I really meant to go to shul this morning; honest I did. I even heard my alarm go off. And then I fell back to sleep as though I’d been drugged, or poleaxed. I went to bed at 8PM yesterday, exhausted from short sleep, fibromyalgia, and a long trip via the back roads to the-town-formerly-known-as-Berlin for a job interview.
Bethany S. Mandel has written an interesting piece in the Times of Israel regarding conversion and the status of converts within the larger Jewish community. I’m not sure I agree with everything in it, but it certainly does raise topics for discussion. I’m also not sure that some of the politics in this apply to me, as some of the problems Mandel raises seem to be specifically US problems, and I’m in Canada, although my rabbi did say I would be doing my conversion through the Beit Din in Detroit (I’m not sure why and it didn’t cross my mind to ask at the time), so it may or may not.
I have not had (so far), baruch haShem, some of the problems Mandel discusses. The community at Beit Meshugge has been pretty well uniformly welcoming, and I’ve had no problems with the rav so far.
Mandel’s wish list is as follows, and I’ll add my commentary to each:
- Converts are in a state of persistent limbo.
This has kind of been my experience, as I expected to begin my classes over a year ago, and it really hasn’t happened yet. This is partially due to my inability to schedule study time with the rav, and his busy schedule, though. I don’t know what will happen if I wind up having to move away. I hope I can get to shul this Shabbat so I can talk to him about it. When we discussed a timeline, though, he seemed to feel that I could probably complete the course in about a year, so I can’t complain there. I do agree that setting some kind of critical path plan with objectives and milestones is probably a good idea, if only because it gives the candidate things to work for. (Actually, this is one of the things I really like about R. Aryeh Moshen’s Gerus Guide and its associated programme; it has a structure of gradually increasing observance leading to a fully Jewish life.)
- We have no safe governing body or individual to turn to [in case of issues with the rabbis]
I agree that this might be a problem; I recall Kochava from You’re Not Crazy had issues with her conversion too. I am hoping (B”H) this does not apply to me, because there is no one to go to. I guess that’s one of the peculiarities of a decentralised religion. (An old friend has been needling me a little bit in a friendly way for stating I wanted to convert, and once said, “Well, you know how I feel about organised religion,” and I said, “I’m not joining an organised religion; I’m converting to Judaism.”) I don’t see a way out of this.
- The reasonable costs associated with conversion should be clearly laid out from the outset.
This is absolutely true. I haven’t heard of any costs, and the rav specifically told me he is forbidden to take money for teaching Torah, so there would be no cost for his classes. I hope there aren’t any large surprise bills in my future.
- Communities have welcoming committees for Jews who move to the area but nothing in place for converts in the process.
I’m not sure if I think this is reasonable or not, as a lot of Orthodox communities don’t see that many conversion candidates. In my town, the Reform synagogue seems to attract a fair few conversion candidates, but since I’m pursuing an Orthodox conversion, I’m not really sure if they could help with some of the things I’d need. My advice is to find an unofficial mentor. Talk to people in shul. Go to events, and network.
- Converts are constantly asked to discuss extremely personal questions by strangers
Yeah, welcome to Judaism.
I really hope Mandel never goes to Israel, because she’s going to be bombarded by personal questions, unsolicited advice, and other overtures of aggressive togetherness (achdut, maybe). I had some experience with this at one point. My strategy for coping with this is to have a sort of “elevator pitch” prepared. I’m not really bothered by people’s curiosity; I figure this is a good way to make friends, network, and find allies and possible mentors.
- Help us with matters of Jewish ritual.
This hasn’t come up for me yet, so I really can’t comment on it, but using the tactics I described in the previous point might help with this.
- If converts are expected to provide their “papers” proving their Jewishness for a school, synagogue, or wedding ask born Jews for the same.
I suppose this is fair, although most born Jews have people in the community who can essentially vouch for them, or at least pazam. Again, I’m not sure how I feel about this, as it hasn’t really come up.
- The conversion process for those of Jewish heritage should be accelerated and unique.
