Saturday, October 29, 2011

Conversion's a Racket

NOTE BEFORE READING: This is not a post bashing Denver. In fact, if you go back and read my past posts, I love the community here and it has been nothing short of amazing. This is a post about a specific topic: conversion to Judaism. This is not something that is isolated to Denver, it is a problem everywhere. My point is to express how instead of the weight of mitzvot making converts really consider their conversion, the weight of money pushes them away and out of the process, into Conservative or Reform conversions.

This is the scenario -- here in Denver, anyway.

$20 a week for at least 78 weeks = $1,560
$180 mikvah fee
however much it costs to fly a Queens rabbi out every six months = roughly $900
if you're a guy, $75 for the circumcision

Overall? You're looking to pay probably well over $2,000 to convert to Orthodox Judaism in Denver, Colorado -- and that's before you've even considered buying new dishes (Dairy, Meat, Passover, Parve) and all your other kitchen items that can't be kashered (probably $4,000 or so) and all those tzniut (modest) clothes, moved into the Orthodox community, and so on.

Can you imagine it? Dropping $8,000 or more just to be Jewish?

Some of you were lucky enough to be born into it. Not a single penny was spent for you to be Jewish.

And did I mention that all that studying is done to be converted on a private beth din with some local rabbis (not Rabbinical Council of America-affiliated) and a rabbi flown in from Queens?

You have no institutional backing, you just dropped $8,000, and there you are. Jewish in Denver.

Had I been living here when I decided to convert, when I was freshly starting graduate school and had zero cash in-pocket, I wouldn't have been able to do it. Even today, single and living on my own and struggling to find jobs that pay enough to pay the rent, I wouldn't be able to afford it.

It's a racket. An unfair, unconcerned-about-the-convert racket.

And I'm taking a stand, because I can't, in good conscience, stand by and let anyone convert under the current process.

At any given time, there are supposedly 10-20 people in-process. Those people should have options -- an RCA Beth Din, or the current, in-place private beth din that wants them to drop thousands just to be Jewish.

I've heard more excuses than I can really stand at this point -- bad blood in past bad conversions, a Christian couple that infiltrated the community, not enough RCA rabbis (which is no longer true), and so on.

It's not okay for some guy to have a monopoly on conversions, it's not okay to not have institutional approval, it's not okay to charge $2,000 for a conversion, and it's not okay that people aren't willing to take a stand and make a change.

So this is my mission: I'm going to reform and make more reliable, more attainable, and more stable the process of conversion to Orthodox Judaism in Denver, Colorado.

Come hell or high snowfall. I'm going to do it.

Note: When I was converting, I studied every week with my rabbi in West Hartford (I commuted about 45 minutes to do this study) and spent all of the Shabbatot and Chagim there, too. Ultimately, I ended up paying $250 to the RCA Beth Din for mikvah and beth din fees, and I donated $180 to the rabbi's discretionary fund -- never once was I asked to give my rabbi a paycheck. 

Also, if you want to read an article from September 2010 about all the "good" the current guy running things is doing, the article is here. He says that the fee "needn't be expensive." Seriously? I'm enraged.