Monday, October 31, 2011

A Response: Conversion's a Racket

Okay. Let's try this again.

My last post created a huge ruckus in my community -- such is the drama of being a very public blogger in a new community. I don't blog anonymously, and I don't have any misconceptions about my Twitter feed and blog being accessible by anyone, anywhere. That's part of what I love about what I write, it's open access. So the blog post was commented on by a community member, then it made it to one rabbi, then another, then community members and so on. The offense taken, I think, regarded the tone of the blog post as well as the misunderstanding that I was calling out or bashing the Denver community in particular, which I wasn't.

I had wanted to wait to post on the topic until I felt like I was in a calm, even place where I would be eloquent (as I'm known) but also pointed and direct, saying "this is what's going on, and this is what needs to change." However, it didn't come out that way. Why? After speaking with a rabbi friend on Twitter very briefly about the problems in the community with conversion and what I consider (after all, this is my blog and it is full of my opinions) extortion, he said the following:
Well, you don't have to go through it!
That simple quote, which horrified me -- should I not care about those who do have to suffer financial loss or a lost neshama? -- paired with the constantly echoing in my mind words of Rav Tarfon

"It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either" (Pirkei Avot 2:16).
said one thing to me: you must speak now, it is your duty, it is your mission, it is your work. I get emails daily from people in-process, done with the process, leaving the process, and so on who have stories about acceptance, the process, and more that would make most people's skin crawl. An oft-said thing to me by born Jews is, "If I hadn't been born Jewish, I don't know if I would choose it." 

Because of the hoops you must jump through? The pressure? The issues of acceptance? The costs? The oppression? The bullying by other converts? 

My passion and fervor for this issue of extortion in conversion -- no matter what branch, no matter where you are geographically -- is my work. It's my responsibility when it comes to repairing the Jewish world. Someone has to stand up, someone has to say something, to do something. 

My biggest beef with the Denver process is the cost. Plain and simple. Why fly in a rabbi from Queens and make the candidates foot that bill? Why not use a more local rabbi? Classes are necessary for studying and conversion to Orthodox Judaism, and I'll be honest -- I'm more than happy to devote two to three hours a week to teaching and training converts in the basics of Judaism and conversion; after all, I've been there, I've done that, and I can lay things out from a perspective of the convert and what you need to know before the formal process. I also think I can give something a book-learning class can't -- personal perspective, stories, passion, fervor, dedication, devotion. The heart of Judaism, not just the facts and the "you must be able to say and do this when you convert." But I'm not a rabbi. Does that change things? Can an Orthodox convert to Judaism properly train converts? I think so, yes. But when one system has a monopoly on the process, saying "you must do x, y, z, and you must do it with this person," that does not provide options, it provides a monopoly. 

Because I know, at the very depths of my soul, what Orthodox converts go through before, during, and after their conversions, I know that this is my place. I counsel, I help, I calm the fears of those who have no one else to turn to, and for that, I feel like HaShem has granted me great patience, understanding, and love. 

Converts are coming home. They're bringing their neshamot home, finally. They should be overwhelmed by the weight of the mitzvot, not the costs to let their neshamot onto the front stoop of Judaism.