Thursday, July 22, 2010

Who is a Jew?

I wrote about the conversion bill in the Knesset in Israel not that long ago, and with the bill stalled in the Knesset (to the cheers of those opposed), The Jewish Daily Forward has posted an interesting editorial on the bill and its stall.

I'm not going to go into any great details about the bill or the stall or the Forward's editorial, other than to say that the perception that there was across-the-board outcry and discussion about this bill rubs me as odd. I don't know a single person who brought the issue up with me, outside of my circle of friends who have converted or are in the process. Do Jews with no connection to conversion even care about the bill? Or conversion for that matter?

In my time as a convert, I've discovered that -- at least the Orthodox world -- is largely blind to what constitutes a conversion, who converts, the politics involved, the pain involved, or the repercussions that come post-conversion. I do my best to educate folks, and I've enlightened plenty in my time, I think.

The biggest problem, orbiting widely around conversion period, is education. We shelter ourselves unnecessarily, because Judaism tells us "once you convert, you're Jewish," and converts for ages have been encouraged to hide their conversion because, well, who wants to marry the child of a convert or the grandchild of a convert? There's a lot of fear out there about the halachos of converts in the community, and that derives from a lack of education.

So, I ask, what can we do to curb the fear of converts in the Conservadox, Orthodox, and, more importantly, ultra Orthodox communities?