Laura Bauer asks: Hi. I am considering conversion but am afraid of born Jews questioning my status. Will people question me if I visit a synagogue?
Many people who consider formally joining the Jewish people through conversion share your concerns. No one likes to be interrogated at synagogue or viewed with hesitation. Some feel uncomfortable as they feel they don’t “look” or “act” Jewish. I wish I could deny that born Jews sometimes make insensitive comments and ask inappropriate questions of Jews by choice. Adding to the YouTube meme, there is even a video now on “Stuff Jews Say to Converts.” The born Jew who makes these comments is violating Jewish law, which forbids reminding Jews by choice that they once were not Jewish. Those who convert to Judaism are considered in the tradition as fully Jewish and praiseworthy for joining the Jewish people.
Each year I am blessed to guide more than 40 conversions as the executive director of The Jewish Discovery Institute (JDI). These adults and children come from all over the world and represent many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and experiences. Each of these individuals has become part of Jewish communities who in turn are enriched by their presence.
At many synagogues, including my own (Temple Shalom in Medford), members who have converted to Judaism have served in active leadership roles, including committee chairs, board members and even as president. There are also rabbis who themselves came to Judaism though conversion. The Jewish community is incredibly diverse, and it is not possible to simply look at someone and know whether they were born Jewish or have become a Jew by choice.
My advice to those considering conversion but experiencing hesitation is to visit synagogues in your area, and speak with their rabbis and members, particularly those who are Jews by choice. Ask how they have been welcomed and how they might have handled well-meaning but perhaps intrusive questions. While each synagogue community is different, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the depth of positive embrace Jews by choice are afforded in the Jewish community today.
For more information, check out InterfaithFamily’s booklet, Conversion to Judaism: Frequently Asked Questions, which offers clear, non-judgmental answers to the questions they’ve been asked most often over the years.