Andrea Karshan's Articles, Converts, Jewish, Judaism

Unrealistic and Stupid Expectations of Converts and Those Converting to Judaism

By Andrea Karshan

Some born Jews feel that as converts we owe something to the Jewish world because we converted.  These Jews think they are doing us a favor by “letting us join the club” and “allowing” us to participate.  To them unlike them, we aren’t the “real deal.”  We are a convert. Damned by the fact that we don’t choose who our mothers are, so by no fault of our own our mothers are not Jewish. The fact that we chose Judaism and worked hard to convert instead of just having our Jewishness handed to us at birth is not even considered in these circles. We are the converts. And this we converts are reminded of time and time again, and not in a positive way.

Many converts hide that they are converts because of the problem of discrimination against them in the Jewish community. Though Jews are commanded not to oppress converts or remind them of their status, this commandment is often not followed.

A born Jew said to me,”Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” She thought that I was indebted to her because she was nice to me  at one time and because I  was coming to “her synagogue” and “participating”. This statement followed an argument triggered by her being upset about me sharing on Facebook an article that she thought made Jews look bad. She and some others in the synagogue said someone who is “converting” shouldn’t post such things.  I pointed out that born Jews on Facebook including a rabbi shared the same article. But of course, that didn’t matter. I was the person converting in the room. The argument soon turned into a lynching of my personality and Facebook.  I learned a long time ago that in those kinds of circles when you are the only “convert” in the room things never go in your favor.

To some born Jews, there are certain “expectations” of those converting and converts that born Jews don’t necessarily have to abide by.  Here is a list of some I have come across in my travels.

Those converting or converts can not:

      -Share any negative news about the Jews, Judaism or the Jewish world on any social media platform. If the convert or person converting does, they are a heretic and are betraying the Jewish people.

      -Write any negative news or views about Jews, Judaism or the Jewish world in a newspaper, book, blog or elsewhere. If the convert or person converting does, they are a heretic and are betraying the Jewish people.

     -Disagree with or dislike any born Jews because a born Jew is always right regardless of the situation because the born Jew is Jewish. There are a few exceptions to this.  For example, a Jew who is a child molester everyone has “permission” to dislike him.

     -Engage in a group discussion with born Jews and express an opposing view because that view is automatically wrong because the convert or person converting is a former goy or goy.

If a convert or someone converting expresses a halakhic opinion, some born Jews will pull the “Jew card” on them and accuse them of trying to take over Jews.

A convert is expected to follow Judaism “perfectly.” Though many excuses are made when born Jews don’t do this or that, when a convert doesn’t follow something it is a different story.  There is a big double standard here. Born Jews can pick and choose what to follow, how to practice and can go from one denomination to another. A convert, on the other hand, comes under much more scrutiny when they fall short of the community’s expectations.  When some born Jews wake up and realize that converts are human beings like everyone else the world will be a much better place.  Like born Jews, converts have imperfections, their strengths and weaknesses and their high and low periods. We are human. We aren’t superheroes!

If you disagree with the above statements or you think that you are a born Jew that doesn’t behave like this the keywords here are SOME JEWS. Everyone is an individual. Not every born Jew I have run into has treated me or others like this. These statements are just a collection of some of the ridiculous expectations some born Jews have tried to put on me and others.

To quote a friend,

“There aren’t 50 shades of Jews. There are 100 shades of Jews.”

So for those converting don’t be dismayed by the few shades that are complete assholes.  There are plenty of shades that aren’t.  The key to converting to Judaism is to find the right Jews, synagogues, and organizations to surround yourself with.  You will find some are very friendly and welcoming. Some will forever dislike you no matter how “Jewish” you get. Others will act like they like you and then if any “issue” comes up throw your conversion or the fact that you are a convert in your face.  It just is what it is.  As converts, we are definitely at a disadvantage in the Jewish world compared to born Jews. Our conversions are under scrutiny. Our Jewishness is often questioned.  That is why I truly believe that conversion should be motivated by the  Jewish religion and never a community or a person.  People come and go as does acceptance at times.  But if one believes in G-d and the Torah that is eternal.