I agree with this, where the person has been raised Jewish, at least. Since I’m adopted, hypothetically there could be a chance I actually have Jewish ancestors, although I suspect not. I wish I had some kind of magical Jewish origin story, but I’m afraid I don’t. In any case, my learning process would be about the same as any other prospective convert’s, because I wasn’t at all raised Jewish, and I’m flying blind.
- Converts deserve to be treated with the same love and care as Jewish orphans from the moment we become Jewish.
I’m not sure I agree with this either, but a kehila should be doing its best to welcome converts in any case.
- We should not have to live in fear about the status of our conversions in perpetuity.
Yes, I agree with this. I’ve seen entirely too many stories where people’s conversions weren’t respected for one reason or another, and the actions of Mandel’s rav shouldn’t affect the halachic status of her conversion, although for political reasons it might. I do worry about this a little bit, but I guess I’ll have to burn that bridge when I cross it, and not before.
I do think there are an awful lot of converts who seem to have been left in precarious situations, and I think in general Jewish organisations need to be more proactive in helping converts, although I can understand why they aren’t necessarily. Between the massive weight of cultural resistance to the idea of converts, a thousand years and more of well-deserved distrust of outsiders, and a lack of “market,” as it were, the issue of lack of outreach is basically inevitable (at least within Orthodoxy), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this situation persists. Thanks to Mandel for at least starting a conversation, though.
Further: If you’re interested in seeing an incredible discussion of the politics surrounding this issue, as well as what the tensions between the Orthodox world and other movements of Judaism, I encourage you to read the comments on this article. (I normally encourage people not to read newspaper article comments, as they’re usually about a half-step up from YouTube wharrgarrbl, but the Times of Israel has really good, respectful commenters for the most part. Even the abrasive Orthodox supremacists in the bunch seem to know their stuff, and are worth reading even if you disagree with them, just to get the flavour of the thing.)
I’m absolutely stunned by the news of the shooting today at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I live nowhere near there, but it’s still horrifying. I feel like things like this haven’t happened here since 1970, and I’m hoping, although not optimistic, that Harper doesn’t decide to invoke the War Measures Act like Trudeau did (and for which I’ll never forgive him).
I belong to a closed Canadian political discussion group on Facebook, and the Usual Suspects there (or maybe I should say, lehavdil Wm. M. Gaines, the Usual Gang of Idiots — only sincerely) are going on the conspiracy theories already. This leads me to a very surly (and probably unworthy) thought, paraphrasing an actual Nazi (Hanns Johst) — “When I hear the phrase ‘false flag,’ I take the safety off my Browning.”
I am very interested to see how this will all shake out, although I’m (as usual) upset that the shooter has been himself shot, since I think it’s always useful to try to get these guys alive so one can determine their motives. I do hope he left a manifesto somewhere, because otherwise, the speculation is going to send a lot of people haring off after one thing and another, and I see some very real threats to our civil liberties looming, not to mention the possibility of retaliatory violence against one group or another.
For many of the conspiracy theorists out there, of course, everything comes back to Jews and Israel. The Islamic State is actually a Mossad creation. Harper’s support for Israel has radicalised Islamic terrorists, so they’re engaging in blowback. This shooting (and the incident yesterday where a man attempted to run over two police officers in Quebec) are false flag operations designed to further curtail our civil liberties and bolster Harper’s chances in the next election. The tail is wagging the dog. And so on and so forth.
The thing is, there are so many issues festering under the skin of the Canadian polity right now that I think it would be downright stupid to speculate, and I hope everyone can exercise their good judgement, commitment to right action, avoidance of lashon hara, and national comity in the face of tragedy and uncertainty.
I really wanted to go to shul this morning, but apparently my alarm was turned too low, because I slept right through it. This isn’t surprising, since I went to bed at 7PM last night (although I was up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours because I was burning up — homeostasis, ur doin it rong!) and generally slept like a rock. (I did finally give in and turn on the light so I could read while I was waiting for my temperature to come back down. *sigh*)
Other than that, it was a good Shabbat. I did a lot of sleeping, a lot of reading, and studied some more of my book on the halacha of kashrut, which I must say is absolutely bone-dry, and details a tonne of the minutiae of the procedures surrounding scenarios where meat and milk come into contact. This is probably not something I’ll likely ever need to know in any detail, because I don’t consume dairy products, other than the occasional thing that has a dairy hechsher on it for “CYA” reasons but otherwise contains no actual discernable dairy products. I suppose if I wind up marrying someone who eats dairy, I might have to do meat/dairy kosher, but at this point, it’s a total non-issue. (Anybody know any eligible lactose-intolerant bachelors? *g*)
Izzy’s eye seems to be improving vastly, so I’m very, very happy about that. He’s also stopped sneezing every five minutes. It’s a good thing.
