Comebacks for Converts

Image: Two faces with speech balloons. (Artwork by nchlsft/shutterstock.)

Last week I posted an entry that seemed to hit a nerve: Talking About Converts.  I thought it might be good to follow up with a post about ways to deal with nosy questions, etc. What follows is a question or comment (in italics) and some possible responses.

“Are you a convert?”

  • Yes. So were Abraham, Sarah and King David’s great-grandmother.
  • Did you know that halakhah forbids that question?
  • Why do you ask?

“Did you convert to get married?”

  • Did you?
  • Why do you ask?

“So, Plonit* tells me that you are a convert!”

  • Surely you and Plonit* are not gossiping about me!
  • Why is this your concern?

“You do realize that you’ll never really be Jewish, right?”

  • Why don’t you ask the rabbi about that?
  • Why would you say such a hurtful thing to me?
  • Well, then I guess Abraham and Sarah weren’t really Jewish, either.
  • Why does my conversion bother you so much? Maybe you should talk to the rabbi.
  • I didn’t realize you are an expert on halakhah.

“I love hearing conversion stories! Tell me yours!”

  • No.
  • That’s private.
  • I’m too busy being Jewish to think about ancient history!

“I think Plony is a convert. What do you think?”

  • I think it isn’t my business.
  • I’d rather talk about something else.
  • Plony is Jewish. That’s good enough for me.
  • Why are you asking me?

When all else fails, sports can come to the rescue. Just change the subject as if the subject had never come up:

  • How about those [insert sports team name here]?

Personally, my favorite replies are “Why do you ask?” or the ever-popular “Oh?” with a puzzled look. Just put the ball in their court.

If you aren’t sure what might be comfortable for you, try different answers out, either with a mirror or better yet with a friend.

I hope that readers will chime in with their own ways of responding to intrusive or hurtful questions and comments. What do you do when someone says something inappropriate?

*Plony and Plonit are the Jewish equivalents of John and Jane Doe.

Updated on 7/23/17 to add a bit more of the benefit of the doubt to questioners.

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rabbiadar

Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

13 thoughts on “Comebacks for Converts”

  1. I get comments based on my name. A woman asked me, “How can you possibly be Jewish with the name Cardinal Robbins?!” I flipped it on her. “How can YOU be a Jew with the name Francine Devereaux?” She’s a loud, abrasive piece of work who wasn’t expecting anyone to challenge her. She didn’t have an answer for me and she didn’t learn a thing about NOT asking personal questions. (She was unemployed for a long time because of her complete lack of social skills.)

    Also, something to be aware of: These kinds of questions usually lead to a game of “I’m More Jewish Than You,” which is something an ex-friend used to pull on people. He did that with me and my response to him was, “That’s very interesting, considering you don’t even go to shul on the High Holy Days. Good luck with convincing yourself.” It shut him down COLD.

    Remember, you don’t NEED to respond to the negative, bigoted people in your life. When someone tries to make you feel less of a Jew, they are exhibiting bigotry and bias.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with much of what you write. What I’d add is that in my experience much of the meanness comes from people who are insecure in their own Jewish identity. The ugly game of “Who’s the most Jewish” is an effort to shore up their own fears about identity. It’s also the reason that some born Jews resent observance in others. AND aside from this conversion issue, they see the haredim as the “realest” Jews.

      It’s a sad thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I discovered my Jewish soul in 2003. In the past 14 years I have had many people ask me if I was a convert but never in a negative way. Usually the trigger has been my very active involvement in the Jewish community and my deep knowledge of Judaism. Jews by Choice (I hate that term because I feel like I was “tapped on the shoulder and chosen”) often distinguish themselves in the community by becoming “Super Jews”. When I assume the question is innocent and not confrontational and I respond affirmatively, the answer is often, “I wanted to thank you for joining your destiny to the Jewish people” or “I’m a convert too and I wanted to ask you a few questions about your experience” or “I’m thinking of converting and how do I go about it”. Even though the tradition says that the question should not be asked, many Jews are unaware of that. I agree that it is better to respond with a neutral “Why do you ask” rather than to assume that the other person is being mean-spirited.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sharon, I think you make an excellent point. We should always assume the best in interactions with others.

      Occasionally, though, someone makes clear by their manner that they don’t mean well. I’m glad that hasn’t happened to you, but it has to others. I think it’s reasonable for us to have a strategy ready for such moments, may they never come.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. While it’s nice to think otherwise, the unfortunate fact is that these questions more often than not do come from a very petty and mean spirited place. I was accosted at a Shabbaton that *I* organized with an up-and-down glare that came to rest upon my hair and the sneered question, “So, who invited you?” To which I replied, ” I wasn’t aware that I needed permission to be in my own house!”

    Liked by 1 person

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