Jessica Wicks is also known as Yiskah Rachel Bat Avraham v’ Sarah
Jessica Wicks is also known as Yiskah Rachel Bat Avraham v’ Sarah

For many years I have been a part of a Unitarian Universalist church community deeply devoted to social justice and radical inclusion. Friendships made there will last my lifetime. Still I chose to convert to Judaism, to satisfy a deep-seated desire of many decades. 

My exposure early in life to Jewish practice was minimal. I did have some aunts and uncles who were deeply involved in the early history of the State of Israel. Several classmates were Jewish. Th ere were so few liberals like me where I was growing up in Tyler, Texas. We tended to cling together with our progressive Jewish brothers and sisters in mutual support, working for a common vision of the world. 

I first became enamored with serious Jewish teaching in a research project about the Holocaust. My goal was to try to understand why it happened. At the time I was a gay man, wrestling with gender identity. I knew people like me had been sent to the death camps. I wanted to know why, and determine if it could happen again. 

I learned of the historical, religious, and cultural histories of the Jewish people, along with other oppressed groups. The more I read, the more I discovered that Judaism resonated deeply with me. I fell in love with Jewish belief and practice. Studying on my own in the late 1970s and into the 80s, I thought about converting. 

Friends in my LGBTQ community in Houston who were Jewish, however, said as a gay man, much less transgender, conversion wasn’t possible. Not there. Not then. So, I shrugged and set it aside. Over the ensuing years, I tried various Christian denominations, then returned to Unitarian Universalism. 

My interest in Judaism never waned. This past year, I learned of changes within Reform Judaism. I read of greater inclusion for LGBTQ people. I contacted a local rabbi. 

I am attracted to Judaism for several reasons:

  • wrestling with the evolution of faith as we make our belief in the Torah relevant to our own time;
  • marking the passages of time in special moments and holidays;
  • finding special peace in daily prayers;
  • the belief in responsible action with the three pillars — t’shuvah, t’fillah, tzedakah — correcting a wrong, prayer, giving;
  • as an historian, the long amazing history, culture, and survival of people is more than simply a belief or religion, with an emphasis on study I find refreshing and invigorating, and rituals that carry us through our life journey;
  • despite an inability to carry a tune, I love to sing as prayer;

So “hineni” — here I am. I am fulfilling a dream that has been with me for many decades. My deepest desire is that when I’m laid to rest, people will say, she was a good Jew.