Ask the Rabbi: “I’m studying for conversion, and the rise in anti-Semitism scares me.”

Image: My Jewish congregational family, gathered in the shelter of a chuppah for a blessing. (Photo: Temple Sinai website.)

“Dear Rabbi Adar, I’ve been studying for conversion for the past several months, and the rise in anti-Semitism really scares me.”

The questions usually arrive without question marks. It’s not hard to see the question in there: “What am I getting myself into?” or even “Why would any sane person sign up to be part of a people who are so hated?”

When I get these notes, I try to answer honestly: Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s getting worse. No, I don’t know what will happen in the future.

The other thing I emphasize is that this is not a test. It is OK to be scared. It is OK to say, this is too scary and it’s not for me. It is also OK to say, yes, it’s scary but I choose to continue on the path to Judaism.

One of the things my rabbi said to me when I was a candidate back in the 1990’s has stuck with me ever since: “You don’t have to become a Jew for us to think you are a good person. You are already a good person, without conversion.” What pushed me forward was my own desire, my own need to become part of the Jewish family.

I have never regretted becoming a Jew. I give thanks every morning that God has made me a Jew, and the Jewish people were willing to have me. At the same time, I won’t lie: we are living through a frightening time in history. Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence are a part of American life at the moment.

The last thing I say to people who send me these notes is: Go talk to your rabbi. Tell them about your feelings and confusion. You will not flunk Judaism for saying that you are uncertain. It is in confronting those fears that we sort out who we want to be, what we want for our children, what we want for our descendants. There is no single right answer, only the answer deep in your own heart.

Go sit with the Jews, when you feel shaky. It may seem counterintuitive, but as a people, we draw strength from one another. When bad things happen, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than with my mishpakhah, with my Jewish family. Whether that’s in my synagogue, or someone else’s synagogue, or at teh Jewish Film Festival, I feel better when I am surrounded by my people – and that’s how I know for sure that they are, indeed, my people.

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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 and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

2 thoughts on “Ask the Rabbi: “I’m studying for conversion, and the rise in anti-Semitism scares me.””

  1. Rabbi Adar — I understand that people in the process of converting today have more reason to fear anti Semitic violence than I could have imagined when I was converting 15 years ago. But I recall my Rabbi raising the topic and my being asked whether it caused me pause… and, frankly, it didn’t, because I knew that the people who would hate me because I was Jewish already hated me because I was gay!! And as “Jewish” was no less my truth than “gay”… why let fear keep me from acknowledging either?
    I still feel this way today, that I cannot allow those who will hate me and wish me ill keep me from living an authentic life as the person God created me to be. I’d rather live 5 authentic years than 500 closeted years!! And when Jewish language, symbols, and imagery bring me into closer relationship with God than the language, symbols, and imagery of other religions, how could I sacrifice my relationship with God to please others?
    I guess my point is that I’m glad you tell people to go talk to their Rabbi, because it seems to me no one should ever convert to any religion unless it so makes their soul sing that the idea of not being a part of that religion is unthinkable, regardless the cost, because it’s already their truth.
    sending blessings, jen

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