Learn more at yaelifineart. During this season of reflection and self-transformation, we focus on a few extraordinary individuals who underwent what may be the ultimate self-transformation: conversion to Judaism. While there is much to say on conversion in Israel, this section will focus on the conversion experience in the United States. It was a fascination with Jewish history that ultimately led Michael Verderame to become Jewish.
Jews had persevered despite all of challenges ; something here has to be real , he thought. Yitzchak Verderame, pictured here with his wife Dena and son Natan, was in graduate school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign when his interest in Judaism sparked. Today he is assistant dean at the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago. Some of his Jewish friends described Shabbat meals and the Pesach Seder.
Verderame took to the library to study Judaism more intensely. Rabbi Appel and Verderame, now Yitzchak, learned together a few times a week, and when the latter felt ready in January , Rabbi Appel went to the Chicago Rabbinical Council and told them he had a young man who was serious about converting to Judaism.
They gave him a comprehensive list of books for Verderame to read. Halachah stipulates that one who seeks to become Jewish must be politely but firmly turned away three times before we agree to teach him or her. The most motivated will persist nonetheless.
Barriers to Acceptance Once on the path to conversion, how do geirim acclimate to frum society and culture? Paloma Penina Bain had a relatively easy time adjusting, since she had worked for a Jewish-owned restaurant for several years and had been making Jewish friends and absorbing knowledge about Judaism all along. Aliza Stein [not her real name], a physical therapist, also had Jewish friends before converting. As a single person, she never lacked for Shabbat invitations, and when she married, the community got together and arranged her entire wedding.
Nechemia Davis works as a special education teacher in Baltimore. But that was an isolated incident, says the former devout Christian. One can join a people only if there is a people to join—and only if one understands that choosing to join it is more than a matter of selectively identifying with some of its beliefs. That is the case, for instance, with Gregory Eran Gronbacher, another blogger who has converted. For me, Judaism is a worldview that has little to do with ethnicity.
A Judaism without ethnicity can hardly be called Judaism—and yet it is the kind of Judaism that will spread in an America in which being Jewish by choice and Jewish by birth are thought of as two different versions of the same thing.
Jews By Choice
Jewishness can be a deliberate choice for non-Jews only so long as it is as a welcomed chosenness for born Jews. False linguistic parallelisms obscure that truth.
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Register Now. The False Ideas in the Phrase "Jew by Choice" Now used to describe converts to Judaism, the term misleadingly suggests that Jewishness inheres more in certain selective beliefs than in Jewish peoplehood. Mainly, she writes, that it creates a false binary between those who choose to be Jewish and those born with Judaism [as their inheritance]. Daily Weekly. Welcome to Mosaic.
Why I love Jews by Choice
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Latest in Observations. Though not a pacifist, Chuck, like many veterans, saw a pointlessness to war and conflict that was hard to dispute, given all he had been through on the battlefield. It was during his period of attempting to reconcile his experiences that he started to reread the Bible with fresh eyes. He told me the only part that made sense to him was the Old Testament.
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And so, when he came to me, we started by studying the commentaries and Talmud Jewish law. As a Reform rabbi, about 30 percent of my congregation at Temple Judea in Tarzana is made up of interfaith families. They are sparked by the warmth of Jewish tradition, the idea of wanting spiritual continuity in their family or, quite powerfully, because they are learning alongside their child about the beauty and relevance of Judaism.
A third path, which may be viewed by some as prototypical, is when the non-Jewish partner of an engaged couple comes to me for their wedding. While for me, conversion is not a precondition for doing their wedding, I do encourage and promote it. Miraculously, those who choose to enter the Jewish people around the time they enter into marriage often create two Jews, not one, in the process. Suddenly, it is the Jew by Choice who is insisting they light Shabbat candles, attend services regularly and become involved in the synagogue. Presently, some of the most active couples in our congregation have followed this path.
One of my favorite examples is the story of Joshua and Christina not their real names. Joshua was born in Israel and raised in the United States; prior to meeting Christina, his bar mitzvah was pretty much the first and last time he stepped foot in a synagogue. When he called looking for a rabbi for his wedding, Joshua proudly identified himself as a cultural Jew and explained that having Jewish wedding was important to him only as a way to honor the memory of his mother. He gave me clear instructions over the phone before we met not to make the ceremony too Jewish.
His fiancee, Christina, was raised Mennonite in the Midwest, and Joshua was one of the few Jewish people she had ever spoken with. She grew up with parents who were devout members of their church, but, from the time she was a teenager, she had always felt something missing in her faith and did not practice their beliefs. One day, she asked if she could start meeting with me one on one. Those meetings led to her enrolling in an introduction to Judaism class, which Joshua decided to attend with her so they could spend more time together they were newlyweds, after all.
At the end of the course she converted, and now they come together to synagogue nearly every Shabbat. Joshua is part of our weekly Torah study and sits on a number of temple committees, and Christina helps facilitate our young couples group and mentors others in the conversion process. A few months ago, I was privileged to name their daughter in our sanctuary. In her young life, their child has already been to synagogue more than Joshua had been in the 20 years before he met Christina.
It is because of stories like these that rabbis often say that one of the most inspiring and fulfilling aspects of our calling is to work with Jews by Choice. Every student we study with amazes and astounds us because, through their eyes, we see Judaism as something new, full of hope, promise, wonder, fascination and awe. I did not have to wait to become a rabbi to observe the profound impact that choosing to be Jewish can have on another person.
RABBI’S CORNER On Shavuot, We Are All Jews-by-Choice | Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven
I guess you could say that making Jews is our family business. My maternal grandmother, Vera Kipnis, became the first private conversion tutor in the San Francisco Bay Area, more than 70 years ago. She tutored students for their studies with rabbis from across the movements, and for as long as I can remember, my mom, Patti Moskovitz, continued the work that my grandmother began. My mother tutored students in our home, believing that Judaism was dished out with cookies, soups and sandwiches as much as through Torah, Talmud and tradition.
In any given week, I would come home from school to witness a student crying tears of joy as he or she uncovered a part of the soul that previous religion, faith or lack thereof could not touch. With every student my family has worked with through the years, the question lay before me: If I were born into another religion, would I have chosen to study and become Jewish?
Could I leave behind family heritage and traditions I have known since birth?
And not just any faith, but Judaism — a small, minority community fraught at times with internal tsuris and an external experience of contempt in the eyes of so many. Yes, even rabbis ponder this existential question — maybe we ponder it even more than others, as daily we see the joys and oys of Jewish life. We look at the survivors and children of survivors who sit uncomfortably in synagogue, who endured horrors we cannot even begin to understand — what is the source of their faith? Then there are the synagogue politics, the high cost of being Jewish and the reality that at any given time in history, someone is out to wipe us off the face of the earth.
The Jew by Choice impresses in so many ways, on their children for sure, but hopefully on each and every one of us, old and young alike. David Suissa , Oct. Whether President Donald Trump deserves to be impeached or not, with Yom Kippur around the corner, the question on my mind is: How much should Tabby Refael , Oct.