May Podcast: A Conversion Story for Shavuot

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Arva Gray.

Tomorrow starts the festival of Shavuot, a time of spiritual liberation that commemorates the ancient Israelites receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. The holiday is also linked to the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman, and her relationship with her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. As recounted in the Book of Ruth, traditionally read on Shavuot, after Naomi and her daughters-in-law Ruth and Orpah all become widows, Naomi urges the two younger women to leave her and find new husbands. Orpah does as Naomi suggests but Ruth refuses, telling her: "wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God." (Ruth 1:16). Jewish tradition reads this moment as Ruth's acceptance of Judaism. Ruth is known as the first convert, and her story has come to serve as a source book and inspiration for conversion.

So, in keeping with the themes of the Jewish calendar, we bring you a conversion story as our podcast of the month. It's the story of Arva Gray, a Mormon who converted to Judaism in the 1950s and became a leader in the Seattle Jewish community. In listening to Gray's story, I'm struck by two things: the challenge of transcending the "insider" / "outsider" dynamics of Jewish community, and figuring out what it means to feel culturally and spiritually at home. Listen to Gray recount her Jewish journey in the kitchen, the "Sephardic Heights," and in positions of Jewish leadership.

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