Ceremony for conversion known as “‘mikvah’ or ritual bath
Three members of Congregation Beth El Binah became Jews by Choice. on Dec. 27.
The ceremony for conversion involves immersion in a mikvah, or ritual bath. The only mikvah in Dallas is located at Tiferet Israel, a modern Orthodox synagogue in North Dallas.
Evelyn Parris has been a member of Beth El Binah for five years. She says “years of studying Judaism” preceded her joining.
Her actual study for conversion included a year and a half with Nancy Jessula Clark and another year with Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor.
Jessula Clark has been teaching adult education for more than 20 years. She is an outreach and para-rabbinic fellow trained by the Union for Reform Judaism and is a former president of the synagogue.
Parris says her formal study for conversion included learning about rituals and observances, Jewish history and prayer.
“I’m still working on the Hebrew,” she says. “But I’ve learned to read the prayers in Hebrew.”
Kathryn Carlson began attending services at Beth El Binah to be supportive of her partner of 20 years, Deniece Neilson. When Neilson began attending classes, Carlson thought it might be interesting and attended as well.
“Kathryn wanted us to find a place where we could worship together but we could never find a place that I felt connected to. During our quest, I ran across a test on the Internet that was supposed to identify your religion based on your beliefs. We both took the test and I came out as a Reform Jew,” says Neilson.
She says that as they began to learn more about Judaism “I was overwhelmed with the connection I felt to the teachings.”
While coming out as Jewish can be as devastating to families as coming out as gay or lesbian, Neilson says, “Both of our families are surprised but supportive. However, neither of us comes from strongly religious families.”
After studying on her own for two years, they began looking for a synagogue. But it was another two years before they found Congregation Beth El Binah.
Their ceremony last week was preceded by a year of study with Jessula Clark and another year with Leynor.
“We have now found a spiritual home where we can both worship together.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 4, 2008