By Andrea Karshan
Q&A with Jewish converts on their conversions, Judaism, and other converts
What was or is the hardest part of converting?
“The hardest part of converting for me was trying to find a way to engage with my family whilst upending my life.”- Moshe, Convert. He has made aliyah (immigration) to Israel and is currently living there.
“The hardest part of converting is dealing with a religious (or non-religious) family that doesn’t understand a lot about Judaism. It’s a radical change of lifestyle, and sometimes your family is not prepared to deal with such changes.”-Ibeth, Convert. Having recently moved to New York from Colombia, she is “experiencing a completely different Judaism.”
“Being in limbo, living the lifestyle but never knowing the date it will become official.”-Rachel, Convert. After her conversion, she got married, had children and started working in a Jewish school.
“Keeping Kosher.”-Ramey, Convert. Recently married, Ramey had “a wonderful Jewish wedding”.
“Brit Milah”-David, Convert. He hopes to make aliyah to Israel.
“I am not converting for what some may think are “typical or acceptable” reasons like marriage or whatever else stereotypical “explanation” they want to hear. I come from a Christian family, mostly Baptist and Methodist. They cannot move past some the theological differences between the religions and they do not believe that conversion is even possible. I will never been seen as Jewish in their eyes. While that does not deter me, I am close with my family and it isn’t as easy having to hide myself or make myself feel small to not hurt them. I am hurting every time they diminish my experiences. But, this was something I expected and prepared for. I will survive.”-Ashley, currently in the process of conversion. Ashley does research on Yiddish, Ladino, Judo-Arabic, Jewish Universal Education, and creates lesson plans about the Holocaust and genocide prevention for fellow teachers to use.
“Learning Hebrew”-Miriam, Convert. Miriam has six children, 19 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She conceived all her children after her conversion.
What was the hardest thing for you to give up to adapt to a Jewish lifestyle?
“Keeping kosher in a non-kosher environment. I had to learn how to prepare my own meals. I had to become vegetarian since getting kosher meat where I live is hard.”-Ibeth
“Non-kosher restaurants and eating in relatives’ homes. I’ve always been a big foodie and kosher restaurants are not the same. There is also a big convenience factor in being able to get food from anywhere. And not being able to eat in relatives homes has caused hurt feelings and damaged relationships. I miss being able to go to my mom’s house and have her cook for me, and cooking is a big deal to her.”-Rachel
“The Sabbath, as I’ve had to give up jobs over the years in order to not work on Shabbat or to take off early on Fridays while the other workers would work overtime.”-David
“Going out to eat with my (non-Jewish) family”-Miriam
What do you find most rewarding about your conversion?
“Having a huge community of people who care. I had over 100 families invite me into their homes in London within a space of 3 years. I was in Haifa during the recent fires and was evacuated, and I had several friends contact me from across the country offering me a place to stay.”-Moshe
“Conversion opens opportunities and enhances your religious life, at least from my point of view. It was quite frustrating not being able to be counted in the minyan or not being able to get aliyot.”-Ibeth
“I was able to complete a monumental task that not everyone can, in a short time frame. It showed me my determination and ability to see things through.”-Rachel
“Being closer to Hashem.”-Ramey
“That I am part of the people of Israel and have given up the falsehoods of the religion I was brought up in. “-Daniel
“Absolutely everything. For me, the opportunity to ask why and always seek out answers is priceless. This was denied to me in my past religious experiences and that always went against my nature. The more I learn about Judaism only makes me hunger for more and I feel this sense of calm now knowing that when I didn’t fit in, it was just because I was trying to fit into a mold that was never meant for me.”-Ashley
“That’s surprisingly hard to say because it’s just been my normal life for so long. At the time, I remember being amazed by the fact that a seventh of the rest of life was going to be Shabbos!”-Miriam
What is your favorite part of being Jewish?
“Shabbat, the Chagim and living in Israel”-Moshe
“Jewish learning is the most important part of my religious identity.”-Ibeth
The community is amazing. I love being part of something so much bigger than myself. Judaism always motivates me to keep working to be my best self. -Rachel
“My favorite part of being Jewish is going to synagogue services and going to Israel”-David
“The never-ending opportunity to seek out knowledge and ask why.”- Ashley
Any advice you would give to others going through the conversion process?
“Find a Rabbi and a community that you feel you belong to. The Rabbi will help you work out what is the best path for you and the community will be an invaluable source of support. Some days will be tough, just remember you wanted to convert.”-Moshe
“People often will tell you that labels don’t matter, but they do. I’m not advocating for any specific label or way of observance, but regarding conversion they matter. Choosing the label depends on what kind of community would you prefer most, dating preferences and aspirations . If you have them clear, the possibility of converting again,which is often a painful process, diminishes significantly.”-Ibeth
“Never argue with the rabbi. Even if he says your conversion process will last 20 years, say “ok.” It won’t. Don’t worry too much about things that have happened in the past. The present and future are what are important. Don’t give in to nosy people asking your reasons for conversion. They are not your beis din. Do not act as a Shabbos goy – ever. Try to find a buddy who is also converting, even if it’s a pen pal. This will help you feel much less lonely. Don’t be afraid to invite yourself out for meals. Host other conversion candidates for meals. Get a Jewish roommate who is in charge of the kitchen and invite other people. Find a Chabad house. Don’t spend Shabbos and Yom Tov meals alone. Make sure you’re converting into a community that you are comfortable in. Don’t become a cookie cutter religious person and lose who you are. Make sure you learn what is a Halakhah, chumra, and minhag. It is not a contest to be as machmir as possible. Grow at your own pace, don’t take on too much at once. Find a sponsoring rabbi or rebbetzin (female religious leader) you feel comfortable asking anything. Judaism involves every aspect of life, including some that are very personal, and you need to learn and be able to ask these things.”-Rachel
“Don’t give up!”-Ramey
“Don’t expect to know everything immediately; give yourself time to grow into your new way of life.”-David
“Never doubt yourself. Questioning yourself is different, that’s healthy and leads you to more questions and more answers. There is something therapeutic in that. But, you know if this is for you. You know it. It lives in your soul, in your marrow. It echoes inside of you when you pray, when you weep, when you seek out comfort. It is a living thing that you can reach out and touch and feel. No one else can tell you that it’s not. Because, if you look inside of your heart and if you are honest then nothing can deter you or prevent you from reaching your goal. I do not use the term “Jew by choice” because for me, in my personal journey, I did not choose this. This was always what was inside of me and this was something bigger than me. If you feel like you chose it, then that’s really beautiful too. Just never forget, this is your life. This is your journey. No one else gets to decide this for you.”-Ashley
“It’s a great blessing to find the right teachers at the right time. If you don’t feel you’ve found them, keep searching. And there are many ways to be Jewish. Even within Orthodoxy, there are many different paths. Before you get tied down with a family, do some exploring. Spend Shabbos and holidays in a few different communities.
And one more thing, important for anyone who has kids, but especially when you’ve taken on what can be a considerably rigid worldview. People tend to think that you become a parent that you’re all grown up and you’ve finished changing. The truth is, that’s just the beginning. Kids have a way of turning out quite differently than you’ve envisioned. You’re not a failure as a parent if your kids turn out less religious than you, or more religious, or different in some other way that you never saw coming. You’re just a failure if you fail to grow along with them and be there for them, and love them no matter what.”- Miriam
Editor’s Note: Views expressed in this article reflect the views of those interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of the owner of this website.