Sunday, December 16, 2007

New Jews, Old Jews
by: Schvach Yid

A recent blog on the blogsite Jews By Choice at, posted on Dec. 5, 2007 by Chavy Jo, and titled When Worlds Collide: Transitioning, discussed the sensitive matter of ‘fitting in’. This was presented from the perspective of a Jew who has converted to Judaism through the aegis of the Reform Movement.

The task appears to be several fold: firstly, holding one’s own while convincing others that one’s new religious identity is legitimate, ie. being Jewish in a non-Jewish environment by people who reject one’s conversion; secondly, finding some solice in light of one’s need to convince others (should this need even exist?); thirdly, convincing oneself of the legitimacy of one’s conversion; and lastly, the family, both ‘new’ and ‘old’.

I’ve never converted to another religion. I’ve never considered nor explored this possibility. I’m very comfortable with Judaism and see no reason to even consider straying, but I have had the experience of meeting people who have made the switch to Judaism, with some interesting results. There’s one in particular.

As I’ve posted in the past, I grew up summering in a bungalow colony located in the Catskill Mountain region of New York State. Just a few years ago, I went back for a summer visit (the bungalow colony shut down, but the remnants of the old crowd has transferred to nearby digs) and was reunited with old friends.

During this visit one of the ladies of my parents’ generation talked about her oldest son and daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law, a native of the Bible Belt had converted to Judaism decades earlier when she and her Jewish husband married. The Jewish husband was born in Hungary and was never circumcised. Both his parents are Hungarian Holocaust survivors, but Judaism was never a part of the family’s life.

It was the daughter-in-law, newly converted to Judaism, who brought Judaism into that family, but in a matter I find most peculiar, she chose to join a havura of like converts to Judaism (in addition to their ‘regular’ synagogue membership; they have raised their children Jewish).

I could only interpret this as indicating a sense of doubt on her part concerning her legitimacy as a Jew. Alternatively, she doesn’t want to completely sever her ties with her native religion.

Similar problems of ease and self-perceived legitimacy exist for many native Jews, especially ba’alei t’shuva – religiously lax Jews who’ve chosen to go Orthodox.

The whole thing is enough to drive a Yid nuts, and it does! But self doubt and beating one’s head against the wall has never done anyone any good – I think.

Transitions tend to be tough, especially in the realm of religion. When I first started a new job a decade ago I met a graduate student at work. He greeted me, and as our conversation progressed we discovered our mutual Jewish identity. He told me he was a ‘Conservative Movement Jew’, that his girlfriend was with the Reform Movement, and that each week he baked mini-challot for Shabbos, would I like one.

Oh, oh! I knew exactly where he was headed – and without Chabad.

Over the next eight years (!) I bumped into him sporadically, but finally he had passed his dissertation defense, and was ready for graduation. And so there he stood in the elevator one fine day, yalmulka on his head, tzitzit hanging over his belt, untrimmed beard, minus his Reform Movement girlfriend.

But he wasn't so comfortable; he squeezed himself and pressed the back of his head against the back wall of the elevator car in an apparent attempt to conceal his yalmulka.

He proceeded to inform me of his post-graduation plan. ‘I haven’t decided yet. I’ve been accepted for a post-doctoral fellowship in a lab at Tel Aviv University, but I’ve also been accepted to several yeshivot in Israel. I’ll have to decide’.

No kidding he had to decide.

So Chavy Jo of the Jews By Choice blogsite, this is how it goes, for all Jews, convert or native. Get used to it.


muse said...

Some of my convert friends converted a few times, upgrading their Judaism to genuine standards. In a few cases that included multiple marriage ceremonies, with the same partners.

Here in Shiloh, I don't see the converts as banding together at all.

Anonymous said...
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Schvach said...

Converts not banding together makes sense to me. I don't understand the need for a converts' support group.

Akania said...

But really, i do see the need for convert groups. If Judaism was perfect and fully accepted people coming in because a Jew is a Jew, it wouldn't be necessary. But that's not TRUE. For some people this is how it works, which is great! But for others, it doesn't. It can be exhausting having to prove yourself again and again and again, sometimes you need someplace to just chill out, recharge batteries, people who understand the struggle and go out and do battle once more. Even worse off are people who stand out from the Jewish community they've converted to physically. I believe also many Orthodox don't really interact with the world so are not so up to date with the different kinds and colors of people there are in this world or imagine they might want to convert. And then there's shidduch!!!!

Akania said...

By the way, it's not necessarily a question of self-doubt, or not wanting to sever ties with the former religion as you stated. That's not the only reason hy someone might want to join a convert or balei teshuva group.
Like I've said in my earlier comment, a Jew is not always a Jew especially if they look physically different. Sometimes you need to get away.

Akania said...


Schvach said...

I'm sorry to learn that gerim go through such trials and tribulations.
I have never had any trouble accepting a sincere convert to Judaism. And a Jew is always a Jew, regardless, and furthermore, as you know, it's forbidden to refer to a convert as such.
Good luck in finding s shidduch (I assume you've referred to yourself).

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