“You want to be Jewish and you live WHERE?” An Internet Mystery

Rabbi Jacob Saul Dwek and officials of the gre...
Rabbi Jacob Saul Dwek and officials of the great synagogue of Aleppo. Jewish life in Syria came to an end in the 20th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are places in the world where there are very few Jews, and where Judaism is officially or unofficially forbidden by the state.  One of the great mysteries of the Internet, to me, is that periodically someone in one of those countries will write to my friends at BecomingJewish.net and inquire about conversion to Judaism. 

All the folks at BecomingJewish.net can do is write back to them and explain that (1) it isn’t safe to convert to Judaism in their country and (2) there are few or no Jews there, so it isn’t possible to convert.

On the one hand, it makes me sad to think that someone who wants to be Jewish is living in a place where they simply cannot become Jewish. On the other hand, it speaks to a real misunderstanding of Jewish life, because even if they could convert, they could not have any kind of meaningful experience of Jewish life without a community.

Judaism isn’t something you do by yourself. It isn’t private, it isn’t personal. It is communal. We pray in a minyan, a group of ten or more. We have a minyan for important occasions, like a bris.  How can you have a seder, if you have no one with whom to discuss? We don’t even study alone!

This is why my first advice to anyone converting to Judaism is to find a rabbi, find a community, and to be regular at everything: services, events, and so on. It’s only by spending time with Jews that you can learn to be a Jew, and get the goodies of Jewish life.

As for the people writing letters from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to BecomingJewish.net, I have no idea what’s going on there. If they are real, I hope they can find their way to a place where there are more Jews.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

6 thoughts on ““You want to be Jewish and you live WHERE?” An Internet Mystery”

  1. I thought about him and some of the other lone Jews in what once had been lively Jewish communities while I was writing this.

    For a Jew in that situation, who at some point has chosen to stay behind while others emigrated to Israel or elsewhere, it must be terribly, terribly lonely.

  2. Thank you for writing this, Rabbi. We at becomingjewish.net get at least one email a week from people in lands where being Jewish is illegal. At one point we were trying to get a rabbi who could at least email with a man in Iran (once called Persian). In speaking to several Persian Jews we were told, “Don’t give him any information about Jews remaining in the country. This could be a way of ferreting out and arresting or killing secret Jews!” What a horrible thought! But we had to respect that, here in America, we are safe, so safe that we may consider that to be paranoia. In fact this should remind us that we are living in an exceptional time and place. We are in a unique and blessed position. We believe that we should express our gratitude by being of service to those whom we can help.

  3. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting
    my own blog and was curious what all is needed to get
    set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% positive.
    Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Kudos

    1. You can start a blog for free using wordpress.com if you don’t mind having a wordpress address. It isn’t hard, just go to http://wordpress.com and start typing.

      However, you may be happier if you learn a little bit first. I suggest looking at blogs that use the same software as the one you want to use (wordpress, blogger, etc) and then think about exactly what you want to accomplish. If that’s “make money” then… well, I don’t make a dime on this blog, so I can’t help you with that. But you really want to be sure that you can keep turning out posts day after day on your chosen subject. WordPress has some good help materials on planning your blog, and I encourage you to make use of those.

      Ok, that’s it for me. I’m a rabbi, not a blogging expert!
      Good luck with your blog!

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