Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Advantages of a Being a Ger/Jew By Choice

During the last four months or so I have encountered a number of Gerim. For those who are not MOT you can translate this to mean someone who has converted to Judaism or you can use the headline Jew By Choice.

However, I need to add that from a personal standpoint I am not real fond of applying Jew By Choice strictly to those who have converted as I like to think of myself as being a Jew By Choice. That is, I choose to be Jewish because I want to be not just because I was born a Jew.

That brings me to the next point which is that I find it interesting to hear why people convert to Judaism. It is not something that you hear about every day. There are a variety of reasons for it, some of them are based upon historical incidents in which proselytization of non-Jews was dangerous.

If you are interested you can find some background on conversion and topics surrounding it by starting here. In the interim I have a different focus for this post.

One of the challenges of being brought up with a particular faith or set of values is that we often do not take the time to really question why we believe what we believe. We simply watch our parents and mimic their behavior. "Dad was Democrat and so am I," blah, blah, blah.

In concept this doesn't sound like a problem but in reality I think that there are issues with it. The area that takes primacy is a question of values. What values are important to you and why. They may not be the same as your parents. That doesn't automatically disqualify or lessen their importance.

From my standpoint I think that it is important for people to consider what they believe and why. I like to understand why I think it is important to act/behave in a certain fashion. I want to know my principles well enough to explain them in a clear and succinct fashion. It helps me to understand myself and what place I want to take in the world around me. It also helps to guide me in guiding my children.

So when I look at people who convert to Judaism I view them as someone who has taken time to consider their beliefs and reached a place in which they see Judaism as filling a natural and important role. And I see them as often having a deeper and better understanding of why they are Jews than many of us who were born Jewish. And to me that is valuable.

What do you think?

5 comments:

Yetta said...

I know quite a few gerim. These gerim converted by an orthodox rabbi and live Torah observant lives. I think that they are absolutely amazing. BT's are amazing, too, but their "conversion" was a natural thing. Already being Jewish, their neshamas wanted them to do mitzvahs.

But back to gerim....

I have a close friend who was not born Jewish, who dated a Jewish man in her teenage years, converted reform so that she could marry him and eventually converted orthodox and they both went Lubavitch. She felt so close to Judaism at such a young age and converted at such a young age that she considered herself Jewish before doing it halachically. It was just a formality. Meeting her, you would think she was an ffb in the finest sense. Aidel, committed, always smiling.

I have another friend who converted with her husband. Neither grew up with any formal religion, but wanted their children to have it. They chose Judaism after much research because they thought that orthodox Jews would be more accepting of their biracial (black/white) children.

There is another couple I know with a wife who "grew up" Jewish. Always thinking she was Jewish because her father was. After she married a man who wasn't Jewish, they both started exploring orthodox Judaism and decided that was the way for them and they both had to convert.

I can tell you that all of these people are model members of the community. Knowing them very well, I can say that they seem to work even harder at doing mitzvahs than many BT's and FFB's I know. They seem to take their Judaism more seriously. It's like a reward they have to constantly work for. Whereas, those of us born Jewish might not work so hard knowing that we were born into it (or maybe I am only speaking for myself).

Anonymous said...

I have a neighbor who married into a Jewish family. She was discriminated for not being Jewish by her in-laws, and husband's extended family.

Her husband has passed away recently, so she spends part of her year in Australia and part in Israel visiting her daughter.

It is very sad, but this poor lady has to pretend to be Jewish in order to avoid discrimination within what is now her extended family. Her own grandchildren don't know that she is not Jewish.

I wonder if she had converted to Judaism if she would have been better accepted by the Jewish community. Then again, who wants to join a community which is so blatantly racist. I'm not saying that all Jews are racist, but it is common for marriage with non-jews to be frowned upon.

deb's life said...

I am in the process of converting. Although it is hard to explain to people so I've pretty much stopped explaining, it is not difficult to understand. I know I have a jewish soul. period. I was missing something my whole life. When I walked into an orthodox synagogue the first time I knew it is where I belonged.

Anonymous said...

It used to be that an occasional sincere person converted to Judaism. Now Madonna thinks she's Jewish. It seems you go to temple nowadays and a good portion of the congregation is a convert. I go to temple to be with other Jews.

Pardon me, but a lot of converts are lost souls, have no clear identity of their own. I don't think you can convert to Judaism any more than a Caucasian can decide to be Chinese.

I'm tired of giving lip service to this. I honestly find all these gung-ho converts very hard to take.

Devorah Catherine Tucker said...

"It used to be that an occasional sincere person converted to Judaism. Now Madonna thinks she's Jewish. It seems you go to temple nowadays and a good portion of the congregation is a convert. I go to temple to be with other Jews.

Pardon me, but a lot of converts are lost souls, have no clear identity of their own. I don't think you can convert to Judaism any more than a Caucasian can decide to be Chinese.

I'm tired of giving lip service to this. I honestly find all these gung-ho converts very hard to take."

I definitely think I was a "lost soul" my whole life. And then Hashem led me to Judaism. It might be "hard to take" dealing with converts, but for converts, constantly being questioned and challenged to prove that one is sincere, committed, observant, etc., is also "hard to take," and might explain why many converts seem so "gung-ho."

The truth is, yes, there are many more converts today in North America. It is much less dangerous to convert in this time and place, and Judaism is more accessible. Is this a BAD thing? I don't think so! This is what the Jewish people have wanted--acceptance to practice our faith in peace, and without shame or hiding.

Please try to see this from a convert's perspective. Treat us like any other Jew. Don't ask if we are converts--most people who I have met post-conversion told me that they didn't know I was not born Jewish. It was only when I talked about my family that they considered that I was a convert.