This week, she watched the director, a Conservative Jewish woman almost ready for Social Security, throw out a stack of applications marked “Not Jewish” into the trash. My friend got curious and she pulled the pile out of the trash. She found a stack of applications which previous volunteers had marked “Convert=Not Jewish.” Once she saw that phrase, she was pissed.
My friend: “Why were these thrown out?”
Director: “These people are clearly marked ‘Not Jewish.’”
My friend: “But they’re also marked as converts, this volunteer must have just mislabeled them based on their own lack of knowledge.”
Director: “No, honey, they were perfectly right, converts are not Jewish.”
My friend: “Then what’s the point of them converting?”
Director: “Well, technically you are either born Jewish or you’re not. Conversion is an interesting thing. It’s like an unwritten code that makes things semi-official or at least okay. You see, before a person converts to Judaism, they are just “wannabes,” that’s the word my nephew uses, it means they have no real right to be in synagogues or Jewish stores or anything, and that’s where you get a lot of anti-Semitism from. Once a person converts, they are allowed to pretend to be Jewish, so they can come to synagogue and other things, but they still can’t ever be really Jewish.”
My friend: “Allowed to pretend to be Jewish??? Are you kidding me? With all due respect, ma’am, you’re terribly misinformed.”
D: “And what makes you the expert?”
M: “My husband is studying to become a rabbi, and I happen to know a lot of Jewish law through him and also my own learning.”
D: “Don’t tell me you are actually standing up for converts of all people!”
M: “I’m standing up for Jews, and that’s something you would do yourself any day, right?”
D: “I always stand up for Jews, every day. You know how involved I am with the Jewish community here and abroad. I’ve been to Israel more than 10 times.”
M: “So allow me to tell you something about converts. Those who went through an Orthodox conversion based on Jewish law are full-fledged Jews with all the benefits and obligations of that title. Other Jews are commanded to treat them as equals, and if they even so much as mention that an individual is a convert, they are breaking halakhah (Jewish law).”
Amongst the trash pile was an application from a woman who had converted through Chabad but whose application a volunteer had chucked because her maiden name didn’t sound Jewish.