Bethany S. Mandel wrote a powerful article, A Bill of Rights for Jewish Converts and published it in the Times of Israel this week. She wrote primarily for an Orthodox audience, but there is a lot in there for liberal Jews to ponder as well.
Rabbis need to have conversations about some of Ms. Mandel’s points. However, many of the things that are difficult about being an adult Jew-by-Choice are things that have to do with the behavior of ordinary Jews.
Let me speak to this as the Jew-by-Choice that I am, in the form of a 10-point manifesto:
- Don’t introduce me to others as “a convert.” That is contrary to Jewish tradition, and just plain rude. In some contexts, it is bullying.
- I may choose to reveal my history as a person who came to Judaism as an adult, but I don’t owe every Jew an account of it.
- My status as a Jew is not appropriate subject matter for small talk. Ever.
- If there is something about my conversion that doesn’t meet with your approval, take it up with my rabbi or with yours.
- If you don’t approve of my rabbi, keep it to yourself. Really – what do you expect me to do about it?
- Don’t gossip about your perceptions of my history, and don’t listen to such gossip from others.
- If you see someone bothering me with 1-6 above, please interrupt and change the subject.
- If you see someone mistreat converts more than once, take it up with them or with your rabbi.
- If I do something out of ignorance that will cause me difficulty, bring it up with me privately and kindly.
- Want to help? Invite me to Shabbat dinner. Sit with me. Include me. Smile.
The Book of Ruth teaches us that we never know how a particular Jew is going to fit into the big picture of Jewish history. Ruth was a particularly unpromising candidate for conversion. She was a Moabite woman, looked down upon by many respectable Jews of her time. However, through her choice to become one of us, and participation in the communal life, Ruth became not only the wife of a communal leader, she became the ancestor of King David himself.
Programs can be useful and have their place. However, the thing that makes a synagogue “welcoming” is not the programming, not the service, not the board, and not even the clergy: it is the behavior of each individual member of that community when they encounter someone new or different.