Kevin Darvill’s entry into Judaism was not quite as he had expected.
He had been due to travel from his home in Woolacombe, North Devon, last week to appear before the Reform Beit Din in London but the session was cancelled because of travel restrictions.
Instead, he was one of 10 people remotely accepted by the Reform Beit Din into the faith on Tuesday through video link for the first time.
Although the others will have to wait to formally complete the conversion procedure until the mikveh at the Sternberg Centre becomes available again, he was able to perform his ritual immersion in the sea.
“I’m lucky I live off the North Devon coast,” said the 41-year-old, who is sales manager for a holiday park.
“It was quite a moment to use the Atlantic. The sea is at its coldest in March, it was freezing. But it was incredible to be out in nature. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.”
His journey to Judaism has been a long one. Raised in a secular family in Lincolnshire, he said it was when he began learning about Judaism in school at the age of 11 or 12 that “something immediately felt right. I used to go the library on a Saturday and read books on Judaism.”
Still, it was not until a long-awaited trip to Israel three years that he finally decided it was time to convert. Having previously moved to Devon, he started going to the nearest synagogue — in Exeter.
“It’s 50 miles, it’s definitely quite a shlep. But they don’t have a rabbi and they don’t have a conversion course.”
After speaking to the Reform Beit Din, he was put in touch with West London Synagogue which ran an online “Jprep” —Jewish preparation -—course.
“It was done by Rabbi Sybil Sheridan and it was fairly new. We’ve been meeting every fortnight over the past two years.”
Now his Beit Din examination has come by computer, too. “Rather than going up to London, the rabbis came to my living room. I don’t normally get nervous but I was definitely nervous because I felt a lot was counting on it.”
Beit Din convenor Rabbi Jackie Tabick said, “For the benefit of those going through the conversion process, we have taken the decision to continue their conversion journeys through digital means.
“People prepare for a long time for their appointment at the Beit Din and we do not wish to make them wait unnecessarily for that part of the journey.”
“For the process to be completed, mikveh and in some cases brit will have to be undertaken once these sacred events are again possible.”
The Reform and Liberal mohalim last week announced they would not carry out circumcisions during the coronavirus crisis.
The conversion candidates were tested on their commitment to Judaism for the usual half an hour by the court of four rabbis.
As they awaited the decision, they went into a virtual “waiting room” with their sponsoring rabbi.
On Wednesday, Mr Darvill had a bottle of wine ready for a digital affirmation ceremony to welcome his Jewish arrival in the evening, joined by friends online. “I’ve turned into a cyber-Jew,” he said.