anger · chronic pain/fibromyalgia · Hispanics/Latinos · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · Los Angeles · Shabbos/Shabbat · writing

Yikes, I have a fever!

I just realized I didn’t have a blog post scheduled for today. Ug. In the last 48 hours, I seem to have picked up a bug. I’m coughing, my chest and throat ache, my eyes and nose are runny. I’m a mess. I’ve got a doctor appointment scheduled this afternoon, thank G-d. I never get sick. Ever. The last time I did nearly 3-4 years ago, the doctor had to give me liquid cherry-flavored painkillers because the cold/cough exacerbated my fibromyalgia.

So I recently broke up with my therapist. I think it was time. It became financially daunting–my health insurance just went up again and mental and dental health services have never been covered. Also, I realized that I stopped being depressed so I didn’t have so much to talk about. (I know, whoop! Scream! Yell! I took me three years but I beat that depression back once and for all.) I also realized my main issues (chronic pain and race) weren’t and couldn’t be address by my therapist.

Yesterday, my husband and I met with a social worker at his school to talk about the day-to-day stuff we face together as an interracial couple and I face me as a Jew of color and a convert. The best part was getting confirmation that indeed, we do need to come up with rote phrases and responses for the situations we keep stumbling over, over and over again.

“That question makes me uncomfortable.”
“That statement makes me uncomfortable.”
“I don’t discuss that with people I’ve just met.”

There are just a few that we came up with during the meeting. No, they don’t seem terribly complicated but usually I feel too shocked and appalled to use a pithy, snappy comeback much less one that clearly establishes that I am in fact VERY uncomfortable. I’ll be going through my recent blogs to look over the different scenarios I usually find myself in and hopefully figuring out with friends, family and you, my lovely readers, how I could respond to them in a different way that leaves me feeling comfortable instead of angry, violated, harrowed.

I did feel that the social worker, who was white and female, didn’t understand why a Jew of color does NOT always want to discuss their race and ethnicity, much less their conversion if they had one, in the first five minutes they meet someone. She thought it made sense for me just to give everyone a three-line opening bio to appease their curiosity. But I’ve found that doing this actually leads to more and more invasive questions. I’ve found myself “trapped” in situations where I quickly become the main attraction at the table (TELL US, EVERYONE, YOUR STORY!) or the social studies teacher/travel agent (TELLS US EVERYTHING ABOUT THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC!) or had to deal with everyone’s awkward responses to now knowing my racial/ethnic background (Oh, let me tell you about all the Hispanic people I’ve ever known!).

I stress again and again and again that is my belief that I do NOT have to respond to people’s curiosity and that it is in part this “curiosity” among other things that is driving Jews of color, converts, Jews who are coming back to the fold, away when they really just want to be treated like any other Jew but are, instead, met with interrogations, insensitivity and just plain derision (note that in a recent post a white Jew who was insensitive about the issues of Jews of color expressed he, himself, had been mistreated for having a non-Jewish father).
I think people should get to know you if they really want to get the personal details about your life. Getting to know you means more than one Shabbos table conversation, more than a five-minute query at synagogue after they’ve been staring at you all through services. Basically, personal stuff should come out over the course of a relationship naturally. While the social worker agreed that telling people that I am a child abuse survivor is a personal detail I shouldn’t share in the first five minutes, she disagreed that conversion is ALSO a very personal detail about my life. But to be very honest, I’d rather tell people the former than the latter in the first 5 minutes I meet them.
Despite the social worker’s sensitivity, humor and general awesomeness, I went home and got angry eventually. No matter how sensitive she was when she said we were “sensitive” or “sensitized” to these issues, I felt like we were being called “too sensitive.” I also felt like she didn’t and couldn’t really understand my situation in the Jewish community as a convert who is not white and now as a Jew of color. I think I’m going to sit down with my friends who are Jews of color/converts/social workers and try the same conversation again.
Also, I had this conversation when I hadn’t slept in 48 hours (too much coughing) so that probably didn’t help the situation. My little sister who I am very, very close to (you know since I kidnapped her) says that it seems like this issue has really gotten worst in the last 6 months for me. Sure, after I’d converted I had four pages I could write about all the racism and weirdness I’d experienced in the community. But now, I have blogs full. Still, what happened six months ago?

