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 Introducing Myself: "Who am I, this Ger?"

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daniel eliezer

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Posts : 82
Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: Introducing Myself: "Who am I, this Ger?"   Wed May 29, 2013 6:47 am

Shalom,

I’m doing this somewhat backward in that I’m formally introducing myself only after having been posting here for sometime, but in that I was more lured here than came of my own volition it sort of compensates. If you’re familiar with anything I’ve posted, you’ve discovered that the longevity of my being a Ger (36 yrs.) and that I’ve been living in Israel close to 34 yrs. are visible in my writing, as they will be in this introduction.

[Note: Before I forget to do this, for those who don’t know, the Hebrew words ‘Ger’ and ‘Giyoret’ mean, respectively, a male and a female convert to Judaism, and their plurals are ‘Gerim’ and ‘Giyorot’. Because in Hebrew ‘Ger’ and ‘Gerim’ refer to the reality of a convert and not necessarily to an individual, therefore unless there is a need or desire to differentiate my using ‘Ger’ and ‘Gerim’ also includes ‘Giyoret’ and Giyorot’. Additionally, the word ‘Gerut’ means conversion.]

What follows is excerpted from a letter I wrote when I was leaving another mailing-list for Gerim after having been posting there for 3 ½ years, about which some of this letter explains why. Despite its having been a letter of departure, in that I am a believer in that we have to be always opening doors for each other, it’s also a letter of introduction – no more and no less than a ‘Certificate of Authentic Conversion’ (if it has a name) is closing one door and opening another. One of the greatest blessings we can have in life is to always be beginning.

It is in keeping with this that, whether we are only exploring maybe the possibility of converting, whether we are in the process of converting, or whether we have already done so, what’s written includes all of us. This doesn’t mean that we will necessarily understand it or agree with it, but it does mean we will be listening to a Ger speaking to and about Gerim. Such writing is something that is invaluable to all of us and something that was terribly absent in my day, excepting the odd book written by a Ger - but for all intents and purposes actually written to explain to Jews. Rarely did such a book have anything to say to Gerim other than listening to another Ger’s or Giyoret’s story, which for us is looking at another’s unique path.

An Open Letter
“Who am I, this Ger?”

[Written to a different community of Gerim; NOT JBC]

The recent changes in this Community of Gerim’s mailing-list and web site have given me both pause and cause to want to speak about Gerim and Gerut. While what I am saying is addressed to all of us here, from the most veteran members to first time visitors, my thoughts are directed equally to the community of Gerim at large, be they on the Internet or not, be they in Israel, like I am, or in the Diaspora, where I came from.

As I speak about us, I will also speak about myself, but, for those who are new here and don’t know me, it is sufficient to know that I posted steadily on this mailing-list from November 2006 until the spring of this year, 2010.

When I joined the mailing-list in November 2006, these were among the words that I wrote to introduce myself.

Dear _______,

I thank you for inviting me to join the list. My initial interest in joining is curiosity, i.e. what is the list, but my deeper interest is the subject itself. I converted thirty years ago and my interest and involvement in Judaism precedes that, but although I've only had a chance to glance I suspect that I'm a little different than many of the participants. My interest is to read through the archives and to listen in so that I can understand what's happening. I expect to learn, because in truth I have no connection with those who are converting today. I would like to believe that it's different, that both the good side and the down side are better, but I suspect that mostly not much has changed except that thank God there are forums like this where we can communicate.

Having weathered many storms, I also hope that in the course of time I will be able to contribute from my experiences – maybe some stories, maybe some Torah – in hopes that I can help make it a little easier a little sweeter for all of us.

A few years ago a young woman was sent to me because she was interested in converting. Within only a few minutes I knew that ‘she’s one that we really want and need’, but I also knew that I could neither encourage nor discourage her. I said a lot, but especially I told her: “Your whole life is before you. (She was then 19-20.) Whether you convert or not, you'll complete your education, get married, raise a family, and live your life. The only difference will be whether you do it as a Jew or not.”

As Robert Frost immortalized in:

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20

It’s almost thirty years ago since I thought deeply about these words, and then I, too, chose the “road less traveled by”. It's not the road for everyone but for me it is, and I’m still traveling that road. That road is God’s road, the only one that we really travel in life, and fortunate are the ones who know just how true this is.

B'Shalom,


For those who don’t know me, I live in Israel, where I have been living since moving here in October 1979, two years and ten months after I had converted in January 1977. Before this mailing-list, I had been writing to Jews about Torah and God and Jews and the Land of Israel - good writing that purposefully began during the years of insanity and terror here, but the Ger who I am was never a visible part of those writings. I wrote as me, but to those who read me and who didn’t know my background I was a Jew – no more no less.