The job thing is also heating up for me; I have three very promising-looking leads right now, one of which started the phone interview with the woman on the other end saying, “You know, I really love your resume!” (Bite me, career transition counsellor guy who said that I needed to redo my resume. Was that
my outside voice lashon hara? Yeah, I’m still working on that part. Perfect, I ain’t. Yet.) That one is going to turn into a face-to-face interview sooner or later, and is in my hometown, albeit way out in the back of beyond near the airport, and I don’t drive (harrumph). The most recent one is for a job in a city about an hour east of here, where I went to graduate school, and when I read the job description (forwarded to me by my wonderfully devious evil-minded recruiter), I thought, “Wow, they’re looking for their very own Sara-Elisheva! Fortunately for them, one happens to be on the market.”
While moving an hour away would complicate things with my conversion, they have a very nice kehila in that town — big enough to have its own kosher supervisor and scribe! No kosher restaurant, but far more availability of kosher foods than here, at least. Having reasonable access to kosher prepared foods (available there) would make my life much easier Jewishly, particularly if I’m working full-time again, as sometimes I just don’t feel like, or feel up to cooking. I have a mobility impairment that comes with a handful of syndromic impairments, and something which may or may not be fibromyalgia, so fatigue, proneness to certain kinds of infections, and other illness are issues for me. Anything I can do to save spoons is a good thing.
I feel like I might be able to do this thing, folks…
So I didn’t make it back to shul this week, mostly because when my alarm went off, Izzy decided that he had to come and sit on my neck, and the next thing I knew, it was 9:30 and far too late to leave. Also, I’m not sure of the politics of showing up on Chol ha’Moed. Bah. Oh well, next week.
Aside from that, I think I did pretty well. For some reason, Shabbat going out earlier is easier to take. I went for a walk and my neighbour asked if I was “going out on the town,” which would have been a good trick, since I wasn’t carrying anything. I basically evaded the question.
My kitten Izzy is sick. He has a horrible cold-like thing and bacterial conjunctivitis, for which I rushed him to the vet’s last week (it was visibly worse between 11AM and 2PM, and I said, “That’s bacterial and aggressive”). He doesn’t seem to understand that sick cats are supposed to be stoic and hide; he prefers the clingy approach — “Moooooom, I’m not feeeeeeling good, hug me…” *sigh*
It’s been fun with both cats sneezing in my face this week…I don’t think there’s a bracha for cat goober.
I have to hand it to Chabad from time to time (although they wouldn’t take it directly from me) — they’re very, very slick about promoting Judaism, and whoever comes up with a lot of their campaigns is very sharp and very adroit.
Their latest thing is sukkot on bicycles. They are pedaling these things around in cities around the world, and inviting Jews in to pray and eat. There isn’t much room, but they are apparently kosher (fit for use), as you would expect.
The pictures are priceless.
In this post I talked about El Al being in the news for preferentially catering to the whims of Haredi male passengers over their female clientele, and the Haredi men in question cutting up cranky over being assigned seats next to women, causing flight delays (and probably massive headaches among flight crews).
What I neglected to mention in that post was that my dad is a retired commercial pilot, and he had an incident once that he told me about (there may have been others, but this is the one I know about) where a guy was disorderly and would not sit down and let the plane take off. My dad had a male flight attendant “escort” the fellow off the plane, and had law enforcement waiting at the gate to arrest him. These days, you can get in some pretty heavy trouble by carrying on like that on a commercial flight, at least in North America…
I recommend this approach to El Al. Maybe after the first few groups of tantrum-throwers find themselves being escorted away to have a little chat with airport security and/or the local police, the incidents would stop.