Six months ago is an interesting marker. Six months ago is when my husband got into a fight at a Shabbos table in Los Angeles over racism which lead to this piece: “A lesson for Jews in Gates’ Arrest?”. And just before that, I broke up with a good friend after she said some racist things. Honestly, lately, I find that when I’m upset enough I think about leaving the Jewish community (not Judaism) altogether. I know converts who have fluctuated between periods where they’re really connected to a community and periods where they’ve moved away. I don’t think that’s realistic for me at this point. About 99% of my friends are now Jews. Honestly, my hope is that when my husband gets a position as a rabbi, we can build a community that is welcoming everyone, especially Jews of color and converts.

My sister agreed that I need to come up with some coping strategies and I’m inclined to agree especially since in the next six months will bring me into a lot of new situations where I’ll be meeting new people and inevitably stupid questions and comments will be made. Not to mention, I have to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare for speaking at Limmud NY on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day about racism in the Jewish community.

In the future, I’ll be reaching out to you all to help me come up with effective responses to some of the situations I come up against, especially since so many of you face the same situations in the Jewish community. I’ll also be rereading past posts and collecting the wonderful comments you’ve made already. Many thanks to those who have diligently been commenting on the blog or responding on my fan page.

29 thoughts on “Yikes, I have a fever!

  1. I was taught that one is not allowed to ask a convert anything about his/her conversion unless they broach the subject first. Precisely because it is a sensitive issue.

    That means that even if you think the person converted you cannot ask if they did.

    Let me see if i can find the source of that halacha (if it is one) for you. Perhaps you can quote it at these insensitive people.


  2. Personal questions to people you don't really know are *never* appropriate, regardless of the topic. When I'm faced with them, I pause and stare at the person for a few seconds with an incredulous look on my face, then resume whatever I was doing.

    If they persist, I just say, “I'm sorry but I don't see how that is any of your business.” I am not mean about it; in fact, I often have a faint perplexed smile on my face. Anyone with any sense will apologize at that point and drop it.

    I agree with you. We are not required to share anything about ourselves that we don't want to, just because someone was rude enough to ask.


  3. First, no, you're NOT too sensitive. People are too rude. And ignorant.

    But it might make you feel a little better if you can remember that the reason that the Jewish people you're dealing with are ESPECIALLY rude/intrusive is that they think they're acting inside a family – in the shul, in the market, at a Shabbos table, everybody is family. And family is too familiar, too rude, too intrusive, by definition. Sort of the weird contradiction you find in Israel – they're happy to cut in front of you in line without a second thought, but also to drag you home for Shabbat when they just met you.

    OK, if that doesn't help, I'm also happy to help you come up with much snarkier memorized responses.


  4. The good thing about collecting responses and posting them on this blog is that other JOC and JBC (like me) can use them too. Thank you, Aliza.

    I definitely need to have some appropriate responses on hand for those situations because I'm often caught off-guard and my responses end up making me feel worse about it. Like when I was asked a personal question in the synagogue coat room and I wanted to just crawl into a hole because I was so embarrassed! I was thinking, “Did you have to ask me that HERE right in front of both the people I don't know from your Orthodox minyan and the people that I do know from my own minyan?” In fact, I was even embarrassed that people from the Orthodox minyan were around to hear the question itself given that they wouldn't have known about my background. And I was regretting that I had been forthcoming when I had answered his questions a few weeks before that since if I had been more close-mouthed he would not have known the information that led him to ask for more details.

    My husband said that I should have simply told the man that it was too personal a question to answer in so public a place, and I wish I had had the presence of mind to do so.

    I think it might be like practicing anything else. Part of the benefit is just that being ready makes you feel more confident in the first place so that you will feel less hurt or embarrassed when it happens.


  5. Also – yuck! Hope you feel better soon. And I know you don't want to hear about other people's ideas on fibromyalgia, but Bad Cohen has had a lot of luck in the past five months increasing his energy and decreasing his pain with certain supplements. Let me know if you want more info.


  6. “I never get sick. Ever.”


    I'm sorry, it's not that I'm laughing at you. It's just so funny because you, me and ever other chronically ill person I know talks the same way. We're chronically ill; we're always sick! =D


  7. Chela,

    The thing is that I rather like sharing my conversion story with people *under the right circumstances*. I think that many Jews by birth see being Jewish as a kind of burden. For example, a BT friend once said that if she found out that she wasn't really Jewish, even if simply not halachically Jewish but still having some Jewish ancestry, that she would simply walk away from it all. So I like to be able to show Jews that being Jewish can be seen as a great blessing that converts like me would choose for ourselves even though we didn't have to.

    The youngest rabbi on the beit din for my conversion was visibly moved by my story. So I think that even someone who is as committed to Judaism as a rabbi can find feel uplifted by the story of a convert.

