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Converting to Judaism has defined my high school experience

This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — During the pandemic, my mom decided to start baking; my friend Reagan learned Osage, a Native American language; my brother taught himself how to skateboard. 

I decided to channel my free time and energy into converting to Judaism. 

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I was only ever exposed to Christian theology. Almost everyone around me was a Baptist. Although my parents intentionally raised my brother and me without a focus on religion, I grew up going to Christian preschool, Christian summer camps, and being surrounded by other Christians–just because there weren’t other options. While this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, I always knew that Christianity wasn’t right for me.

At first, the idea of eternal life and an all-knowing God provided comfort, but as I got older I started to feel disconnected from Christianity. Concepts like the Holy Trinity never made sense to me, and by age 12 I thought I had given up on religion entirely.

I first started looking into Judaism towards the end of 2020. I’m not really sure what led me to this; I just stumbled upon it and found that its emphasis on making the ordinary holy, repairing the world, and the pursuit of knowledge was a perfect fit for my already existing beliefs. My parents were a little bit shocked but ultimately supportive when I told them that I wanted to convert. My mom’s main concern was that I would become the target of antisemitism. “I’m happy for you and try not to think about the what-ifs,” she said while driving me to the Jewish community center so that I could board the bus headed to the BBYO Jewish youth group’s International Convention. 

In the spring of 2021, I emailed the rabbi at a local synagogue about my potential conversion. During our first conversation, he asked me if I’d heard about the custom of rabbis turning away potential candidates three times. I told him I had, but that if he turned me away I would just keep coming back. After the meeting, I signed up for conversion classes and started attending services regularly — and I wasn’t alone. 

According to a 2021 Tablet survey, 43% of American rabbis are seeing more conversion candidates than before. The reasons for conversion are diverse. Some candidates fell down an internet rabbit hole that led to a passion for Judaism. Others took an ancestry test and wanted to reconnect with their Jewish heritage. Many were raised as Reform Jews but weren’t Jewish according to stricter halachic, or Jewish legal, standards and decided to convert under Conservative or Orthodox auspices. Despite the common stereotype that Jews by choice must be converting for the sake of marriage, many rabbis said that converts are less likely than ever to be converting for a Jewish partner. 

After meeting with a rabbi about the potential conversion, candidates are expected to learn everything they can about Judaism. In my case, that meant 21 weeks of hour-long, weekly conversion classes in addition to independent study on Jewish mysticism, traditions, and ideas. Candidates are also expected to become active members of their local Jewish community and attend services regularly. 

Once the candidate and the rabbi feel they are ready to convert, a beit din, or a court usually made up of three rabbis, is assembled. They will conduct an interview, asking the candidate about what brought them to Judaism and basic questions about what was taught during conversion classes. When the beit din has guaranteed that the candidate genuinely wants to convert, the candidate immerses in the mikveh, a pool used for ritual purification. After submerging in the mikveh, the convert is considered to be officially Jewish and is typically called up for an aliyah, ascending the platform where the Torah is read. 

According to Rabbi Darah Lerner, who served in Bangor, Maine before her retirement last year, the main difference between teens converting alone and teens converting with their family is the parental approval that’s needed, but otherwise the process is very similar. “I treated them pretty much as I did with adults,” she said. For me, the only parental approval needed was my mom telling my rabbi that she and my dad were fine with me starting the conversion process. She also noted that it was easier for teens to integrate into the Jewish community because people were excited to see young people interested in Judaism. 

A mikveh, like this one at Mayyim Hayyim outside of Boston, is a ritual pool where Jews by choice immerse as part of the conversion process. (Courtesy Mayyim Hayyim)

She said that the Jewish community gave the teens a place where they could ask questions and not be shut down. “If they have a pushback, or a curiosity, or a problem we allow them to ask it and we give them real answers or resources,” she said. 

“I feel extremely privileged when youth come to me with these questions and these desires,” Rabbi Rachael Jackson, from Hendersonville, North Carolina. Jackson has worked with three teens in the conversion process over the past two years. Like Lerner, she doesn’t require teens to wait until they turn 18 to begin the conversion process. However, it’s not unusual for rabbis to recommend that teens wait until they turn 18 to begin their conversion.

