I recently posted an essay on the Huffington Post about the complicated relationship between intermarriage and Jewish conversion. In it, I mention just a few of the challenges that many Jews-by-choice face in their interaction with born-Jews. I have a sense of what some of the other challenges might be, thanks to my position as an “ally” to Jews-by-choice: my organization, the Jewish Outreach Institute, operates programs and listserves for women and men who have chosen Judaism. And though I was born into it, my wife is not yet Jewish and may choose to convert one day (and if not, when we have children they may one day choose to convert, should they want to be accepted beyond the Reform and Reconstructionist movements), so it’s an issue that touches very close to home for me.
Previously, I’ve written about something I coined “Born-Jewish Privilege,” which tries to describe how those of us born into Judaism make assumptions and off-the-cuff remarks with little conception of the weight they carry or the personal nature of the inquiry. I wrote: “It is a Born-Jewish Privilege to be able to ask someone, immediately upon learning that he or she is a convert, ‘You mean you actually chose to become Jewish?’—even as an attempted joke. And it is a Born-Jewish Privilege to then turn around (at perhaps the very same event!) and ask the non-Jewish spouse of a Jew, ‘Do you plan to convert?’”
I believe that like with White Privilege (and other privileges) the first step to encouraging people to change their behavior is to alert them that the privilege even exists in the first place. By its very nature, the overwhelming majority is generally unaware it possesses privileges. Once alerted, most people will modify their behavior because (I believe) most people are genuinely fair and welcoming at heart.
I have certainly met a number of Jews-by-choice who’ve only experienced welcoming attitudes and open doors during their journey into Jewish life. Overall however, it seems that many if not most Jews-by-choice encounter challenges navigating our insular peoplehood, and I’m very interested in making the larger Jewish community more aware of such challenges. And I’m always interested in learning about the challenges and hearing ideas about how to best address them.
As I mentioned at the end of the Huffington Post piece, there will be a unique opportunity to learn about and discuss Jewish conversion courtesy of the Center for Jewish History in New York on Sunday, April 10, called, “Conversations on Conversion – A Symposium Moderated by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.” I’m honored to be speaking on one of the panels at the symposium, and if you attend please feel free to introduce yourself. I hope to meet some of you there!