Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Real Danger? Other Converts

When born Jews first find out that I converted - reform or orthodox, it doesn't matter - the first question that gets asked is Why? as in, Why on earth would you choose this people, with their difficult past? The next question usually is How I ended up choosing Judaism, followed by, What Does your family think? Rarely, if ever, does a born Jew say, Who converted you and Who was in your beth din.

Oddly enough, it is the converts who throw out the questionable questions.

You see, I might be the first convert to admit this, but when I first encounter another Orthodox convert, my first thought is usually What led you to Judaism? But it is quickly, and without warning, followed up with Who converted you? Who was in your beth din? Did you have an RCA conversion? But am I the only one? Does this make me judgmental? Or, perhaps, am I more concerned with self-preservation and making sure every Orthodox convert will be accepted by the highest number of people RIGHT now?

For many converts, it is about self preservation. Why? Because you want to make sure the other converts in your community are doing things "right," whatever that means, so that if and when others in your community find out that YOU are a convert they see that YOU did things right. It only takes one "bad seed" to make the rest of us look bad and make those born Jews wonder whether converts really make the kosher cut.

And, I'll admit, this thought process doesn't bother me. It makes sense. However ...

There is a really startling and anger-inducing (for me anyway) trend in the conversion community. I don't know if it's new, but all of the conversion crises talk has exacerbated this self preservation to the point that converts, in some communities, have become bullies. It is the classic case where the bullied become the bullies. What do I mean?

A conversion candidate posts something online in a safe space in confidence or maybe shares a struggle with a friend. It is nothing major, maybe about doing something on Shabbos while struggling to take on observance or gripe about your experiences in the process. But someone in that community sees or hears about it. They tell your rabbi, community members, friends, and eventually you are chastised by your beth din, and, in severe cases, your mikvah is canceled.

In my experience, the people who out converts or converts-in-process are other converts. And this disgusts me. The thought process is baffling, but I am guessing it is that if you turn the light on another convert, and their missteps, then your own won't make their way to daylight. Why would someone question you and your observance, when clearly you know more than the newbie?

As many of you know, I created a "secret" group on Facebook for converts of all denominations to discuss the process, observance, resources, and more. The space was created to be a positive outlet of conversation, but sometimes the interactions become accusatory or hateful or judgmental. A little judging is healthy - it just means we are working out our own insecurities and uncertainties about who we are individually. But when those judgments turn into bullying and outing other converts, a line has been crossed.

After all, if converts won't even stand up for each other, then who will?