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 Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away

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BRNechama

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PostSubject: Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away   Mon Dec 05, 2011 10:13 am

I loved the following statement from this thread...

FaustianSlip wrote:

That kind of stuff is a terrible chillul Hashem, not just for the Orthodox community, but for Judaism in general. If I were a rabbi who emotionally beat one of my conversion candidates into abandoning the process, I wouldn't be so quick to congratulate myself; what kind of things is that person going to have to say about Judaism and Jews after being jerked around for months or years by the religious community? Probably nothing good.

So I decided to start a new one (in order not to derail the original topic).

I first approached a Reform rabbi when I was 15 to inquire about conversion. He flat out said that I was too young to make such a serious change...and that was the end of that. In retrospect, he may have been right. But I also feel that he could have been a bit more open-ended in his response (such as referring some books to me...or something).

When I was in college, conversion was sort of a non-issue...in that 1) the Hillel House was very welcoming, regardless of the fact that I wasn't formally converted and 2) the Hillel did not have a good relationship with the rabbi of the local congregation, so I had no desire to approach her regarding conversion.

Later, after college, the Reform congregations I investigated were all very welcoming, even encouraging towards converts. However southeast FL is such a transient, international community...they were just addressing a very real need (which was a lot of Jews from the Northeast who were retired and widowed...and looking to remarry...often non-Jewish Latin Americans). I myself was one of the very few Reform converts that I came across that was converting, but not in a romantic relationship with a Jew.

As an adult, I don't remember any "pushing away" in regards to conversion. There was a bit of "warning"; in that I would need to give up all Christian observances and that I would be expected to be active in the congregation...but no outright rejection.

However my Orthodox conversion was a whole different story. I was first screened by some Orthodox Jewish members of the kiruv (outreach) community. After a few Shabbos meals, I was referred to their rabbi. To my surprise, he declined to work with me altogether...no reasons given. However the people who referred me were not surprised. They simply advised that he had bad experiences with converts before, and that if I really wanted to be taken seriously as a conversion candidate, then I should move into the Jewish community.

Well I wasn't planning on doing that any time soon. However, the opportunity actually did arise for me to move...a few months later. But the community that I moved into was not the same as the one of my aforementioned friends. I was referred to a rabbi in my new community. I spoke to him on the phone, and he agreed to meet with me. However he did not disclose that he was pretty sick; currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Then he was in a car accident. From that point on, his wife and other members of the congregation encouraged me not to bother him. So that was the end of that.

Friends of mine in NYC suggested another rabbi that had relocated to FL. The reason being, is that there were several converts in his congregation already. But our phone conversation didn't go so well. He said to me, in a nutshell, that "he's not telling me 'yes'; but he's not saying 'no' either". Well what was that supposed to mean? I call him back in a week? A month? I don't do well with double talk....so I did not progress any further with that rabbi.

At this point, I should explain my living situation at the time. I was in an Orthodox Jewish community; living and working. There were 8...maybe 9 Orthodox shuls in the vicinity. I did Shabbos every week and would often just "follow" my host family (so if a family invited me for Shabbos, I would just attend whatever shul they went to). I knew that this wasn't ideal....as far as visibility to the rabbis. But I also felt that as a woman, they weren't really paying attention to my side of the mechitza anyway (for example, the previous rabbi was totally unaware that I had ever gone to his shul for services).

Ok, so I befriended a great Orthodox family. They encouraged to speak to their rabbi. They called him one motzei Shabbos (right after Shabbos) to vouch for me. I then met with him, and he was very kind and encouraging from the start. He laid out a plan for me, and had only one warning for me; Jewish living and learning can be taxing on your time and finances. In this aspect, he was very much like the Reform rabbis I approached about conversion. However, I did have strong references this time...and he did recognize me from the community.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to convert with this rabbi. I moved, and my new rabbi was hired by the congregation a few months after I started attending. Because some key members told him that I needed to take care of my conversion, he never gave me a hard time...and was only helpful. However the Beis Din (based in a nearby city) was a different story. In spite of my previous references from other rabbis...they wanted me to start over from scratch (1-2 years of studying). So although they didn't reject me....they sort of did.

Over the course of the next 3 years, I had a series of meetings wit the Beis Din, and them "reviewing my case" and then telling me something was lacking, and that they would set up an appointment to meet up with me again. There was usually a 6 to 9 month wait between these appointments.

It is hard for me to say that the meetings with the Beis Din where they said "no" was their way of fulfilling the 'halachaic' requirement of pushing the convert away...or if they really felt I needed more time. My biggest issue is that they would find issues with things that I thought were non-issues. For example, in the Spring of 2009, they said that I need to learn. So I started learning with my rabbi both one-on-one and in community shirum (classes). However in the Winter of 2009, they said that was not acceptable, and I would need to learn with a mentor approved by them. No Idea

Even in the last Beit Din meeting before my conversion, I felt that they were pretty much examining the reasons why I wouldn't be successful as a Jew, and figuring out how much of an issue it would be ultimately. They also told me that they really should have a "conversion program" and it is a shame that there was not one in place for me. One rabbi also remarked that it would be difficult for me to get married, and if I was willing to accept that. But I also know that several people were calling them and talking to them...asking about me and what the hold up was. So in a nutshell, I got the feeling that I was converted reluctantly...at best.

