Conversion marks a profound, deliberate shift in one's state of being. It therefore poses a host of challenges for the prospective convert. Here are just a few of them.
A Jewish way of life is defined by certain values. Though all religious traditions have values, they may not be identical to one another. Jewish values are generally known by their Hebrew names. Some familiar examples include tzedakah (righteousness), hesed (lovingkindness), and shalom (peace). Yirat shamayim (reverence for the sacred) and the belief that all human beings are created b'tzelem elohim (in God's image) are at the core of Judaism. These values and the behaviors they inspire - such as continuous, devoted study of Torah (Jewish tradition) and the observance of traditional Jewish practices (mitzvot) - have long defined the piety of a Jew. A prospective convert studies Jewish values and seeks to incorporate them into his or her worldview.
Judaism, moreover, is not just a religion or a theory of living. The Jews are a people with a unique past, a unique history and civilization. That history can pose among the greatest of quandaries for a prospective Jew by choice: How can I, really, acquire new ancestors? How can I feel myself to be part of a nation I may have known little about for most of my life? And what happens to my "other" ancestors - the ones who weren't Jewish? For that matter, what happens to my non-Jewish family members who may even today be practicing another religion? What should I do, if I have Christian relatives, on December 25th? For that matter - not to compare the two holidays - what will I expect of them on the 25th of Kislev (the first day of Hannukah)? Can a Jew by choice be a fully supported and supportive member of an extended non-Jewish family?
In short - and this is the core question for the prospective convert - How can I possibly be who I have not previously been? How will people relate to me? Will I ever be accepted as a Jew, by Jews as well as by non-Jews? Will I ever feel competent to pass down the Jewish tradition to the next generation? Can it ever really be accomplished? Of course, it takes time. Conversion is a process more than an event. It takes effort and the willingness to reflect upon and to discuss one's choice with one's family and loved ones.
Most of all, it requires education. It requires courses and books and newspapers and journals. It requires thoughtful analysis and study. It requires a good supportive student/teacher relationship with a rabbi, who can, on the one hand, challenge one to think critically about what one is doing, and, on the other hand, nurture one's evolving Jewish identity.
For more information, please contact our clergy at (305) 937-1880.