Finding my voice in the story of Ruth

I was honored when Jeremy asked if I would share a story from my Jewish tradition for his Tri-Faith class, “Making the Familiar Strange.” I chose Ruth. Ruth’s story is part of my conversion journey. I quoted Ruth’s moving words with a personal conversion story in the beginning of my talk.

Thinking of this talk was intimidating. Dare I do this; can I do this? In the Jewish fashion, I knew I would study. And I would seek out mentors.

I called my friend, Rita Paskowitz, storyteller extraordinaire, and asked for her advice. She shared many helpful ideas. And she asked, why did I choose Ruth? I told her, “my heart in the Torah experience.” She suggested that I should definitely share that story, best in opening remarks, as I would make myself vulnerable.

If I share something very personal, perhaps others listening to my talk may do so as well.

I also asked Rabbi Azriel to help me get started. He was happy to do so. It reminded me of our time studying together for my conversion. We studied Ruth about an hour a week. We read from Sefaria, a beautiful website of the Hebrew Bible that shows Hebrew and the English together. I would read the English lines, and he would read the Hebrew, translating it, offering its background stories. We took a deep dive into the story of Ruth.

I was lucky to have these mentors.

And I searched my house for study resources: conversion memories and materials, books about Biblical stories offering different twists or particular accents in the telling, as well as the pictures we shared in the slides.

To present the story of Ruth for this, I knew I would like to add commentary or Midrash to the story, to study it together in a Jewish way. I found what I wanted to do: The Story of Ruth, with Midrash.

Jeremy and I kept in touch to run thoughts by each other, to best fulfill the objectives of Jeremy’s class, and to coordinate my talk with his running the slides and managing his class. He took my found artwork and, with the help of Amanda, made the beautiful slides for the talk, sharing them at the right time. He encouraged his personal goal of presenting thoughtful questions to encourage sharing.

I wrote out this story three times before I got it where I was happy with it. But the reward was finding and sharing my voice in the story, with meaningful questions scattered in my text. The questions led to discussions about blessings used before study and worship. Then discussion from the questions delved into concepts like conversion, redemption, charity, humility, and kindness. As I had hoped, people engaged with the questions, and our understanding broadened times three, as we gained greater understanding from thoughtful participants of the three faiths. Their answers definitely did what I had hoped: people opened up from their own religious perspectives, and shared. And we all learned.

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