Sue Westerman knows two really old languages. Her knowledge of Latin is from her earlier life as a Catholic. Her understanding of Hebrew is part of her life now as a Jewish woman.
Westerman not only reads the Torah during religious services, she also teaches Hebrew to children at Ohavay Zion Synagogue in Lexington. In her class she explains the Hebrew alphabet and the proper lettering used in the Torah.
"I can read (Hebrew) fairly easily, but I'm slower translating," she says.
Westerman, 63, began her spiritual trek from Christian to Jew at an early age. Her parents and family are Catholic, and she was raised in that faith. But when she was in high school in Indiana, she began questioning the teachings of her Catholic upbringing.
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After she left home, she began looking at other religions, "but nothing really hit the button," said Westerman.
She was attracted by the Jewish tradition of questioning: "If you have two Jews, you'll have three opinions," she said. "But I wasn't sure I wanted to be Jewish."
When she married a man who was raised Jewish, she knew she didn't want to raise their children as Catholics. And her changing faith was deepening.
"The more I read, the more it felt right" to convert to Judaism, the faith of her husband, Jack.
As she went through her conversion, she began to notice how oriented much of American culture is toward Christianity: "The calendar we use is from the pope, everyone assumes you celebrate Christmas and Easter."
She learned how to respond: "I tell them I'm not getting ready for Christmas, but I'm getting ready for Hanukkah."
Her family has been supportive of her. Though she was "a little surprised and didn't expect their reaction," she said, she never felt uncomfortable with her parents about her conversion.
The Westermans have three sons: Zack, Seth and Jeff. Their family navigated the sometimes tricky question of where and how to participate in family holiday celebrations. For them, gathering with her family at Thanksgiving, rather than in December, was a way to bridge the gap.
Westerman attends synagogue with her friend Kathie Kroot.
"We've been friends since 1993," Kroot said. The two women have been through many experiences together: They shared a bat mitzvah in 2003, they carpooled to Hebrew school and they supported each other through a death in Kroot's family.
Their families also have shared the High Holy Days, including planning food for the break fast after Yom Kippur this year, which is Oct. 8.
Kroot described Westerman as "my best friend, and she has always been there for me. ... She follows the commandments. She's just the most wonderful person."
Westerman is active at Ohavay Zion Synagogue. She is a past president of its Women's League for Conservative Judaism and is a leader during services.
Kroot and Westerman share something else: They are both converts from Catholicism. Ohavay Zion's membership includes other converts, and Kroot said they used to have a "Kathy club of converts," that included her and state Sen. Kathy Stein.
Kroot explained conversion like this: "We have always had a relationship with God. ... God didn't change. We did."