The Do's and Don'ts of Talking to Converts
How to respect the privacy of Jews by choice.
It wasn't for marriage.
After I met my husband midway through the conversion process, I noticed that people stopped asking me why I had decided to convert. They just assumed I was doing it for him. Okay, but I'm off the hook, right? I wasn't part of a couple when I first made my decision so obviously I did it for the right reasons? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Just because someone is or was in a relationship doesn't mean that they're converting for marriage. Things are always way more complicated than that.
People convert for many reasons. My friend Vilma* says, "Often people assume someone converted due to marriage. As if people couldn't make up their independent minds to join a faith! There are people with whom Judaism resonates and [they] find their home in the religion. There are single people who convert. There are people who convert to reclaim their family heritage. There are so many reasons people convert." And remember, none of them are any of your business.
Goy jokes are not funny.
But one reason that frequently gets thrown around and isn't very nice, and doesn't work so well for someone from a non-Jewish family, is the idea that we converted to Judaism because Jews are just better than everyone else. One fellow told me that all that inbreeding has led to all those Nobel Prize winners. So, what, I'm polluting the sacred bloodlines? Sadly, people don't think twice about whether a convert is sitting in their midst when they tell the latest "How many goyim does it take to put in a light bulb?" joke.
Words like shiksa and shaygetz, both derivations of dirty in Yiddish, don't make converts feel welcome either. Blondes with blue eyes, converts or not, tend to hear these words more often than converts like me with olive skin and big brown eyes. Still, my first Passover went south after someone repeatedly threw the word shiksa around along with some other ugly words about non-Jews. At the first bar mitzvah I attended jokes about non-Jews were flying all over the place.
And don't forget to say, "You're welcome."
There are things I still can't believe people have said to me. Fresh out of the mikvah, I heard, "But you're not really Jewish. I mean I'm still more Jewish than you, right?" Oy vey. In the end, all converts want to be accepted as good Jews. We want to fit in. Possibly the reason Jewish tradition goes out of its way to tell you to be kind to us is that there are so many ways you can make us feel left out. It only takes one insensitive word. So, be careful with us. Changing our lives to join your ranks should at the very least earn us a little respect. And maybe even a "Welcome home."
*Name changed for privacy.
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