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Seona's Story

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Seona Macfarlane was born in Edinburgh, 1950. Three years after Seona was born, the family moved to Elland in Yorkshire where her father opened a GP surgery. The family were Christian, but church attendance was rare.

Seona pursued a career in hospitality, enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu London Culinary School at the age of 21. But she switched to a career in nursing from 1975. She moved to Manchester in 1983 to begin training as a midwife in Withington and then Wythenshawe hospitals. She would work in this field until retirement in 2010.

Seona held an interest in the Jewish faith throughout her life – a curiosity encouraged by several friendships in her formative years. In her forties, Seona became interested in the idea of converting to Judaism. Following an introduction with Rabbi Reuven Silverman, then rabbi the Manchester Reform Synagogue, she began her conversion to Reform Judaism in the 1990s.

Seona then immersed herself in her new Jewish life through joining the synagogue choir, the synagogue Ladies Guild and volunteering at the Morris Feinmann home. She also became a guide at Manchester Jewish Museum.

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Seona recalls a chance encounter that started her journey to conversion.

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“Whilst at Withington Hospital, I looked after a girl, well I went to work one night duty and was asked to scrub-in on a Caesarean section for a lady who was having triplets. That was fine and the triplets went to the neonatal unit. And the subsequent night duties I was on, I ended up being on the neonatal unit. And I became quite friendly with the mother of these triplets. And she was Jewish. I told her of my interest in Judaism. And the fact that I hadn’t really formulated any religious experience for myself. And it was something that my mother always said she would do for herself and she never actioned it and died before that in very tragic circumstances. And I always thought, that’s not going to happen to me. I’m not going to meet God without knowing him before I get there. Which is a bit weird but you know what you’re like, you have these fanciful thoughts. But meeting this lady and the conversations went in so many directions. I happened one night to say I was interested in Judaism and had often thought about conversion to Judaism. She then told me that her father had converted to marry her mother … She asked me if I had ever heard of Reform Judaism. Which I hadn’t. So, then she proceeded to give me a database on that. It was less formal shall we say than the orthodox fraternity. It was more inclusive, it had developed to be such … Various things that sort of ticked boxes, and I thought yes well that sounds possible. She then the next night gave me the telephone number of the reform synagogue which was in the centre of Manchester.”

Seona describes her first encounters with Manchester’s Jewish communities and the feelings that these experiences evoked in her.

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“The next day I went to this Bar Mitzvah and there was a gentleman assigned to take me under his wing. I sat with him, and he took me through the siddur and what was what with the service. And what impressed me was the mixed choir. I thought it was absolutely glorious, all these lovely voices singing in Hebrew. And I became quite confident in the fact that I was doing the right thing … At this first service … But a very big part of my Jewish journey … involved the Jewish museum … I knew there was a Jewish museum in Manchester. A friend has come over to visit me. We were going to go back to my hometown of Elland … We passed the museum and I said to my friend, ‘I’ve never been in, let’s go.’ We stopped the car. We went into the Jewish museum … We never got to Yorkshire … It was going into the sanctuary of the synagogue … I had that overwhelming feeling … of being in the right place. And that was the catalyst that pushed me to convert … During my formative years Mum and Dad would take us across Europe, doing the grand tours of the cathedrals … and I would think, wow, the architecture is wonderful … but when I got inside, and I would feel absolutely nothing. There was no spiritual feeling at all. It didn’t do anything for me.”

Seona describes her non-Jewish family’s reaction to her conversion.

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“My father and stepmother, as she was, were a little bit puzzled. But my close family, my sisters and my brother, they were, ‘well ok, if that’s what you want to do, that sounds ok,’ you know. There was no, ‘well what do you want to do that for?’ They were, ‘ok then, well if that’s what you’ve decided then that’s fine.’ Yes. And they did ask during the process how it was going. They were interested to know about the Beth Din … Let’s put it this way. They have never been negative …

We got into the habit of doing Friday night, so we always had the candlesticks in their homes. And we’d do the bracha and the blessing over the wine and bread. But because they are not Jewish, the meat wouldn’t necessarily be kosher of course. But my sisters have always been very mindful of not mixing meat and milk at the same meal. That way they have shown respect you see … When I’m there with them we do bring elements of Judaism in.”

Seona describes her identity as a Jewish woman following her conversion.

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“I’d probably go back and say, my biological identity. My father was Scots Irish, my mother was from Lancashire so I’m British really … But I feel so proud of what I have achieved with conversion that I always do say that I have a Jewish way of life. And it introduces then the topic that I did convert. And I do say to people, it takes you over and I do describe the fact that I have a Jewish way of life and that’s it really … I do have more knowledge … because I have assimilated it … I have come across visitors to the museum and people at functions who don’t know how the dairy laws tie in with the laws in Leviticus and how they came about and how they have developed. Because they have just done it. I have had to understand the process of why that had developed and how you assimilate that into your own home. They have been brought up with separate kitchens or half this and that. I have had to learn that process … I’m very proud to be Jewish.”

Seona With The Ladies Guild Committee At Manchester Reform Synagogue, 2000s.
Seona With The Ladies Guild Committee At Manchester Reform Synagogue, 2000s.

Seona with the Ladies Guild Committee at Manchester Reform Synagogue, 2000s.

Seona Guiding At Manchester Jewish Museum, C.2015.

Seona guiding at Manchester Jewish Museum, c.2015.

Seona With The Organising Committee Of A Chanukah Event At Manchester Reform Synagogue, 2018.

Seona with the organising committee of a Chanukah event at Manchester Reform Synagogue, 2018.

Seona, C. 2000s.

Seona, c. 2000s.

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