Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jews by Choice

I was born Jewish but had interactions with those going through conversion or Jews-by-choice literally since I was five years old. I've been roommates with a girl who after 12 years in Catholic school in the heart of Cajun Country decided her soul was Jewish. I've had close family friends who converted as a family when their kids were young. I've known Black Jews by choice, the list goes on.

What I've learned from all these encounters over the past 25 years is that EVERY Jew is a Jew-by-choice. From Boro Park to Bombay, being Jewish isn't easy and we all make daily decisions about what we eat, what we say, when we pray, etc.

Hearing about people choosing conversion who encounter barriers or discrimination really bothers me because we as Jews should do all we can to encourage those who would willingly join our ranks. Even in the relative safety of 21st Century America, it still isn't easy to be a Jew. Lots of holidays to take off, whole new sets of rules and regulations to consider (whether we observe all the commandments or not) and umpteen questions about weird topics like circumcision and matzah.

Now, I think we should keep up the tradition of turning would-be Jews away three times to make sure they are sincere in their quest. But once a person has made the commitment and immersed in the mikvah, he or she is a Jew and deserves all the rights and privileges as anyone who was born Jewish.

So maybe my own attitudes have de-facto attracted Jews by choice into my life. Maybe it's because of those Passover seders my parents would host when I was a kid where every stray person found a spot at our table. Or maybe it's just my insatiable social butterfly instinct.

Whatever it is, I hope it is a position that more people in the organized (and not-so-organized) Jewish community adopt. Might be a good solution to the economic crisis!


Anonymous said...

Great article! As a Jew by choice, I appreciate the support! I also laughed at the use of circumcision and matzah in the same sentence!

Sandy Slater

Schvach said...

Nu, I agree completely, not that the world depends on my opinions. One of my favored peeves is Jewish bigotry; you know, the sort of stupid things some (or many) of us say or do to insult members of other groups. Face it, there're a lot of jackasses in the Jewish community.
Here I go: once upon a time I was acquainted with a Jewish female medical student. One fine day she passed a Chinese-American classmate (I was there)an let loose with her impromptu impersonation of Chinese people. It's the reason G-d created the word 'schmuck!

Kathy said...

Amen to that. I have a whole website about it. It's hard being a Jew by Choice, although I have noticed the people who seem to be the most uncomfortable with the idea, other than the Ultra-Orthodox, are usually Jews that have no religious affiliation at all. I am not sure why this is? Is it like saying you are Italian when you are not.