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