Perspectives on Conversion

I want to share an old story with you. Samuel was a perfect son. He was loving, caring, respectful, and a successful lawyer. What else could his parents ask for?

One day Samuel arrives home and tells his parents he would like to introduce them to his girlfriend, Sandy. He said to them, “I am in love and I want you to know Sandy. We are going to get married soon. – I also want to warn you that Sandy is not Jewish.”

That news almost killed his parents. The reaction was very bad. –“A non-Jewish girlfriend will bring you a lot of problems”, they warned.

Those were the last words the parents spoke to Samuel for a long time. They did not attend the wedding; they were not part of the happiness of the birth of their grandchildren. The basically didn’t talk at all.

One day, a long time later, Samuel’s parents decided enough is enough. They decided to invite Samuel and his family over for a visit.

They called him on the phone: Samuel, it is time to reconnect. We would love to invite your family over. Why don’t you come over on Friday night?

Samuel was happy and replied, “Thank you parents, we would love to. But since Sandy converted and we got married we decided to have an observant life and we do not ride on Shabbat. – Maybe Sunday?”

“Ok” said his mother. “I will cook your favorite food from your childhood, Lobster!!!”

“Sorry mom. Since Sandy converted and we got married we decided to have an observant life and we do not eat shellfish.”

“Ok” said Samuel’s dad. “Maybe I can do a BBQ and then we can eat good ice cream.”

-“Maybe we will have to pass the ice cream… since Sandy converted and we got married we decided to have an observant life and we do not mix meat and dairy,” replied Samuel.

-“Samuel we told you!!! A non-Jewish girlfriend will bring you a lot of problems!!!

I have always admired those who decide to embrace Judaism. Sitting as a rabbi at a Beit Din, a tribunal, I can see how those who choose to convert, commit, how much they study, how much they learn, how much they love our tradition.

It happens very frequently and I regularly ask  myself why those who are born from a Jewish mother do not have to go through the same process? How much richer would our tradition be if we all had to study and immerse ourselves in the waters of a mikvah?

This week I was on the other side of this equation. I was not the one asking questions. I was the candidate to become US citizen.

I was struck by similar questions to those I face when I sit in the Beit Din. I had to apply, study and commit to learning. Thank Gd my wife and I passed the exam and we are now American citizens!

I always admired those who leave the country where they were born in order to pursue their dreams. I am one of them now. I came to a country where I can live in my faith without fear. I am proud and happy to be American.

My friends joke with me and tell me that now I know more than 95% of those born American. They might be right. One of the questions I had to answer is how many amendments are in the Constitution? Most of the born Americans may not know the answer.

My favorite question to those who come to the Beit Din is: On Shabbat Chanukah, what candles do you light first? Chanukah or Shabbat?

Most of the (born) Jews may not know the answer either.

How much richer would our country be if we all had to learn the basics US government and history, answer those questions, if we all voted, if we all participate actively in our democracy.

How much richer would our tradition be if we all set a time to study, if we all added one more mitzvah per year, if we all added another Jewish dimension to our lives.

I imagine most of you reading this blog are (born) American Jews. I hope my words resonate with you.

I pray that our country and our tradition are beneficiaries of our commitment.


Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin


Martin Berman-Gorvine

Wonderfully thought provoking, and a hearty laugh too!


Mazeltov to you and your wife on becoming citizens. Not only is this wonderful for you and your family, but the rich American tradition lives on of welcoming, and benefitting from, new citizens to our (that includes you!) country. Your presence benefits the US, Maryland, our community, and, of course, Beth El. Warmest regards. Art and Helen

Silvia Grosser

Mazel Tov and Felicitaciones! So happy for you and Patricia. Beautiful reflection too; feeling like we are all proud to belong to the same club.

Marvin Yudkovitz

Another great teaching.
Congratulations on becoming U.S. citizens.

