Jewish history is a study of paradox, dichotomy and juxtaposition. The bitter and the sweet, the tragic and the triumphant, so often surging simultaneously through the lives of individual Jews and collective Jewry all at the same time. So it has been of late.

The soldiers began evacuating of residents of N'vei Dekalim on August 17, 2005. About 9:30 that morning, I called my friend Chaya in N'vei Dekalim to determine the status of things.

"All has been quiet," she told me. "We are surprised, nothing has happened yet. We all had a good night's sleep and we are sitting here, with the doors barricaded, but our bags are packed and ready for when the soldiers arrive. In the meantime, we've turned on music and we are singing Tehillim around the table."

We spoke a few more minutes. Suddenly screams became audible in the distance. "These are your children! These are your children! Judenrein! Judenrein!" There were the sounds of commotion, of a melee. The soldiers had arrived at the neighboring house. Shortly, they broke into the home using great force. I gave Chaya a blessing that HaShem should give her and everyone in the home wisdom, strength, the right words to speak and His protection. Then we said good-bye, promising to speak later.

Where was I when I called Chaya? On a bus to Tel Aviv, to a mikveh for the final step in my becoming a Jew. The most momentous moment of my life: 12 Av, my 50th Hebrew birthday and my very first day as a Jew. A Jubilee for me, or, as my dear friend Meira, accompanying me to the mikveh, had quipped, my "Jew-bilee". The bitter and the sweet; the tragic and the triumphant. Welcome to Am Yisrael (the People of Israel).

Arriving at the mikveh, I dealt with the paperwork and then we sat down to wait. Shortly, one of the Beit Din rabbis called me into a mikveh chamber. Meira came with me. The "mikveh lady" checked my nails, toenails, face and hair to make sure I was scrupulously clean, then she asked me to shower and enter the mikveh. She left the room and I complied. Entering the warm mikveh waters, which represent both a grave and a womb, I rejoiced that I had quiet time to contemplate and to pray.

For close to ten precious minutes, I was able to seek HaShem's favor and intervention in the events in Gush Katif, in Eretz Yisrael, in Am Yisrael and in my own personal affairs. The sages tell us that our prayers have special power at the time of a conversion mikveh - not to mention that our sins are forgiven, our "slate" is washed clean. Baruch HaShem. Every step, every significant date on the journey to this moment had been so pregnant with meaning and layers of significance when studied in the light of the wisdom of Torah and the sages.

The mikveh lady returned. At her command, I immersed. Given that I'm far too buoyant, I had to try again, achieving success on the second dip. She handed me a robe. When I was ready, she brought in the Beit Din. The rabbis encircled me, standing along the edge of the mikveh. One of them took the lead, standing directly in front of me and staring intently into my eyes. There were three preliminary questions to determine my total acceptance of Judaism and its responsibilities. Then, the rabbi asked what my Hebrew name would be.

"Ashirah Yosefah," I answered. "Ashirah with an alef, not an ayin. As in 'ashirah [I will sing] l'HaShem ki ga'oh ga'ah....' [the opening line of the Song of the Sea, prayed daily in the Shacharit prayer service]."

The three Rabbis responded with delight and commented, "That's a lovely name."

The rabbi had me repeat an oath in which I took upon myself full submission to the commandments of Torah and the sages of Israel. Then he had me immerse, say the appropriate bracha, then immerse twice more. As I emerged from this warm and fluid womb the final time, he asked me to say the Shema prayer. Clearing the mikveh waters from my mouth and throat, and wiping them from my eyes, I covered my eyes and sang the Shema - not realizing that it is not usually sung (I have always sung it).

When the final syllable of "echad" faded away, the overseeing rabbi burst out, "Ashirah l'HaShem! Ashirah l'Hashem!"

Meira later told me that they had been deeply moved by the melodic rendering of Shema.

When I dried off and returned to the mikveh office to pick up the letter certifying me as "a true Jew", the Beit Din rabbis began their own melodic refrain, "Ashirah Yosefah. Ashirah Yosefah." The overseeing Rabbi came up to me and, in the kindest voice I have ever heard, said, "Ashirah Yosefah, you have a lovely voice. May HaShem grant that you shall use it to bless the Jewish people." Then, he handed me my letter. I have never felt such wholeness, such serenity, such a sense of being clean. The sweet, the precious, the triumph.

Leaving the mikveh, my phone rang. It was Chaya. "Mazel tov, mazel tov!" were the words pouring forth.

"Thanks," I said, "but what is going on? Are you alright?"

It was 11:15 am. Chaya, Miriam, Miriam's daughter, son-in-law and their nine children (number ten due any day) were all still sitting and waiting, singing Tehillim. "It's quiet here now. We thought we would be the next house to go, but nothing has happened. The waiting is the most difficult part," Chaya confided. "We just wish they would get this over with."

Even in the midst of their intense mourning and trepidation, this wonderful friend and family had the chesed to call me and effusively extend sincere words of welcome and joy. "We are soooo happy for you," they said. "We are rejoicing here because of you. We've been waiting for you."

What amazing, righteous souls.

Meira and I returned to Jerusalem. Leaving the central bus station, my phone rang again. It was 12:40pm. This time, it was Miriam with yet more wishes and words of blessing.

"How are you? What's happening? Where are you?" I pressed her.

"We are still waiting, sitting at the kitchen table singing Tehillim," she said. "The doors are all barricaded, but if the soldiers use the force on them that they did at the neighbors, they will end up standing in the kitchen! We are not going to resist them.... We certainly are not going to simply walk out, but once the soldiers arrive, we will each pick up our bags and leave, singing Tehillim as we go. We have changed the music now. We have decided as a family to accept this as HaShem's sovereign will, no matter how difficult it is, and we are determined that we will do it with joy. The joy is not easy, but we will do our best."

Suddenly, a woman's voice screamed, "Get out of here!" The evacuation was not yet over next door.

The bitter and the sweet. The tragic and the triumphant. Welcome to Am Yisrael.