    So if people are not asking the question because they are judging the convert (which is certainly improper), but rather out of curiosity, then I don't necessarily want to shame them or cut off any possibility of later conversation.


  8. “Basically, personal stuff should come out over the course of a relationship naturally” You said it yourself, but as I mentioned before in another blog some people can be very ignorant and ask the hell they want because they have nothing to do with their lives. Perhaps they are nosy because they are insecure or they're just mean because that makes them feel special since they have nothing to bring into this world. You on the contrary are very talented, beautiful and unique and that bothers them Aliza. You are not sensitive, you are right you like most of us dont want to be treated like an outsider. It hurts, it hurts a lot, your social worker unfortunately wont ever understand you, drop her like a hot potato. I work with social workers on a daily basis and I dont think you are going to get anything positive from her sessions, believe me. Just be around people who like you respect you and love you for what you are. Choose to be happy and not bitter or angry because that's what envious people want. Look what Joseph's brothers did to him because he was special. And they were his brothers.


  9. After many, many years of marveling at this–I converted twelve years ago–I've also come to another conclusion. Sadly, in my experience, a certain subset of upper-crust New York frum society just does not think it's essential to be friendly to ANY outsider. Will they go out of their way to be rude? Hopefully not, but “niceness” for its own sake is just not up there on the list of values.

    This is in ADDITION to endemic racism–I'm not, obviously, dismissing the huge, giant racist factor.

    But consider, for instance, the stereotypical white Southerner. (I am from the South.) Less racist than a New York Jew? Maybe, maybe not. But the minimum standard of politeness is much, much higher. Grrrr.


  10. First off, word to everything you've said here. Nothing drives me crazier than people asking me, “that's a funny name. Are you Jewish?” No, I'm not Jewish, I'm just randomly hanging out in this shul, reading fluently out of a siddur with no transliteration, and being called for an aliyah because I'm Lutheran. Not everyone Jewish is named Tovah Goldberg. Oh, and yes, just in case you were wondering, there are indeed Jews in the country that my given name originates from. And in the country that my surname is from, too. Which you, oh stupid person at kiddush, might know if you ever bothered to look beyond the shtetl. And by the way, your gefilte fish is nasty.

    Er, rant over.

    I had a second point (before I got distracted), and that was to say that if you want a therapist who can help you with coping mechanisms for chronic pain and racism, there are people who specialize in both those areas. Maybe it's not worth it for you personally, but I have a friend who found this really helpful, and in my own experience, it's been good to have other people help me with coping mechanisms for things I have no control over but which cause me emotional/physical distress (in my case, emotional stress turns into such terrible physical pain that I can't do anything. Isn't that fun?).

    I wish I could help with clever lines, but I've never been good with pre-determined phrases. I'm also not good at defusing the situation–my usual response is to respond so nastily that they'll never speak to me again. My social skills might need some work.


  11. Debbie, I make it clear to people when I talk to them about my conversion that it's not okay to ask other people if they're converts because:

    1. not everyone wants to talk about it
    2. not every Jew of color is a convert
    3. it's actually a law written in the Talmud

    I started this blog because people would ask me about my conversion story over and over again. Now, I can just slip them a card after I've explained the above.


  12. Good points, Aliza. I'd hate to encourage rude and improper questioning of others simply because I was willing to share my story. I'll try to remember to mention your three points the next time this comes up.

    When I announced to my minyan that I had finally converted (after 14 years of active participation with that group), one of the members, the wife of a rabbi who works as a hospital chaplain, first told me how happy she was for me and gave me a big hug, but then became very serious and made sure that I knew that it was forbidden for Jews to remind converts of their non-Jewish origins (which I knew already) because she felt it was important that I “knew my rights” about the consideration that I deserved. She told me that this would be the only time she would ever speak about this subject unless I chose to bring it up. Unlike many of my other minyan friends, she did not ask me anything about my conversion. Knowing this woman as I do, I realized just now as I am writing this that she did that consciously because it would be much more typical of her to pepper me with questions. Now THAT is true piety.


  13. @books-n-taters

    I wish I could help with clever lines, but I've never been good with pre-determined phrases. I'm also not good at defusing the situation–my usual response is to respond so nastily that they'll never speak to me again. My social skills might need some work.

    To be perfectly honest, no one on the receiving end of racism has any obligation to be polite about it. Being nice about toward somebody giving a POC racist flak is about the same as being nice toward some random schmuck about nearly running you over with a car. Or, to put it another way, anything short of smacking people in the mouth for saying stupid, racist things is pretty polite.