Thank you. What a nice post. It hits home on many levels as a convert and a naturalized American citizen.

Martin Sieff

Dear Rabbi:

As an immigrant to this amazing country like yourself – 33 years ago – your words certainly resonate with me!

Thank vou


Rita Liebowitz

Drear Rabbi, I can always glean so much from your commentary, whether on the bimah or your blog. Great to have accomplished your goal and Patricia’s to become U.S. citizens. So proud of you both.

Muchas felicidades y mazel tov. Bienvenidos a nuestra pais! Lo siento por mi mal espanol.
— Gene Meyer

Rhoda Nichaman

Kol HaKavod! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wonderful experience. You help us realize that we have a beautiful Jewish tradition which we should cherish and promote.

Wynne Sitrin

Mazal Tov to you and Patricia!

Marvelous! Mazaltov! You never cease to surprise us with your wisdom. A Rabbi, a teacher.

Mazel Tov. A friend shared the test with us when she was studying for the exam. We had difficulty with some of the questions. Should be mandatory for all US citizens.

Helen Kanovsky

A wise teaching, but then that is what we expect from a new American citizen! Mazel Tov to you and Patricia.

Stephanie Ventura

Mazel Tov y felicidades¡

Stephanie Ventura

So happy for you and Patricia! Wonderful lessons in your blog too!

Tricia and Howard Sachs

America is richer to have two new amazing citizens!! Mazel Tov!!

Rosita Kotelanski

Rabbi Fabian and Patricia Werbin,
I remember the day, I too become a USA citizen, many, many years ago. Since then, each time I find out of somebody else passing the exam, I make a special treat that I will make and drop of at your home sometime soon.

Carol Miller

Mazel Tov! Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking reflections. As always much appreciated!

Lynne Brenner Ganek

Mazol Tov to you , your wife and your family on your citizenship.
I enjoyed your post.

Arielle Grill

Mazel Tov to you and Patricia!
This is a wonderful story with a lesson that I have seen to be true on many occasions.
To answer your question, I would light the Chanukah candles first because, once Shabbat starts, we cannot light other candles.

Jackie Berman-Gorvine

Mazal Tov y Felicitaciones!!! Your post resonates with me on so many levels — there are many layers of lessons to think about. Thanks for sharing your experiences and wisdom with us!

Dena Forster

Mazel Tov y Felicidades! Celebremos ese buen ocasion!
Dena and Stan

Margie Hoffman

Mazel Tov to you, Patricia and your entire family!!
I’m so happy for all of you!!

Barbara Lerman

Wonderful, exciting news! Congratulations to you and to Patricia!! Thank you for sharing that story – so many wise lessons included – and offered with humor. Wish my parents could read it – a few memories.

Michele Herman

I too want to congratulate you and Patricia; it is a wonderful feeling to know you are now American citizens.

Sandra Cohen

Mazel tov to you and Patricia! And another meaningful and thought-provoking blog post. Thank you.
Sandy and Daniel

Gary Fifer & Hope Trachtenberg-Fifer


What good ideas. I have always thought that high school seniors should be required to pass the citizenship test. Maybe bnai mitzvah should be given the conversion questions.
Congratulations on achieving citizenship!

Paola Samakovlija Bolasny

Congratulazioni a tutti e due!

sarah kalser

Sad but true how many of us born Jewish are so casual in our observances while those who convert are usually much more committed and active. As you also observe, the same holds true for our citizenship. Thank you for reminding us of both aspects and Mazel Tov to you and your wonderful family.

The swearing in ceremony is Friday 4/20/2018 at 12:30 pm at 3701 koppers st Baltimore. Anybody need a ride?

Gabriela Bebchick

Enhorabuena!/Mazal Tov! A double win: The country gained 2 new wonderful citizens and you will be proud to exert your full rights! Still, one does not forget one’s country of birth and growing up. There is room in our hearts for both! The best for you! Gabriela Bebchick

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