In spite of what I wrote, I am fully on board with conversions to Orthodox Judaism being demanding in the aspects of moving into the community, learning Hebrew, learning halacha, and showing a general affinity for Judaism. However outside of that, any more discouragement is superfluous. This requirements present enough difficulty without all of the reluctance and discouragement that comes from the rabbis and other members of the Jewish community.

So what was the experience of all of you? Were you formally rejected? If so, how many times? Also what was the nature of the rejection?
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maculated

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PostSubject: Re: Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away   Mon Dec 05, 2011 2:27 pm

BRN, an amazing story of commitment despite the odds. I deeply respect you for that. In the end, my rejection in the Orthodox community pushed me over the edge to the point that while I still primarily live by and learn with Orthodox teachers and guidelines, I sought a conservative conversion.

Perhaps it was the daily rousting of the online program I joined that required you to get up at 4-6 am every week day to attend classes out of Jerusalem. The way they would round-robin make the participating women cry until our chat sessions were like support groups and the cultish way they told us that not wearing tzniut and unattractive clothing now (as aspiring converts) drove HaShem out of the world and that fruit in Israel tasted better because it was holy (and not fresh). At some unknown point, I would go to live with these teachers in Israel and wait until they felt I was ready . . . good bye rest of my life. I literally felt like I was being brainwashed.

Perhaps it was the chunking down of $300 to be interviewed for five minutes, given a psych exam, and then to be told that i would be accepted only if my fiance (he wasn't at the time, but we had started dating during this process) attended a Yeshiva and we committed our children to 12 years of day school whether we could afford it or liked the school or not. Oh, and that will be $50/hour for a private tutor, while you're at it, to teach you how to bake challah and what not.

Or perhaps it was the local Chabad rabbi openly discussing that I would be unmarriagable if I converted and that he would willingly ship me across the country to convert me as long as I was willing to make "big sacrifices" that he wouldn't specify. (At this point, it felt like the spiritual aspect was lost and we just had to find someone willing to play the game.)

And finally, my fiance's parents total non-humanizing me during the time I asked for their help in this, telling me that I was nothing more than a donkey trying to convert for marriage, only to come around and offer to ship me to Israel for five months on their dime to a conversion Ulpan of their choosing and then accept me afterwards. I feel like I would be placed in a sort of prison and go right back to the brainwashing process of the first attempt.

I don't think any of these things was a result of intelligent selection but more like ego and political influence. Reducing a person to a number. I still appreciate the Orthodox community, but I simply couldn't tolerate the stories of rejection that came out of it even after conversion hoops were jumped through. And I certainly don't want to become a political object. And I feel that unfortunately, some converts are that in Judaism. I just can't tolerate that.
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Debbie B.

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PostSubject: Re: Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away   Mon Dec 05, 2011 3:05 pm

maculated wrote:
The way they would round-robin make the participating women cry ....
Shocked
You had mentioned that you had bad experiences, but I could not have imagined it could be that bad! That is so "not my Judaism". I suspect that they do it for the same reasons that fraternities haze: after you go through harrowing experiences, you have to justify to yourself that it was worth it, so you end up super-loyal.

Good for you that you had enough self-respect to leave the program before you were indeed "brain-washed."
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PostSubject: Re: Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away   Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:26 pm

And to think that converting people used to be a mission of the Jewish people. 9-10% of the Roman Empire was Jewish at one point.

Being a light unto nations and bringing everyone to the knowledge of one God used to be considered important.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away   Tue Dec 06, 2011 4:57 pm

My experience was nothing like those and I have to say I would probably not have stuck with it if it were. I'm sorry you two had to go through it. I understand making conversion difficult and rigorous but I really don't understand the psychological torment or why it's necessarily.
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BRNechama

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PostSubject: Re: Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away   Tue Dec 06, 2011 5:41 pm

Dena wrote:
My experience was nothing like those and I have to say I would probably not have stuck with it if it were.

Thank you. It's a tough position to be in. The main reason why I didn't give up (even when all of the things were in place to have me give up) was the fact that I truly believed that I had a Jewish soul and that the only was for me to "come home" was to undergo this process. It wasn't about acceptance from others, or even 'legitimizing' myself in the community. If it were, I would have definitely given up. Crying or Very sad

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PostSubject: Re: Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away   Tue Dec 06, 2011 5:43 pm

Amen, BRN.
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Dena

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PostSubject: Re: Discouraging Converts/Being Pushed Away   Tue Dec 06, 2011 6:00 pm

I did mean that I would not have stuck with the Orthodox conversion, I would have gone elsewhere.
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