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After Bethany finished her degree at Oxford, they moved to Jerusalem so Slater could pursue a master’s degree of his own, in Jewish civilization, at Hebrew University. In Israel, they joined a church and lived for a time in a Palestinian village outside Bethlehem.
But they also immersed themselves in Jewish learning communities. Bethany split her time between working with various NGOs and an intensive course of Jewish study at the Conservative yeshiva. And Slater took a year off from his degree program to do a fellowship at the Shalom Hartman Institute, the intellectual center whose work focuses on the intersection of Judaism and modernity.
As the Slaters began to get a handle on the spiritual questions that had tormented them for years, they found themselves falling in love with Jewish ritual life — especially the observance of Shabbat, which took Slater back to his family’s practice of taking a weekly Sabbath (though that one was on Thursdays).
“We’d been to so many Shabbat tables,” Slater said. “We wanted that. We wanted the texture of Shabbat, a real day of stepping back with people.”
With their return to the United States drawing closer, the conversion question began to intensify. In Jerusalem, where Judaism is baked into the fabric of living, they had been able to live a kind of vicarious Judaism, spending Shabbat and holidays with friends without formally converting. Back home they would have to make an affirmative commitment to Judaism if they wanted the kind of spiritual and intellectual engagement they had known in Jerusalem.
“So as Bethany and I are talking, it was another decision point,” Slater said. “And the question really was do we want to make a commitment and actually be obligated to do Shabbat, or just want to be people that occasionally crash someone else’s Shabbat? And that was pretty clear.”