“Asking someone why they converted, just after meeting them, is a little like asking to see their underwear,” said Aliza Hausman on MyJewishLearning.com. In a recent piece titled “The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to Converts,” Hausman lays out what to say (“Welcome home”) and what not to say (“Are you a convert”) to those who have chosen Judaism.
For starters, Hausman encourages her readers not to make assumptions about why people choose to convert (“It wasn’t for marriage”). There are other reasons to convert, she says, and assuming it was only for marriage trivializes the process. And after you learn that someone is converting, don’t go around telling people unless that person is comfortable with you telling others. It’s their business, not yours.
In addition, one cannot determine another’s conversion status by appearance. She writes:
People often make offensive racial assumptions about Jews (and converts) of color. Just like we’re not all named Rosenberg, one convert of color says it’s helpful to note that “Judaism is not a ‘race’ of white people. One of the things people should be mindful of is not to assume all people of color in the synagogue are converts (or the help, for that matter).”
As we have heard from the participants on JOI’s Empowering Ruth listserve for women who convert to Judaism, most Jews-by-choice are thrilled to be part of the Jewish people and are happy to share their Jewish journey with others. But, as Hausman advises, let them do it on their own time, in their own way. Our job is simply to make them feel welcome and included in the Jewish community.
If you have recently chosen Judaism and you have a story you would like to share, either leave a comment or sign up for Empowering Ruth. The program is free, and it provides a safe space for further learning and sharing experiences. We hope to hear from you!