My conversion process has defined my high school experience. I’ve been able to connect with other Jews at my school through BBYO, which has helped me find a community at school and meet people who I might not have met otherwise. Although it’s made me feel farther from the Christian community I was once a part of, Judaism has given me spiritual fulfillment, a love for Israel, and a sense of community — both in my synagogue and my BBYO chapter. 

Others who have gone through the process feel much the same way. “I wouldn’t even recognize myself,” said Haven Lail, 17, from Hickory, North Carolina. “My whole personality is based on being Jewish. That’s what I love.” Adopted into a Jewish family at age 12, Lail felt drawn to Judaism because of the loving and accepting community she found. 

Raised as a nondenominational Christian, Lail attended church regularly with her biological parents, but not for the religious aspect. “It was all hellfire and brimstone,” she said. Neglected by her birth parents, she only went to church because she knew there would be food there. 

Lail started the conversion process at age 12 through a Hebrew high school, and four years later, she submerged in the mikveh and signed a certificate finalizing her conversion. The process was simple, but she was shocked that so few Jews knew about the conversion process. “It was a little weird,” she said. 

The Talmud says that because “the Jewish people were themselves strangers, they are not in a position to demean a convert because he is a stranger in their midst.” However, it isn’t uncommon for converts to feel alienated from the rest of the Jewish community. “There’s this fear of going to college and still being othered because you still won’t quite fit in with the people who have been raised Jewish,” said one high school senior from North Carolina.

He was shocked by how alienated he felt after making his conversion public, and wanted to stay anonymous because he worries that once people find out that he converted, they’ll see him differently. “I didn’t ever really explain it to anybody except for the people really close to me,” he said. But after his rabbi called him up for an aliyah — a blessing recited during the reading of the Torah — one woman from the congregation began to bring it up to him every time she saw him. “People don’t realize that it can be a touchy thing and very, very othering,” he said.

I usually don’t mind personal questions about my conversion, but asking someone why they converted or pointing out that someone is a convert is frowned upon by Jewish law. I used to feel like everyone could tell that I wasn’t raised Jewish, but after one of my BBYO advisors thought that my conversion was just a rumor and couldn’t believe that it was true, I realized that wasn’t the case.

All of my friends and peers who were raised Jewish have memories of Jewish summer camps, Shabbat dinners with family, and a lifetime of other experiences. I often struggle with not feeling “Jewish enough” or like I missed out, especially because so many Jewish customs revolve around the home and family. My parents will often come with me to Shabbat services, but don’t participate in Jewish customs or celebrate Jewish holidays with me. “Anything that is a ritual in the home, they don’t really have the ability to have that autonomy,” said Rabbi Rachael Jackson of Agudas Israel Congregation in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Grace Hamilton, a student at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, has struggled with imposter syndrome during her conversion. Ever since she started college, she’s been questioning her place in the Jewish community and hasn’t been practicing Judaism as much as she used to. “I haven’t prayed in a really long time,” she said. She used to tell herself that once she finalized her conversion she would finally feel Jewish enough, but after a conversation with her rabbi, she realized that wasn’t the case. 

According to Rabbi Rochelle Tulik at Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, New York, many converts feel like they will never be Jewish enough. “That, no matter how hard they try, how many books they read or put on their shelves, no matter how often they come to services, or how many menorahs they light, somehow they’ll be caught,” she said in a Rosh Hashanah sermon she named “You Are Not an Imposter.”

Despite the struggles that many converts face, others like Rabbi Natasha Mann, who now serves as a rabbi at New London Synagogue in England, immediately felt at home within the Jewish community. “I felt like people were excited to have me there and wanted to hear what I had to say,” she said. After a family member mentioned that she might have Jewish ancestry, Mann began exploring out of curiosity. “I started looking into it, just because I felt that it was another piece of the puzzle,” she said. 

Coming from an interreligious and intercultural family, she wanted to explore another aspect of her heritage, but ended up connecting with Judaism in a way that she hadn’t connected with any other religion. After two years of study, she decided to officially start her conversion process.

The Jewish community gave Mann a place where her ideas were taken seriously and she could have religious discussions, even as a teen. “I don’t know what my life would have looked like if I hadn’t found somewhere to really express and delve into that,” she said. “And luckily, I never have to.”


The post Converting to Judaism has defined my high school experience appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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