As many Gerim know, there was and is little to be gained in making my background known (which was the advice of Jews! when I converted), and, to the contrary, having so comfortably and seemingly completely become visibly a Jew and thus ‘invisibly a Ger’…what more could any Ger ask for? In truth, there are many Gerim who are today invisible as the Jews they have become, and except for those who do know no one is the wiser. As to whether this is good or even desired, most of us would concur and say, “Yes, it is,” and even say it emphatically. I don’t disagree.

What I do do, though, is express recognition that there is more to Gerut and the Ger than ‘only becoming a Jew’. This isn’t meant to delineate obligation, although there is what to say on this, but to address the inherent and essential question, “Who am I, this Ger/Giyoret?” because, after all, we are not Jews through and through. We weren’t born into and with it; we chose it, and this differentiates and distinguishes us.

I didn’t invent this, manufacture it, or discover it. It is the reality of being a Ger, reality that becomes increasingly a part of our lives…regardless of however much we are or are not aware of it, are or are not conscious of how it influences us…once we have converted and begin our lives towards becoming Jews.

Please do not misunderstand. No matter what the circumstances that brought us to becoming Gerim, excepting, perhaps, those who grew up as Jews and for whom conversion is a legal formality (but not excepting those who define themselves as, “I’ve always felt Jewish”), no matter how cataclysmic or how lacking thereof was our Gerut - our conversion, no one wakes up the next morning a Jew – other than in the halachic [the religiously legal] reality of being a Jew. Whether we admit it or don’t, our identity as a Jew is encompassed in the reality that ‘we weren’t always so’. We are a Jew, but ‘whoever we were’ is still accompanying us.

At different times and in different ways I have been asked by those who know I write to and for Gerim, “why do you bother with Gerim who are Reform, Conservative, etc.?”…the questioner’s meaning being “they’re not Jews.” I suppose I could reply, “You have to know, my conversion credentials are impeccable, nevertheless there are Jews who don’t accept me. Not only that, but there are Jews who accept my credentials yet they don’t accept me!?” Mostly, though, with these people there is nothing to discuss, and neither is there any reason to attempt to do so. Does anyone really think that they could begin to comprehend that when I'm looking at Gerim I’m unconcerned at ‘where in the greater galaxy of Jews hey have installed themselves’?

It’s the Ger who interests me, because although at this time in my life I’ve rarely, if ever, met another Ger who has immersed himself in the question of “who am I, the Ger?” as I have, the lack of their doing so has never caused me to think that this question does not equally belong to them. I realize that for those who have not been Gerim for a considerable length of time or who are young enough that questions of this nature haven’t yet been formulated that I am preempting, but this is positive. Questions of “who am I?” have to stand in the forefront of our consciousness, not as obsession but as quest and search for learning “why are we here?”

And yet today, as we all know, it is exactly this quest and this search for “who am I?” that the world outwardly rejects, substituting in it’s place “what am I?” – as if being anchored by measurable dimensions gives all the reason necessary for our existence. Some five years ago I had written to the rabbi who converted me: “…But it isn’t only parochial implementation of Judaism that is so destructive. Judaism in the way that it’s practiced seems to be overbalanced regarding a personal eschatological view. (What a euphemism!) Too many Jews look at it as either a report card or a book of green-stamps: “If there’s nothing in it for me, personally, I’m not interested.” Why is there such tremendous energy invested in and maybe even obsession with quid pro quo?…”

I was talking to a Jew about Jews, but in the way we adhere to and even bury ourselves in the communities we convert into I’m also talking about Gerim. Why do Gerim buy into the stilted and stunted Judaism as it’s predominantly practiced by Jews? Why do we come with tremendous searching and thirsting before we convert, yet once we do we let ourselves become subdued and overwhelmed by the status quo as we sink into our lives as Jews?

I have many arguments with Jews and how they are Jews – or not Jews, even as my understanding of why they are so only increases and deepens. I don’t judge them other than to lament ‘how so much could be so different’. Gerim, however, are unfathomable. It’s not that we slip into becoming ‘just like them’, because, after all, this is human behavior, particularly when we want to belong and not be outsiders. It’s just that in our becoming Gerim, we had the courage to stand against what we were and say, “that’s not me,” but now that we’ve become Gerim we lose that courage.

Let me correct myself. We lose our courage in that we erringly accept that identifying means ‘behaving the same’, losing sight that ‘my becoming a Ger’ wasn’t dependent upon behaving like this or that. It was response to deeper and higher motivation. Why then, if this is so, do we, once we become Jews, subdue and mute our response to ‘deeper and higher motivation’? Does our becoming members of the Temple-synagogue-shul eliminate our need for response to deeper and higher motivation? Does belonging to this committee or this group, participating in this studying and learning or activity, or accepting these responsibilities preclude it?

