You Should Know… Erin Dreyfuss

Photo by Justin Katz

Erin Dreyfuss, 28, of Vienna, grew up in a conservative sect of Lutheranism.

But as a teenager she realized the religion she was taught in Homewood, Ill., was not answering her questions about the world — from the innocent “Is my dog was in heaven?” to the serious “Why would God let Sept. 11 happen?”

This led her on a search for a religion that would answer those questions. Today, she embraces her Jewish faith as a member of Conservative Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax and as a development associate the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center.

What prompted you to convert?

I was raised Lutheran outside of Chicago. It never really clicked for me. The Trinity never made a lot of sense to me. I was going through confirmation classes, in seventh and eighth grade, and this was during that sweet spot where you are old enough to start questioning things.

Religion wasn’t giving me answers that I felt I needed in that point in my life.

You started exploring other religions in college. How did you come to realize Judaism was right for you?

I started with a more liberal sect of Lutheranism and then I tried some other Protestant Christian religions.

Finally I said: “I’m doing this backwards. Let me think about what I personally believe and then find a religion that matches that. ”

I talked to different friends who were atheists, Christians, Jews and Muslims. And [I took] this [online] quiz that asked a whole bunch of questions. It all came back with, “Why don’t you try Judaism?” So I made my then-boyfriend [now husband] go to services with me  and I really enjoyed it.

During my junior and senior year of college, I did a bunch of research on my own, and decided I wanted to convert.

You converted at a local synagogue in Galesburg. How would you describe the process?

I had to be a member and regularly attend services. I had to do volunteer work, so I worked with the preschool and taught Sunday school. There was a class that met once a month, an introduction to Judaism class. It was a mix of people who had been raised Jewish but wanted more in-depth knowledge, and other conversion candidates. And I had to meet every other month with my rabbi to talk more personally about what I was feeling about Judaism and where I was on the ready-to-convert scale.

It took me eight months to convert. For most people the standard [timeline] is a year because [the synagogue] wants to make sure you’ve experienced all of the holidays and life cycle events. They sped it up a little for me because I had been [studying] on my own for two years.

Any bumps in the road?

I had a phone call with my rabbi in March 2011 before I converted, and I said “I think I’m ready.” She said “let’s see how you feel later.”

I thought when I said “I think I’m ready” that that was me saying “I’m ready, let’s set a date.” It felt a little bit like she didn’t think I was ready when she pushed back. And even though all the literature says [the rabbi] will turn you away three times, I didn’t really expect that so it upset me a little bit to be told to give it some more time.
But I went back to her after that and I said “I’m really ready.” So she booked the mikvah [ritual bath for conversion] and I went to the beit din [religious court that pronounces the conversion].

How did your family react to you converting?

I converted in April 2011 and that first Passover was also Easter. My mom bought a turkey for Passover and made a kosher-for-Passover-Easter dinner that year.

Then we invited her to a seder at my in-laws’ house. Her biggest concern was do I really have to drink all those glasses of wine?

My maternal grandparents are very Lutheran, and very devout. But I think they were happy just to see me embracing a religion.

My dad’s side of the family is all Catholic. My paternal grandfather, who passed away recently, decided that [my conversion] was the perfect opportunity to talk about how he had grown up on the west side of Chicago and he loved to go to his Jewish neighbors to eat pickles and drink kosher beer.

It opened up this whole floodgate for him of sharing this knowledge that he had about Judaism. Being able to talk about religion and theology was something he really latched onto.

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