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March 22, 1985 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-03-22

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Friday, March 22, 1985


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Existing Doors

Jews By Choice

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psychological and philosophi-
cal end of Judaism."
Bill's conversion study was
more like a college course. He
explains, "I met with the rabbi
from my college's Hillel for one
academic year. We always hit
on the intellectual level. I read
current Jewish topics and his-
tory, and learned practices
and Hebrew. At the end, I
wrote a paper."
The Reform movement of-
fers a 12-week course, "Intro-
duction to Judaism," as part of
its College of Jewish Studies.
Meeting for two hours every
Wednesday evening at Beth
El, the course covers Jewish
history, customs, ceremonies
and Hebrew reading of basic
prayers. Taught by Detroit
area Reform rabbis, the course
is open to anyone who wants to
learn about Judaism, includ-
ing candidates for conversion
and their spouses.
Rabbi Roman emphasizes
the open nature of the course.
"We'd like the community to
realize Judaism is open to
their inquiry. We're not an
elitist, closed group." The
course has also attracted
many non-Jews, married to
Jews, who are not presently
interested in conversion, but
would like more knowledge of
For those seeking Reform
conversion, a congregational
rabbi supplements the course
with group meetings, one-to-
one counseling and additional
Once a candidate has
finished his training, he is
ready for the conversion cere-
mony. Traditionally, the
ceremony includes a ritual
cleansing at the mikveh for
women and a circumcision
(the taking of a drop of blood
for those already circumcized)
for men. The convert is blessed
and given a Hebrew name that
ends with "Bat Avram Av-
einu" or "Bas Avram Aveinu"
(son or daughter of Abraham
our Father) to signify he is
now a descendant of Abraham.
Often the certificate of conver-
sion is presented in a short,
moving ceremony before the
opened ark.
Susan vividly recalls her
conversion ceremony. "I went
to the mikveh at the Jewish
Center on Meyers with my
mother-in-law. I took off all
my clothes and scrubbed my-
self very well. With a towel
wrapped around me, I went
into the pool and dunked all
the way down in the water.
Three rabbis stood behind a
screen and asked me three
questions. I dunked again
after each answer."

Sara remembers well her
experience. "One of the three
rabbis said to me, 'At this mo-
ment you are not a Jew and
can go out and still be a good
person. When you become a
Jew, you are a Jew forever and
forever.' "
Orthodox Judaism explains
that halachically (according to
Jewish law), a convert is under
no obligation to his non-
Jewish parents. For example,
if a parent dies, the convert
should not sit shiva. Rabbi
Gordon explains, "Technically
speaking, the convert becomes
a new person, with a new
name. While we realize he
can't cut off emotional ties, we
recognize the difficulties in
maintaining close contact."
Sara describes her relation-
ship to her non-Jewish family.

In a future issue we will
discuss acceptance of
converts by the Jewish

"I can understand why the
rabbis say to have little con-
tact with your Gentile family.
My family doesn't understand
us —especially our complete
observance of Shabbat. Since
we are strictly kosher, we
don't share in my family's
holidays or family gatherings.
They don't share in ours. My
children know my parents
aren't Jewish and are vaguely
aware that they celebrate
other holidays. The Orthodox
community has become my
Conservative and Reform
Judaism offer the convert
many responsible .choices. De-
cisions are often based on what
feels right.
Susan has always tried to be
understanding and sensitive
to her mother's feelings. Out of
respect for her mother's reli-
gion, she and her husband
make a point of spending the
Christmas holiday with Su-
san's family. They make it
clear to their children that this
is Grandma's holiday.
For many "Jews by Choice"
there is another nagging prob-
lem. What do you do if you
don't look "Jewish?"
Every few months, Sara
comes face to face with this
issue in the form of a well-
intentioned Jewish grand-
mother. After overhearing
Sara call her children by their
Jewish names, and appraising
her Orthodox dress and man-
ner, someone will stop Sara
just long enough to say,
"Honey, you have such a beau-
tiful Shiksa face!" ❑

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