Some call it “Jew by choice.” I’ve come to embrace the title. Many of you reading this do not know me. But you have heard of or met others who chose to be Jewish. Or you might be thinking of converting to Judaism.
This thread was partially inspired by my cousin Julianne. She asked me a simple question: “I’m interested in converting to Judaism. How do I do it?” In the beginning, the process is a little overwhelming and unclear. I felt that.
If you are curious and thinking about converting to Judaism, then think of me as your guide—a convert who went through the process, dipped in the mikveh (ritual bath) and who now lives what I would call a pretty normal American Jewish life.
If you are Jewish and curious what the life of a Jewish convert is all about, then you’ve come to the right place. I hope to hear from you and get into questions that spark your interest.
“Ask the New Jew” is a column to share my own stories of living a Jewish life from the perspective of a convert. It also allows for a platform for anyone with questions. They can be serious or lighthearted, direct or broad. And, hopefully, with a little luck they will spark a dialogue and answer questions others may have been wondering but were too polite to ask.
Each post will have a question. These questions could come from you, or questions that I’ve been asked (or asked myself) since I started my Jewish journey. I will try my best to answer every question honestly.
Let’s start this thread with a question every convert is asked: “Why convert to Judaism?”
I have limited space here for a big topic, so I’ll lay out my highlights.
Converting to Judaism for me was no easy road. I didn’t just wake up one morning Jewish. It was more of an evolution. I dabbled in and tasted just about every other religion before I ended at Judaism. I have good friends in all parts of the world who were happy to share their religions and cultures. It’s good to know what choices are available. That’s how I know I chose what was best for me.
Overall, I chose Judaism because it made me a better person and, in turn, I hope, made the world a tiny bit better. Being Jewish is the best version I can be of me. And I am thankful for that.
But how does it make me a better person?
Question everything. I remember the rabbi in my conversion course saying, “Question everything. That’s half of being Jewish.” Our conversation class was pushed to question everything in the Torah. I could see fellow students wondering if the rabbi was joking. Was this a test? Was it wrong to question the Torah? Maybe she would kick us out if we did question everything!
I heard it over and over: Question everything. Even the highest authority. Judaism teaches us we need to have our own minds and we need to think. Even if you come to the conclusion you do not believe in God, that’s OK. Many Jewish Americans don’t believe in God. This aspect was radically different from what I heard in other religions.
Be kind. Don’t just say it. Do it. Jewish people are kind in a way that’s encouraged and well thought out. It’s promoted to be practiced. We have terms for it, like tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (charity) and mitzvot (good deeds). And these concepts make me better. They make our communities better. And maybe even heal the world.
Family and tradition. Jewish homes are warm and comfy. They can be loud. Fun. Opinionated. Celebrations on Shabbat, enjoying the holidays. Lots of holidays. These were all things I felt were natural and I wanted in my life. It’s around these traditions I want to raise my family.
Structure. While I was going through my conversion, I would ask everyone, “What’s the most important aspect of being Jewish?” To my surprise, the most common response was, “Structure.” At first, I thought it to be an odd answer. Now, a few years later, I get it. The structure helps me grow and keeps me on track. Judaism gives structure in how we celebrate, remember loved ones and how we help others. Structure makes me better.
Food. Oh, and the food! If you know me well, you might think this is my biggest motivation. I LOVE Jewish food. Lox, white fish, gefilte fish, bagels, kugel, rugelach, babka, latkes, hamentashen, brisket and the list goes on. Does the food make me better? Well, it makes me happy, that’s for sure. (And a little bigger.)
Now, I know you’re reading this and saying, “I don’t know, what about….” And that’s great. Question everything! If you didn’t, how would I make this thread better?
So please, feel motivated to send an email to email@example.com. Let me know what you think and what you would like to know. Because I know, you question everything.
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