Religion & Beliefs

Becoming Jewish: Conversion Can Be Lonely

All I want is that warm, happy feeling back. I’d love to wake up tomorrow and see all these feelings vanish, but right now I’m worn out. Read More

By / September 20, 2011
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Conversion to Judaism is lonely. As one of my rabbis said, converts are leaving one community without yet joining another. I’m in limbo. While learning more about the culture, religion, and myself is extremely rewarding, it’s hard not to also feel quite a bit of sadness at times throughout this process.

It’s been difficult for me to write this column lately because of my frustrations. I also don’t want to be seen as a downer, as I try to make this column at least funny and/or entertaining. However, I’m in a slump right now, and I need to get it out there to you readers, because maybe all I need is some more support.

I was told by one of the two rabbis I’m working with that in a traditional Jewish household, a man and a woman cannot live together. I’ve lived with my boyfriend Danny since we first starting dating and would never even think about moving out. So, conversion to Orthodox is not an option right now. I’ve only been dating him for a little over a year, and I’m 22. Although we do very much so want to marry each other, the time will not be right for at least another few years, most likely. So now I’m stuck in limbo for two more years — or I can rush marriage, which I wouldn’t ever do.

I posed the question whether converting to Conservative before I convert to Orthodox would be the right move. I came to find that it wouldn’t even be recognized by the Orthodox Beit Dein (the people who oversee the conversion). If I convert through the IRF, a more liberal organization of Orthodox rabbis, that won’t be recognized by the RCA, the one group that is accepted by the Chief Rabbinic in Israel. Hearing that the rules are becoming even stricter is extremely disheartening. Are my grandkids going to speak to a Rabbi about getting married, only to find out that my conversion was false? Will I not be allowed to be married or buried in Israel? It seems to me that without the accepted conversion, my whole identity and the identities of my future kids, grandkids, etc. will be on the line.

My question is: Why do they make it so hard? I suppose I know some reasons why. Jews have been persecuted and betrayed and hated throughout history for nothing. Of course they are suspicious of people outside of their culture/religion. But there is nothing to be suspicious of when it comes to genuine converts, like myself. I am not doing it for my boyfriend, or for any superficial reasons. I do it because it moves me. The faith gives me more meaning to my life, and the culture enriches my existence. As much as I can feel it is right, that probably won’t matter to these authorities. Should I feel ashamed about living with the man I love? Do they want me to feel guilty about leading an unorthodox lifestyle when I want to pursue a more Orthodox one down the line? Maybe it’s all in my head. But from what I’ve heard through other people, these authorities sound tough and not exactly welcoming to converts.

It’s kind of ironic that all my life I’ve felt like an outsider, and now I’m trying to get into something where I won’t feel that way anymore, and yet the Jews are, in a way, outsiders. I want to be on the inside of the outside! At the moment, doing anything related to Judaism is very difficult for me when I feel like it’s going to take forever until I can finally be Jewish myself. I also feel guilty about being bitter. I’m bitter that people are born Jewish and forsake it or don’t even care when I’m trying so hard and facing roadblocks at every turn. I don’t wish I was born Jewish, but it pains me to see people so disinterested in their heritage. Maybe it pains Catholics to see me go against my “given religion,” but that’s doubtful.

All I want is that warm, happy feeling back. I’d love to wake up tomorrow and see all these feelings vanish, but right now I’m worn out. I’ve been trying so hard for the past eight months and now I just see months and months ahead of me of this. I’m not going to give up, but I can’t sugarcoat it either. I need to get the faith back, so I don’t continue on this frustrating and lonely path.