 

25 Comments

  1. Cara

    I am not a Jew but would love to convert. The synagogue I attnd has none of these feelings. They accept me like a stranger in a strange land. The Tisch this week was actually about accepting the stranger. I hope more non-Jews have the welcoming experience I have had here in Bangor, Maine.

    Reply
  2. Henri

    I live in the Midwest and I have experienced this. People don’t take me seriously sometimes or consider me well studied in Judaism. It’s very frustrating. One thing this article doesn’t mention is that many born Jews act like they are entitled to hearing my conversion story which is really personal and complicated and I don’t like sharing with strangers. I always feel frustrated with having to self identify as a convert even when a month away from my mikvah because born Jews that never come to synagogue don’t recognize me even though I’ve been coming to my current synagogue for almost 2 years.

    Reply
  3. Binah Bindell

    I’m not a convert. I was born Jewish. However I’m a Baal Tshuva ( A BT is a person that was born a Jew and became more knowledgeable and observant of Judaism) since my 20’s. I’ve experienced some feelings of exclusion, especially years ago when being a Baal Tshuva was not as common. Some very insensitive things have been said. I’ve often felt that converts and BT’s have a lot in common. That’s a discussion! In any event, a person that engages in such behavior is coming from their own insecurities and ignorance. This is not a Jewish issue, it’s a universal problem. A convert, a BT is 100% Jewish. Be comfortable in that knowledge.
    Just keep growing and becoming the best you, you can be. Live wholeheartedly.
    It’s never about you when people aren’t kind, it’s about them. 💛

    Reply
  4. Uzi Weingarten

    Thank you for this poignant reminder about how converts are being treated. I tend to feel humble in the presence of converts–they have made a remarkable journey, and they deserve our respect and our love.

    Reply
  5. M.

    Sad but true. I live in Poland. Sometimes I had an impression that moset of born Jews are following of nazi’s way of thinking: Jewishness is a matter of DNA – not a religion of choice. It is a tragic but real. I wish it would change some day….

    Reply
  6. Unfortunately,discrimination racism and prejudice is a human condition and afflicts 98% of humanity,it is not only the convert who experience this but also within the jewish community a Hasid will feel prejudice and discrimination in a so called yeshivish or non hasidic community and vice versa’
    One more thing Andrea! never ever confuse Jews with Judaism,just because someone is born Jewish or converts does not make him or her a better human being,the sad fact is-that the vast majority of humanity no matter what religion are NOT nice people and it absolutely does not reflect on their religion at all
    CHAIM.S

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  7. Ilana L

    I think you have to get away from the them and us mentality whether it is a FFB, BT or a convert. I consider myself a of the whole family of the human race and a member of said who happens to be Jewish. Whether it is by choice or by birth, who cares? Really? It is a person’s choice to go along a path that is correctly aligned with G-d and themselves. If a person decides that they can be a moral person without G-D I will disagree with them, but honour their decision as right for them and they will sort it out so long as they do not hurt others.
    I try not to put divisions between myself and others. My faith is my personal path and business and I try to honour G-D and do well by other people, not wrong.
    It is sad that anyone should put another person down or denigrate them to make their own position more valid.

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  8. Rebecca

    Judaism doesnt want converts. Sweet people can placate you and blow sunshine up your butt. No offense. It is very clear that they are supposed to turn converts away and make it very difficult for them…
    Sorry. My mom converted and did eveything and even learned Hebrew…had us and then changed her mind. Us kids paid the price and had to be converted a few times to rectify her changing her mind.
    People who change their mind and are vocal about it ensure that it’s harder and harder to come into the fold. It’s the way it is bec tons of people like my mother decide to go for it hard and then change their mind later. It’s not a permanent thing for many. So that is that.

    Judaism doesn’t solicit and is instructed to discourage all converts. That’s the way it is. Period.

