“I am converting to Judaism at the request of my fiancé. I have a 4-year-old who is going to convert with me. How do I explain the importance of conversion to him?”
I am thrilled that you are preparing to convert to Judaism. I welcome you into this ancient and modern faith and people. Converts are celebrated within Judaism. As a convert, you will be welcomed beneath the wings of the Divine Presence. There is a midrash (a story derived from the Torah) that Moses expounded the Torah in 70 languages, because the Torah was meant to be heard and embraced by all humans. No matter what your background or family of origin, you will hear and receive Jewish wisdom in your own unique way. I am delighted for you and your four-year-old.
You are lucky that your fiancé is a partner in this process for you so that you can explore conversion and Judaism together. I hope you will find the riches within Judaism for yourselves as well as for your son. Your four-year-old is in the ideal position. You will be able to give him the warm, loving memories that celebrating Judaism at home and in synagogue can bring. Your child will treasure the Chanukah menorah, the chocolate gelt, the songs of Shabbat, and the smell of the Havdalah spices. He will bask in the warmth of family love around the Shabbat dinner table, and the joy of shaking a grogger (noisemaker) at Purim. By the time he grows up, these memories will be embedded into his soul. You are giving your child (and yourself) a real gift. I hope that soon, you will find yourself saying that you are converting to Judaism for your own sake, as well as for the sake of your fiancé, and your family life. You will be so proud, and feel fully part of it, the day your son stands up as a bar mitzvah.
You may want to introduce your son to Judaism and to conversion through tactile methods, such as through food and fun. If you haven’t already, find your favorite challah bakery, and let your child come with you on Friday morning to choose his own challah. Or better yet, make your own together. Make hamentashen at Purim, and hug a tree for Tu BiShvat. Give your son literally a taste of what will come in the future upon conversion.
After your child has a sense of the goodies in store, you might tell him the story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” What’s the connection, you might ask? Snow White and the dwarfs originated from different backgrounds, but they came together under one roof and formed a family together, with shared values and love. This is what you plan to do with your child and your fiancé. Each of you is different but you plan to come together to form a family together with the same goals and ways of living. At four, your child probably will not understand the idea of “different religions” but he can understand people coming together to form a family. All of you in the family want to share the same holidays, songs and synagogue together. You want to talk to God using the same language and words. Even when you pray from your own heart, with your own thoughts, it will be in a similar style as the rest of the family.
According to Jewish law, it is fairly easy to convert a child under the age of 12. The basis in Jewish law is that it is a privilege to be Jewish (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 268:7), so the process for children is designed to be relatively straightforward. Your rabbi will guide you in the necessary steps.
I wish you, your son and your fiancé much happiness. I hope Judaism brings you and your family joy and love, intellectual excitement and spiritual nourishment.
A website you might find useful is Conversion to Judaism Resource Center, which provides support and guidance across the Jewish movements.
For easy, accessible language and answers to common questions, check out InterfaithFamily’s booklet, Conversion to Judaism: Frequently Asked Questions.