Or are we capable of when doing what’s been iterated and even more...of still retaining our focus and aspiration; of not letting go, of not being deterred, of not abandoning what brought us to becoming Gerim? Do we understand that becoming a Ger is not something rooted in an historical moment, but a direction in life? Do we pursue “Who am I, this Ger?” as relentlessly as we pursued becoming him or her?

A dear friend of mine sitting at my Shabbat table said to another guest, a would-be Ger, “He’s [Daniel’s] a paradigm. You can learn from him; you can’t be him.” If one has read this far, it’s abundantly clear that Gerim who question and drive at understanding “Who am I, this Ger?” are not plentiful, otherwise ‘paradigm’ wouldn’t apply. And yet, despite this, I am all too, too cognizant that it is the Ger of each and every one of us who has brought me to this.

Perhaps, to some degree, I have chosen to be this way, if one can chose such a thing. I do, however, acknowledge that what I call ‘the uniform of religion (or religiosity)’ has never enamored me for any length of time. This is not meant as criticism, although it surely can be, and neither does it deny that there can be and that there is good, even great good, in overt religious identification and purpose. It’s just that, for in whatever inexpressible reasons, for me these don’t liberate; they imprison. ‘Liberation’ meaning an unending search for and adhering to the Infinite, ‘imprisonment’ meaning the unwillingness to reach beyond the finite.

These are not everyday…if even any-day…thoughts for most, and would that I could admit to being an aberration, because it would comfortably bring to close the understanding of differences, but I can’t - even if I undeniably appear to be. The problem is that it’s ‘not me’. I am no aberration, other than within a subjective understanding. Of a certainty, I am no aberration within an objective understanding. How can this be?

Allow me to ask a question. “Who among us doesn’t know what God is?” We all know, of course, right, or, at least, think we know. Now in order to understand this first question, allow me ask an additional question. “Who among us doesn’t know who God is?”

One single word changed and we’re lost…absolutely, totally lost. Not only that, but even on the first question we outright lied! We have arrogance that only man can have, and it is here is where we Gerim most fail ourselves. Because we…we in our not being born Jews…we had to search, to question, to struggle and strive in pursuit of answering these questions, whether overtly or not or even whether we did or not. There could have been no other way, because otherwise what does it mean ‘to become a Jew’? The truth, as we encountered when we came out of the mikveh is, “we didn’t discover answer; we only discovered enlarged and expanded question.”

Where are those questions today? Do they still exist…or have they been quieted by failure to find…or by apparent answers stemming from ignorance…or by silent submission to ‘being like everyone else’?

I challenge…and I know that I do. I do not accept ritual acceptance of the status quo. For all that its great strength is...it is also its greatest weakness. I beg of people to wake up, to look with new eyes – uplifted eyes; to search with an open mind to discover how to open hearts - “how to open my heart in order to open your heart.” I ask of people to question and not to just accept. If in the Torah God teaches us, “I will be what I will be,” [Shemot 3] meaning in our modern day terminology ‘I am dynamic; I am constantly changing,” how can we possibly expect to even imagine to attempt to keep abreast of God if we never change?!…even a little bit, and even when doing so all the while knowing that after all God’s God and overwhelms us.

You may not believe it but all this has only been introduction. Maybe I should not have started here, and I’m almost done, but what I’ve said needs to be said, some of it every day of our lives. I know because I live it and I do.

* * *

My concluding words there related specifically to that community and to my participation in it, and therefore it’s not relevant to us here. What is relevant to us is that we – we Gerim and would-be Gerim – give considerable thought and reflection and contemplation to what’s been written. Do not even begin to think that this is what Daniel has written, BUT do not ever forget that this is what a Ger has written – not simply one Ger but everyone who wants and does become a Ger or Giyoret.

We all come from infinite places and avenues and motivations in life, and we’ll equally continue as Jews & Gerim to infinite places and avenues and motivations in life, after all that’s what life is. What, however, isn’t visible in life is “why are we here?” In choosing to become Gerim and, hence, become Jews, we have started answering this question. We must…and our blessings to ourselves have to be that we will…never ever stop pursuing answering it.

Will we ever? The Talmud teaches:

“[You say] you searched but didn’t find…you didn’t search.”
“[You say] you found but didn’t search…you didn’t find.”
“[You say] you searched and found…you searched and you found.”

The deepest and highest and sweetest blessings that we should always, always have the courage to begin to search anew.

Daniel Eliezer
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