On June 17, 1996, I sat in an armchair in the small shul at Congregation Beth Jacob in Oakland, CA, and answered the questions of a beit din [rabbinical court]. I recall three things clearly: (1) I was petrified (2) I had no idea how to answer the question about Israel and (3) One of the members of the beit din asked me, after an answer I gave to one question, whether I'd ever thought about rabbinical school. I couldn't tell if he was serious, or just trying to break the tension with a little humor.
Then we went to the mikveh [ritual bath], where management had forgotten to turn on the heater. I dipped a toe in the tank of ice-water, and asked myself the ancient question: well, how badly do you want to be a Jew?
Today, for the first time, in that same little room, I sat as a member of the beit din while we asked questions of first a young man I was meeting for the first time, and then, later, of a young woman from my congregation. I witnessed their readiness for conversion, and then we walked down the hall to the mikveh room (which was blessedly humid -- the heater was on!). I stood outside the door and listened as the young man said the blessings and immersed himself in the water. Then, later, I guided my candidate through the blessings and the rite of immersion.
There have been a lot of milestones in my Jewish journey; this one leaves me pretty much speechless. It is a privilege to be with someone at the beginning of his or her Jewish life, to study, to be a companion and guide, to decide, with three other Jews, that yes, indeed, we recognize a yiddishe neshomah, a Jewish soul.
What a blessing!
And now I can quit having nightmares about something going wrong. The worst nightmare was the one that had to do with a brass band marching through the mikveh room.... oy. I was glad, today, to have two senior rabbis with me, to keep me from messing up! They, too, were a blessing.