Because when born Jews decide to move to Israel, they’re reconnecting with the faith by being Jews in the most Jewish place on Earth. When converts decide to move to Israel, we are obviously trying to play the Law of Return, pretending to be Jewish to escape third world countries (like America) for a better place (that is constantly at war and under consistent threat of terrorism).
When people tell me that Israeli authorities have to be
suspicious of the type of converts who plan to wheedle their way into Israel through the Law of Return, they never seem to be able to distinguish that the laws and regulations enacted to prevent a couple of disingenuous characters actually hurts true blue converts, like me. In fact, these people also excuse the countless news about the mistreatment of converts in Israel and elsewhere. They stress that Israel, that Judaism, must be kept safe from these “horrible people” who want to be Jewish, even when those “horrible people” really love Judaism, by plaguing them and ensuring that these “horrible people” find Judaism as unwelcoming as possible.
I haven’t had children but I’m already worrying about whether or not they’ll be able to attend yeshivas in Israel, much less whether or not they’ll be allowed to settle there. So, tell me again about how I’m not a second-class (Jewish) citizen?
There was already an article about an Orthodox rabbinical student having difficulties getting into Israel, can you already see the headlines when my kids try to get in? “Diaspora children of Orthodox rabbis barred from Israel for fear they will take jobs from local Israelis.” Isn’t it amusing that people are afraid, in both America and Israel, that people like me are coming to steal their jobs? So amusing, except that it’s not.
“Mass converts pose dilemma for Latin American Jews” is not the first time I’ve heard of the plight of converts in Latin America or specifically, in Columbia. I’ve heard from reliable sources that sometimes to convert in Columbia, you need to slip the rabbi a sweaty wad of cash and that this still won’t guarantee you’ll be accepted in the Jewish community.
This new JTA article hints not so subtly that the explosion in conversion in Columbia might have more to do with obtaining Israeli citizenship than genuine love of Judaism. And yet, the same article interviews Luis Alberto Prieto Vargas, who only “appears to be Jew” (because what conversion ceremony is good enough for anyone in Columbia?) whose son is studying at yeshiva in Israel (but apparently, that’s not Jewish enough, either? how many non-Jews do you know studying in yeshiva in Israel?).
Vargas is part of the Main Haim, a group of Columbian converts that turned to Israel for their conversion training only to have the Columbia Jewish community warn Israel against accepting them. The group eventually found a rabbi and converted 104 of their members. “
They decided to convert themselves as a group and establish their own community,” Marcos Peckel, president of the Columbia Jewish Community Confederation, the umbrella organization for Clumbia Jewry, says. Is it any wonder that they did this, considering that the way they are received by the broader Columbia Jewish community, that these converts have started their own community within the community?
Columbia’s chief rabbi, Aflredo Goldschmidt seems to grudgingly admit that the Internet has fueled this flood of interest in Judaism and that perhaps, many of these converts are indeed genuine. But Marcos Peckel seems more concerned about how these converts will “significantly alter the community’s life.”
The obvious xenophobia is not just oppressive, it’s depressing. The article tries to end on a positive note with a quote from Rabbi Guillermo Gronstein of Peru, one of Lima’s three rabbis, ““We have to be humble. Instead of judging the people wanting to be Jewish, we should put ourselves in their shoes.”
The article only serves as a reminder to me and other converts, that converts are indeed nothing but second-class citizens, not even citizens, in the eyes of too many in the Jewish community.
In other conversion news, at a recent conversion conference, the chief rabbi of Ashdod, Rabbi Yosef Sheinin was quoted in Haaretz (“Rabbinical judge: Most immigrants seeking conversion are misguided”
) making a blanket statement about immigrants from the former Soviet Union: “When they want to marry, they will do everything possibly to deceive. They are to be assumed to be cheaters.”
There is no sympathy in his words for the plight of this group of people who cannot marry in Israel because they are not Christians, not Muslims, not Jews, despite being shuttled in under the Law of Return because of their Jewish ancestry.
But these cruel politics of conversion in Israel extend farther than this Russian immigrant population, because as Rabbi Avraham Sherman, a judge of the High Rabbinical Court who wrote a ruling in April 2008 invalidating thousands of conversions approved by the state’s special conversion courts, says in the same article, “Every convert needs to be examined.”
I worry that when I write pieces like these, prospective converts who truly love Judaism will run for the hills. Pieces like this only confirm their suspicions about the Jewish community. But I believe that knowledge is power. I believe that prospective converts need to be prepared. Perhaps on top of asking them if they realize they are joining a people that has been persecuted for nearly 6,000 years, they need to be asked if they are ready to accept that they might be persecuted by these same people for the next 6,000, that these same people might purposefully reject not just you but your children who they won’t marry because your conversion will always be questionably kosher.
When I complained about the treatment of converts on someone else’s blog, they retaliated with something like, “Well, why did you convert? We didn’t make you.” Somehow, an intellectual conversion instantly turned into a kindergarten playground squabble.
So in case you missed it in this piece, I converted to Judaism because I love G-d and I love Judaism. But I don’t have to love how some born Jews think it is their G-d given right to mistreat converts. I didn’t convert to Judaism so I could have a front and center seat to watch as converts are persecuted and I’m not going to sit back silently while it happens. It is heartwarming to note that many born Jews aren’t willing to sit idly by either (“Lawmakers demand apologies from ‘racist’ rabbis who derided converts, ” “Immigration minister urges chief rabbi to declare all conversions valid”
Anyway, tell me again while you sit back and make another Jew’s life miserable, how this is all in the name of “authentic Judaism”? Because while you sputter your vitriolic hate, I will ponder how I do not not pity your fate in this world or the next.