  14. RVCBard–

    I don't think we disagree with each other per se. When someone says that they're looking for one-liners to nip idiotic comments/conversations in the bud, I don't think that's because they think that they owe it to bigoted morons to be polite. Rather, I've found that oftentimes my options are three-fold: ignore the comment and sit through the idiocy, find a way to tell people they're being innappropriate that will make them stop the innappropriate part of the conversation while not shutting down potential appropriate conversation (about jobs or the weather or whatever), or be so snarky that nobody speaks to me at all because they think I'm a nutjob.

    The third option is better than the first, obviously, but usually it makes me pretty darn uncomfortable as well, because then everyone's worried that I'll explode at them if they open their mouths or they'll gang up on me to say that I'm being too harsh. This is fine if I'm at a situation where I can leave easily with few consequences, but it's not always that simple, which is why a one-size-fits-all version of option two would be nice.

    I think the Catch-22 here is that in trying to protect my own sanity, I'm in some ways bowing to the desires of the dominant paradigm (and this is what I think you were trying to call me out on). Case in point: I was once at a dinner party where a woman decided that I was a little too ambiguously-gendered, so she actually grabbed my chest in order to figure out if I had breasts. I didn't do a damn thing about it, even though what she did was totally not okay on any level, because I knew that if I tried to say anything, she would get flustered and start accusing me of hallucinating or exaggerating, whereupon everyone else would say, “oh, it's okay, don't you worry about it, he's just being silly, and we're sure you didn't touch anything!” I thought about it, and I decided that it was worth more to me to not deal with the uproar that would result if I did something (an uproar that probably would have zero effect on anybody's feelings about acting appropriately towards people who don't fit their gender expectations, especially because I was half the age of everyone else there and thus cannot be trusted to know anything) than it was to tell her that she'd done something innappropriate. I'm sick and tired of having people stare at me, and I'm sick of people treating me like I have a social disease when I tell them they're doing things that aren't okay, so sometimes I just say “screw it” and let it go. And then I realize that I'm not making the problem any better, so then I start beating myself up about being a crummy advocate for myself, and the vicious cycle starts all over again.

    As a side note: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi is pretty sweet. I've never been an anime fan (I don't like cartoons), but I really like Miyazaki for some reason. I'm sitting right next to a Mononoke Hime poster right now, actually.


  15. RVCBard,

    I don't want to be rude back to these people, especially the racist ones, even if they “deserve” it because that reinforces some of their negative ideas of about non-white people. They do not realize that their behavior is wrong (or they wouldn't have asked rude questions in the first place) so they may not make the connection between their questions and the angry response.

    If you snap back at them and stomp off, you lose any chance to educate them about why what they did is wrong. I understand that it gets tiresome for JOCs and JBCs to be constantly having to teach people how to not be offensive or insensitive towards JOC/JBCs, and I admit that I do not always have the patience to deal with random strangers when I'm in the middle of trying to run an errand in a busy day, but I think that it is worth trying at least sometimes to change a person's attitude. I feel that it is often ignorance more than that the person is actually hateful. Perhaps you can thereby prevent many future times that this person would offend someone else.


  16. books-n-taters: someone grabbed at your chest!?! I was already appalled that people pawed through Aliza's hair! That is so completely out of the realm of acceptable behavior that I'm utterly flabbergasted. I'm quite sure that I could not have suppressed an immediate reaction to being touched inappropriately, so I'm impressed by your ability to not do anything. I also doubt that I would have been able to carry on a meaningful conversation with someone who would violate my physical space like that. So in that case I wouldn't feel that there was much to be lost by reacting in a way that precluded any future interactions between us.

    In the situations I've been in as a member of an ethnic minority, a woman in a male-dominated field, a JOC, and a JBC, I could hope that the people who have treated me rudely might be receptive to coming to a better understanding of the need to change their attitudes and behaviors. In the situation you describe, I'm not so sure.


  17. I'm far from advocating a one-size-fits-all approach. Please reread what I said. If you wouldn't be nice about somebody nearly running you over while you're out and about doing your business, you have no obligation to be nice about people's racist overtures.


  18. books-n-taters:

    Dude, if that had happened to me in a public place, I would hope that I would have had the presence of mind to slap that bitch across the face and say “Get your damn hands off of me!” at the top of my lungs.

    It's one thing if you're alone and there are no witnesses to corroborate the grabbyness, but if ANYONE else saw it, you would find that they'd agree you're completely justified in defending your body and your personal space.

