altered my worldview or politics all that much.” However, things that were once mundane have been infused with religions significance. “Waking up, preparing food, and eating” are now religious actions. Stephanie considers this a blessing since she is “more apt to see God in the details.” Of course, her conversion has allowed her to meet fantastic people she would not otherwise encounter—her husband for one, Netanel ‘Ted’ Deutsch. Finally, her faith has served as a “comforting bedrock in difficult times,” orienting her when life becomes unsettled. 

Towards the end of our interview, I ask Stephanie if she has any concluding thoughts. Her exuberance emerges in full force. Partially encouraging and partially celebratory, Stephanie declares, “once you emerge from the Mikvah you are not done, you are just beginning!” She encourages everyone to recognize that Judaism is a “lifelong journey to discern what God expects from you.” For Stephanie, all Jews are on “a lifelong journey to learn what God expects of you.” Stephanie’s journey began many years ago as a little girl in Dayton and continues now as Stephanie chooses Judaism each day.

 

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