I hung out with The Boy last Friday. We made dinner and played a game and out of nowhere, he looked at me and said in a voice barely above a whisper, “Now it’s just like you were born Jewish.”
I don’t think he knew what that meant to me. I had to look away to not become overcome with emotion.
Not every Jew I’ve encountered on this path has reacted negatively, but the negative responses far outweigh the positives. Some are out-and-out negative reactions—looks of horrors and scoffs of “Psh, you’ll never be really Jewish.” But some are more subtle, hidden in jest, “Why on EARTH would you do that?” Both place the convert-to-be in a defensive position, of explaining ourselves and our life choices. Yes, we eventually manage to form an elevator response to deliver, along with a thick skin, but we shouldn’t have to.
On the flip side, I’ve also been at services or holiday events where someone’s reaction is really positive, and a good percentage of the time, they will start to explain Shabbat or the chag to me, as though I have no idea what these concepts are and just decided to plow ahead with the conversion process anyway. How do you stop someone short in a mini-lecture without sounding rude? Would you lecture a baal teshuva in the Conservative or Reform movements about what the holidays mean? Do they not know we have, in most cases, spent months and even years studying on our own before working up the nerve to approach the rabbi? The answer is obviously not. (I have an idea running around in my head that I’d like to approach the rabbi with: offering training sessions to the congregation about how to interact with converts and a mentorship program to next year’s conversion class. Much still needs to be fleshed out, but I’m working on it; that’s for another post though.)
The Boy didn’t do either. The Boy just accepted me as I was. As though I were like him: knowledgeable enough to make his own choices about his own Judaism. An equal.