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March 29, 1985 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-03-29

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Friday, March 29, 1985


After Conversion:
Myths and Problems


hey called her a "convey
tible." The name implied someone who
could change as easily back and forth
as the car whose roof, up or down, took
on a different character. She was the
new wife of their nephew. Behind
closed doors the family joked, "Jeffrey
found himself a cute shiksa." Yet she
was no longer the stranger. She had
converted; she was a Jew.
Traditionally, once a person con-
verts, he becomes a full Jew. Jews by
Choice share the same rights and
privileges as Jews by Birth.
However, many Jews by Choice do
not find easy acceptance into the
Jewish community. Even after a year
of committed conversion study and the
formal conversion ceremony, many
find themselves in an uneasy position, •
one foot in the door, the other dangling
behind. Many experience rejection and
scorn from their gentile family and
friends, and suspicion and mockery
from their Jewish family and friends.
Leah, a Jew by Choice for 16
years, explains her dilemma. "It seems
you're either a Jew, non-Jew or con-
vert. I'm tired of being singled out and
feeling like I don't belong. Sometimes I
feel I'm in a no-man's land."
Andrea, a convert to Judaism 15
years ago, adds, "I resent that people
are always reminding me of my con-
version. It's not a total acceptance.
Either they go overboard to tell me
how wonderful I am to be such a good
Jew or they tell a story about goyim
and then apologize to me!"
Many Jews by Choice feel particu-
larly uncomfortable in social situa-
tions when asked where they grew up.
"Whenever I would mention I grew up
on the East side," Leah explains,
"people's eyebrows would shoot up and
I could tell they were wondering, 'Who
are you, really?' I always feel as

Jews by Choice,
unlike Jews by Birth,
find acceptance
in the community
is tied to their
Jewish commitment.


Special to The Jewish News

though I'm guarding my secret. I'm not
ashamed of my past, but I hate feeling
like I'm being watched and judged."
Andrea adds, "I still cringe when
someone asks me what high school 1
graduated from. I know I have nothing
to hide and I'm very proud that I con-
verted, but I just don't like feeling I
have to explain and justify why I chose
Judaism. I've started offering an an-
swer that is partially true, more or less
a white lie, but at least it doesn't leave
me open for questions and comments."
Many of us can recall statements,
made innocently, that probably were
upsetting to friends or acquaintances
we later found out had converted —
"You mean there are actually Jews liv-
ing in that little town you grew up in?"
"You don't look Jewish!" "You're the
second Jewish nurse I've ever met!"
These reveal our deep-seated
stereotypes and prejudices about
But these remarks hurt less than
the insensitive remarks offered by
friends and family who know about the

Leah painfully remembers the
first time. "I felt so proud being
Jewish. Soon after my conversion, I
went to a family gathering wearing a
Star of David necklace. One of my hus-
band's cousins walked up to me and
said, 'I can't believe you had the nerve
to wear that Star of David here!' "
After 16 self-conscious years,
Leah has finally decided that "it
doesn't matter how others view me,
just how I view myself."
Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg of
Young Israel of Southfield finds that
Orthodox converts remaining in the
Orthodox community are totally ac-
cepted. "A convert with an emotional
and spiritual commitment to Torah
and commandments feels no isolation
and alienation from the community."
Similarly, Jews by Choice outside
Orthodox Judaism often feel the best
about their Jewish identity when fully
committed and totally involved in
Jewish living.
Carolyn Dangoor has felt com-
pletely at home in the Jewish commu-
nity ever since her conversion 22 years

ago. She explains, "I was always
Jewish in thinking. Converting to
Judaism gave a name to what I be-
lieved. Luckily, my experience as a
Jew has always been positive. I think
this is because I've been involved in
the Jewish community and worked in
a Jewish environment".
Carolyn and her family lived in
Saginaw for 13 years. She was an
active member of the small Jewish
community, teaching Sunday school
and working with the Temple B'nai
Israel Sisterhood. Moving to the De-
troit area to increase her children's
contact with a larger Jewish commu-
nity, Carolyn joined the Jewish Corn-
munity Center staff as nursery school
teacher. Since 1979, she's been the di-
rector of child development.
A positive, dynamic person, Caro-
lyn tries to keep her sense of humor
when dealing with people who ask her
if she's Jewish ("I don't have the typi-
cal Jewish looks"), or tell her unflat-
tering stories about gentiles.
Dorothy converted in the late
1930s and has been active in her tem-
ple for close to 50 years. She also feels
fortunate to have had a "very satisfy-
ing and positive relationship with the
Jewish community."
She feels her Jewish identity grew
stronger the more immersed she be-
came in Jewish communal and reli-
gious life. She urges Jews by Choice to
"continue learning, reading and work- °
ing for Jewish causes. Each time you
are able to say, 'I am a Jew,' you will
reinforce and strengthen your Jewish
sense of self."
Although many converts feel ac-
cepted and encouraged, others feel the
community views them with suspicion
and curiosity. Rabbi Lane Steinger of
Temple Emanu-El sees community re-
luctance to accept converts as a fun-
damental misunderstanding of who is i

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