    Reply
    1. Andrea Karshan Author

      Rebecca, I am sorry about your experience with your mother. I can see by your comment that it was hard for you and that you are bitter. But it is not factual to say that many converts leave Judaism after converting. A majority of converts stay observant after converting. Also, it is not the responsibility of the community to try to turn away or discourage converts. That is the job of the rabbi/beit din who is in charge of conversions. Jews who make it difficult for converts are not following halakha. Everyone should treat others as they would want to be treated. So unless a Jew would like their path also to be made difficult, they shouldn’t do it to others.

      Reply
    2. Me

      yoreh deah 268.2, the beit din [and nobody else] challenges the candidate a single time “don’t you know how we are oppressed?” and that’s it. They remind him how others have oppressed us. It’s certainly wrong for any Jew to oppress the candidate by supposedly rejecting three times or any other such nonsense to discourage them that has no basis in Halacha. That’s abuse. A serious candidate already knows it’s difficult because they’re going through it.

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      1. Susan L.

        The reason, so I’ve been told, that a prospective ger is supposed to be turned away 3 times before beginning the process of conversion isn’t in the Torah. It was started as a reaction to the Christian laws that made teaching a non-Jew about Judaism a criminal act – worthy of capital punishment. It isn’t a Torah law, it is minchag, custom ….. and it seems to be almost universal. I grew up in Conservative Judaism and I was taught that to remind a convert of their status, to think of them as, somehow, less Jewish is a heinous act. I respect Gerim. I was born a Jew, I didn’t have to give anything up, change my life drastically to be a Jew. You people did! You worked harder than I ever did, you had to deal with heavy emotions coming at you from all sides. I have to respect a person who can make a difficult choice and stick with it through all the hard work and emotional trauma of that choice. Yasher koach to all of you! PS: There are lots of born Jews of whom I am ashamed.

        Reply
        1. me

          No way. No how. Not a chance. Nope. Reject 3x is a fairy tale. It’s nobody’s minhag, not anywhere. It is absolutely, positively, not universal. A rabbi and only a rabbi is ever permitted to evaluate the commitment of a conversion candidate. And perpetuating that “reject-three-times” myth is abuse. So knock it off.

          Reply
  9. Robert Alpert

    A Jew is a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. This is something I have told friends who have converted. Yet there is a tradition (see the Tosafot to Kiddushin 70b-71a) that converts are difficult for Jews as a scab- as Rabbi Avraham the convert states: precisely because they ARE more committed to observance than they are born Jews.

    Reply
  10. Ronald Grant

    Great article and sadly very true. I once went to a synagogue that flat told me I was not welcome when we first showed up, I think they would have not excepted anyone, Have been referred to as one who moved to community to live off the Jewish World. At the same time many of the best people I know are fellow Jews. As the Article said above we Jews are just people, good and bad people, and have been this way since are family was created. I love Jews and I love Torah, when I was a Christian people said good things about me and some bad things and some were friends to my face and treacherous behind my back. Nothing has changed as a convert to Judaism and to expect it to (which I did in the beginning )is unrealistic.

    Reply
  11. RabbiJ

    Some years ago Bronfman wrote a book about where Judaism needs to go. Part of his argument was the need to establish support process for Jews by Choice AFTER their acceptance. Unfortunately this seems not to have been implemented. and of course the question was WHY NOT?

    Reply
    1. Andrea Karshan Author

      I am posting Moshe Steinberg’s comment “You’ll always be a shiksa, so don’t worry too much about it.” just to show everyone a great example of the horrible treatment that converts go through.

      Reply
    2. Rebeca

      And you will always be an ignoramus. To put it mildly. I don’t want to lower my self to your standard by calling you the REAL names that you deserve. From an orthodox ffb who is more proud of any convert than with you. 😖😠

      Reply
  12. me

    I can’t tell my ‘story’ here but feel a need to inform you that narcissists are also there in religion (more information about this mental illness, not to be confused with plain insensitive behavior, can be found on the internet and you-tube. Also look up covert narcissism and passive aggressive (when someone hides their motives but upset you constantly)

    Reply

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