Photo By David Robert

Reno businesswoman Aileen Martin is a past member of the Reno City Council and was formerly a traditional Protestant. She has spent the past two years in study as part of her decision to convert to Judaism.

What made you decide to do this?

There is no short answer. I got to a point of a spiritual void, a physical feeling of a void and knowing that that void was my connection to a higher power. So I was searching. In that search, I came across many things that made a lot of sense, you know. On some levels, Buddhism made a lot of sense; Catholicism makes a lot of sense; Baptism makes a lot of sense. But it made no sense to me. So it led to Judaism. And it wasn’t that I had picked up a kabbalah or Torah, anything. It just literally was driving down the street one day, drove past the temple, turned in, went in, knocked on the door, met with the rabbi, and that started the quest. Just like that.

What has the process been like?

Every day you have what we call mitzots, which are like commandments. Every day you have to pray, and every day you try to connect a little closer to Hashem, which is God. I study every day. It’s ongoing. To truly be a Jew is—it’s not just a religion, it’s a way of life, it’s a people unto itself. So it’s every day, it’s a constant journey as any religious journey should be, a constant awakening, a renewal, enlightenment, epiphany. Every day you should discover something else that you weren’t aware of.

How has it changed the rest of your life?

I’m a much more positive person. I’m much more at peace. I’m not so quick to snap or say things. I’m more mindful of other people now, and their feelings.

How did your mother [Senator Bernice Martin Mathews] react to your decision to convert?

Oh, she was thrilled. She loves it. Momma’s just—I mean, she’s excited. You know, every time I learn something else or my Hebrew gets a little bit better or my Yiddish gets a little bit better, and then I go and talk to her and she’s like, “What did you just say to me?” My family has been incredibly supportive. And, as you know, my grandfather was a Bishop for the Church of God in Christ. I try to stay kosher, and they’re very mindful of my diet.

How about your friends?

Some have been very positive, some have been taken aback. Some have been like, “Why would you do something like that?”

Do you understand why they react that way?

Yes, I do. I appreciate it. I think it would be that type of reaction if I said I was going to convert to whatever. We human beings tend to be comfortable to non-change.

Were there ever times when you had second thoughts?

No, absolutely not. To this very second, I am excited. I am excited about the whole process. Every day that I wake up I am excited. I’m proud of my journey.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...