    *gentle hugs*

    I'm very sorry this happened to you.


  19. RVCBard–

    You will kindly note that you have put words into my mouth (or fingers, as it were). If you were to reread my second paragraph, you will see that “one-size-fits-all” is a reference to the sort of one liners that Aliza discusses in her original post. It is not a way of saying that the exact same reaction is due in every situation. Nor is it a way of saying that bigotry is acceptable. I would like to be able to tell off every person who crosses the line, but for me personally (since you seem interested in misinterpreting everything I say, please note the term “personally”), this is not healthy. It makes me angry and miserable, and it forces me to expend emotional resources that I would rather spend elsewhere. So that's why I want a generic response (or several) to the sort of generically stupid stuff that people say that gets across the following message: “stop. What you're doing is not okay. You don't get to ask me this question or say those things to me. This interaction will happen civilly or it will not happen at all.” I don't know if I can find a good one or if it's a linguistic Shangri-la, but I want a way that I can minimize the damage to my psyche that isn't dependent on my being alert and snappy at any given moment.

    Neither you nor anybody else has the right to tell me that I have to react one way because their ideal reaction is different from what I've found works for me. I'm not required to bow to other people's theory when my reality requires a different approach. As the story of Reb Zusia shows us, the point is that you have to be who you are supposed to be, not the perfect hero. If for you being yourself means a more involved approach when somebody something rude, then okay. But for me, that's usually not the right choice for reasons which I have now explained twice.


  20. Conversion is a very complex issue, for both psychological and sociological reasons. When one converts as an adult, it sort of throws off Erikson's understanding that a person should have solidified their social identity by the age of 20 or so. In my experience as a psychiatrist, I would recommend prolonged therapy for those who are making any stressful or monumental transition in life, but especially conversion, particularly to a religion like Judaism, in which social and religious identity are so closely interrelated. In my professional experience, when working with converts to Judaism, especially those not from a European background, education, development of coping strategies, understanding reasons for conversion, and even social therapeutics (trying to help the patient develop the courage and initiative to reverse stereotypes and prejudices in their own immediate milieu)are all helpful in understanding the complexities of such a monumental experience in life. I also believe that marital therapy is needed, as is family therapy, and interpersonal therapy, with teachers, the patient's spiritual leader, and others who have significant interpersonal relationships with the patient, to help resolve these issues and underlying tensions.


  21. books-n-taters:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your point that the best response for a particular person needs to take into account how it will make that person (the victim) feel.

    For example, my husband says that I should answer “Yes, I'm a convert. Are you?” Sometimes I wish I were the type of person who could say that. But watching someone else's discomfort would only make me more uncomfortable myself. I don't want to spend more emotional energy on a response.

    But sometimes I do fantasize about alternative sarcastic responses (which is why your “rant” resonated with me). Here's what I felt like saying to the man who questioned my presence in a rabbinically supervised all-kosher supermarket: “Do I keep kosher? Oh no, I just have four sets of dishes because I couldn't decide between the different patterns, so I bought them all. And my cooking utensils are marked in red, blue, and green because I think primary colors are so cheerful in the kitchen!”


  22. R' Daniel,

    I don't think my problem is being (1) a convert nor is it due to (2) “not being European” in background or education (which I'm interpreting to be not white and American since I live in the US)

    (1) I am proud of being a convert and believe that converting to Judaism allowed me to be the person I was meant to be. I can only remember two times in 25 years of attending synagogue that anyone has ever explicitly indicated that they thought I that I was a Jew by birth. Everyone has always assumed that I was a convert even before I converted, so that's how I am used to seeing myself and I'm fine with that. My self-doubts were connected with *not* being Jewish while feeling so drawn to Judaism. I would have needed therapy had I *not* converted because that was causing too much psychological dissonance. And my conversion was great for my marriage, but not because we were no longer “intermarried”, but rather because I was able to develop a better relationship with my husband once I felt better about myself. For me, conversion removed the tensions; it didn't create them.

    (2) I am *ethically* Chinese, but I was born in Boston, grew up in California, have a BA from an Ivy League school, and a Master of Engineering and PhD from top US universities. I grew up in an area with only about 3% Asians (and 3% Jews). I know less than a couple dozen Chinese words. And although my parents have Chinese attitudes of obedience of children to their parents and academic excellence, they are pretty Americanized. (My dad was born in Oregon and hardly speaks Chinese at all.)

