Finding their way home to Judaism: three same-sex couples share their conversion stories
“My parents were old hippies,” said Felicia Park-Rogers, who grew up in the Bay Area. “They were very suspicious of organized religion and anything else smacking of authority.”
When Park-Rogers, 35, met Rachel Timoner, her partner-to-be, in San Francisco in the early 1990s, she was thrilled to be falling in love but suspicious of her new lover’s involvement with Judaism.
Timoner was raised in a Reform community in Miami. Although the lavish bar and bat mitzvahs at her parents’ shul had turned her off, she still felt drawn to Jewish spiritual life. When she found a Renewal synagogue in San Francisco, the seed of her faith began to take root.
“And she began to drag me to holiday services,” Park-Rogers said.
The couple’s once-in-a-blue-moon joint appearances at shul evolved into a weekly return engagement at Shabbat. Then, about a decade ago, Timoner was out of town during the High Holidays, and Park-Rogers found herself with a decision to make.
“I went to Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services on my own,” Park-Rogers recalled. “After that experience, I said, ‘I have my own relationship to this.'”
Park-Rogers finished her conversion about four and a half years ago, just before she gave birth to Benjamin, her first son. She and Timoner now have a second son, Eitan, who just celebrated his first birthday.
Same-sex couples confront the same choices that are issues for most straight couples. To live together or not to live together? To marry — or at least to formalize a partnership — or not to marry? To have kids or to have a second house in Palm Springs?
Spiritual decision-making is also frequently a factor in the calculus of gay life. In fact, finding a religious tradition that affirms gay experience and offers the support of a vibrant community can be one of the most important aspects of self-realization for gay men and lesbians — especially for people who see being in a committed relationship as a natural extension of their spiritual lives.
That kind of deep introspection led Ron Paler, a 40-year-old pathologist, to convert to Judaism five years ago. Mike Loya, Paler’s partner for more than a decade, will finish his own conversion in the next couple of months.
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David Fyffe, left, and Arlan Wareham show off piece of a Katyusha rocket that landed near their Tsfat home in August.