How NOT to go about converting

22 02 2007

When your in the process of converting, you get countless books recommended/required that you read. Many of these are quite good, but every once and a while one is just plain awful.
The most recent of these that I ran across was “Stranger in the Midst” by Nan Fink (The co-founder of Tikkun Magazine) This book is (as near as I can tell) her complaint that the Jewish community has not been as welcoming to her as she would have liked, which isn’t too surprising since she seems to expect that everyone around her would drop everything to make her feel both welcome, and popular. Now, I’ve found that the community has been quite welcoming, but I also havn’t just sat around waiting to be included. I make a real effort to go out and be involved in events, and to meet people and be friendly and outgoing, as much as it goes against my personality (I don’t like talking to people I don’t know, at all). I feel like Ms. Fink made several fairly big mistakes, and no where in this whole book does she mention them.  First off, she was studying with a conservative rabbi, for what she makes sound like years and years, but if you go through and work out the timeline, I believe it was about 9 or 10 months.  That rabbi then sends her to an orthodox (charedi) rabbi in Jerusalem, who (big surprise) tells her that he will require she study with him for a year at least, and then he’ll convert her.  She is shocked an appalled by this for some reason, and decides not to convert with him, but to go back to the states and convert with the rabbi at the orthodox shul she’s attending with the then boyfriend she was living with.  Yes, that’s right, she’s living with a Jewish boyfriend before she’s converted.  Anyone who’s in the conversion process can tell you that’s not a great idea, and that’s probably the source of some of the enmity she feels from the community. 

Now, here she does have a legitimate grievance.  She started to receive hate mail from some members of the community, telling her that she wasn’t wanted, and that she should leave.  Hate mail is over the line regardless of how the community felt about her.  That said, she did nothing to fix the problem.  When she approached the rabbi at the shul to discuss conversion (when she informed him that she felt she was ready to convert right away, and just wanted the whole thing over with as fast as possible) he said that he wouldn’t even consider converting her until she patched things up with the community at least to the point where they could get along.  She said that she had had tried (although nowhere does she say what she had done) and she wanted him to make them like her.  He refused saying that this was something only she could do, and suggested several concrete things to try, like participating in shul events and committees, etc.  She said (to the reader, not the rabbi) that she already spent all of Shabbat at shul, and didn’t feel like she should have to spend more time there, and that she didn’t want to spend months setting up chairs just to get people to like her.  Now there are several issues here, first of which is that she practically demanded to be converted.  Anyone with any common sense should know that that’s a horrible idea.  What sort of ground does she have to make a demand like that? I understand saying “I’ve been studying for x amount of time, I know these subjects, I observe these things.  I really don’t want to put off converting any longer than I have to, since I want to be able to fully be a part of the community.” which communicates more or less the same thing (you want to convert as fast as possible) but does it in a much more polite manner.  Second, why is she converting if she doesn’t want to be part of a community?  I already discussed this at length here, but it really applies here. She’s not an exception to my theory that orthodox converts don’t act like that, since she quickly  (within a month or so) gives up on the Orthodox conversion, and moves to working with a rabbi who agrees to convert her within a month. 

She then takes all of that, and the fact that the orthodox community pulls away from her when she divorces her husband (the boyfriend she was living with), starts a lesbian relationship with a non-Jewish woman, and abandons all observance, to show that the Jewish community doesn’t like converts.  This perception really frustrates me, since it’s the source of many of the objections my family has to me converting (I’ll never find a husbend, and never have children).  I can’t decide if I should feel bad that Ms Fink didn’t find the community she was looking for in Judaism, or if I should feel like it’s really her own fault for coming in with expectations that in no way matched reality. 

Anyway, if you guys have any GOOD books about people’s experiences with orthodox conversions, I’d love to get some.  However, I would stay away from “Stranger in the Midst”

In other news, my warm weather is gone.  It’s snowing again….  Stupid winter….




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