I wrote on my Facebook page that I couldn’t understand why someone would convert to Orthodox Judaism and then convert to Christianity. They mistook my meaning and wrote back, “Well isn’t it the same as someone converting from Christianity to Judaism?” No, it isn’t. This is someone who had two conversions and the first one I can speak from experience is a fairly difficult one. She must have been tested again and again to ensure that her commitment to Judaism was true. But in the end, in spite of those tests, it wasn’t.
I didn’t think I could make it through the book. And there are fairly painful parts for me to read. You would think that it would be no big deal. I mean, I did grow up Christian, didn’t I? But I was always uncomfortable for Christianity and reading about how easily Winner accepts it is difficult for me. The good writing makes it easier to read.
Still after much plodding ahead, I finally made it to the juicy part. She finally talks about why she gave up Orthodox Judaism. I had all these expectations for what she would say but in the end, it’s really comes down to two points she makes, she calls herself “lazy” but more importantly, likens what she did to “cheating” on the first faith with a second. She tells the story with really amazing poetics: “I had married Judaism and then I had an affair with a foreign G-d.”
But what I found powerful are the points she makes about things she felt pushed her away from Orthodox Judaism:
1. No, it was not the anti-feminism she claims but definitely a girl named Sarah who announces at a party that the author only converted because she wanted to marry a Jew. (I have had people think/say the same about me.)
2. A guy she dated told her that he couldn’t marry a convert because he wanted in-laws to celebrate Jewish traditions with. He wanted the two families, his and his wife, to be able to share in Judaism together. He didn’t want a woman who didn’t have a Jewish family. (I found this point painful but fascinating because my husband loved that I was basically an orphan and came with no in-laws.)
3. The community failed her by not checking up on her when she wasn’t going to shul, wasn’t learning, wasn’t around as much. It sounds like she wishes she had had more of a support system. (I can see her point on this one. How many rabbis are checking in with converts after the fact?)
I’ve written before that I’ve found myself feeling adrift from the Jewish community lately. And this comes at the same time that I am having some issues with my relationship with G-d. But no, don’t look for me to turn to “a foreign G-d.” My issues are with fitting into the Jewish community, breaking bad habits and being totally unable to tell the synagogue I am usually absent from that I need a shtender to survive davening and could they please “keep it down” because stomping away and pounding the chairs doesn’t help me much either.
So I wonder, did the Jewish community lose Winner because of its flaws or because of her affair? Was it a little of both? And how can the community support converts better? I don’t have all the answers but I’m thinking of some.