    Even though I didn't have a Jewish childhood, I've now had 25 years of exposure so Jewish culture has had time to rub off on me. I even use Hebrew and Yiddish in casual conversations with other Jews. I didn't go to Jewish day school or Hebrew school, but some of JBB friends didn't either. Although my Jewish knowledge is less than that of many members of my two minyanim (but many of them are rabbis and Jewish educators so that's a high level), I know more about Jewish ritual and practice than my Reform Jewish friends.

    So I think I am not so different culturally and educationally from my Ashkenzi JBB friends. And this is why I am comfortable with them in my minyanim.

    No: the “problem” is that I LOOK non-white and that people sometimes treat me rudely as a result. Luckily, I am loved and valued in my two Jewish congregations where my being a convert and Chinese has only a similar significance to other members having red hair or being high school teachers. And overall, Jews of all backgrounds, even Orthodox Jews who might wonder about the “validity” of my conversion, have mostly treated me decently.

    Being treated rudely for being a JOC/JBC is not something that happens to me all the time, so when it does I am usually able to shrug it off and I don't actually obsess about it either. But my experiences do give me a particular empathy for people who face this. I am thankful that I do not have to deal with it as often as others do.

    So R' Daniel, I am somewhat offended by your implications that my conversion and thus who I *am* is causing the problems. But I wonder if you will attribute my reaction to being yet another manifestation of being a JOC and JBC. I wouldn't mind learning about some “coping strategies”, but I doubt that they will be effective if they are based on incorrect assumptions about the root causes of the issues.


  23. oops: I mean I'm “ethNically” Chinese. In other words, all four of my grandparents were born and raised in China and to the best of my knowledge all of my ancestors were Chinese. You can see from my photo that I look Chinese.


  24. Debbie,

    If I felt the patient was the “problem” in many cases where clients seek out treatment, I wouldn't have said that social therapy is needed, in which the client works towards changing the attitudes and perceptions of others. I take “European” to not only include converts, but all those Jews who do not hail from the same Ashkenazic heritage and cultural milieu that dominates American Jewish life, undoubtedly (90+% of American Jews are Ashkenazic, whether by birth or like, in your case, from the social identity they assumed while growing up. It is funny that in NYC and other places, people of all backgrounds eat bagels, and associate Yiddish with Jewish, but nobody associates Kibbeh, Dolmades, Plov, Piyaz, Tandoori Chicken, Injera, Arroz moros y cristianos, Croquetas, and Kaifeng dumplings with Jewish life, despite the fact that Jews are historically a part of African, Chinese, Latin American, Indian, and Middle Eastern cultures).

    Your experience was likely very different than someone who grew up without knowing many Jews. Many converts come to love Judaism through their intense study of the texts, rather than a lifetime of positive encounters with Jewish friends and possibly family.

    People's psychological issues are caused by a variety of factors, but among converts, nobody can doubt that there are unique factors that present themselves in a transition of such a large scale. Not just with religious conversion, either- moving to a new community, embracing new political ideologies, or even changing one's synagogue, or moving from MO to Chassidism or a Yeshivish community all present similar challenges. Any time we become part of a new group, there are challenges we face. I had tons of issues in my own life when I went to the Mir Yeshiva, for instance, since I had not come from the dame background as the bulk of most of the bachurim there. A psychiatrist can especially help in these circumstances, due to our unique training in the medical, psychological, and sociological factors that influence human emotions and behaviors, and our ability to prescribe medications and use therapeutic modalities that address underlying causes, which differ from person to person, and can only be uncovered after many sessions of therapy, in addition to utilizing other modalities, such as CBT, DBT, ACT, Social Therapy, REBT, hypnosis, biofeedback, NLP, and others that create positive change for clients and those in their immediate milieu. I also believe, as do social workers, that this also creates a better society for all. While Aliza, Debbie, or anyone else may have had negative experiences with psychotherapists, I would urge everyone to seek out a competent professional who embodies empathy, respect, and humanistic values, as well as openness and non-judgmentalness, as I do in my practice day after day. The client is of course not the problem when they are discriminated against. I never said that at all. The social identity transitions that everyone faces at one time or another would be eased for all of us if we never had to face the yeshiva bocher who outs down the “Modernish,” the prissy JAP (prince or princess) who presses us on our background, or the shul blowhard who attempts to deter us from becoming the best Jews we can be because we come from different backgrounds from him or her. Psychotherapists of all stripes are crucial in breaking these patterns, as it is truly the racists and hatemongers among us who suffer from deep-rooted insecurities and psychopathologies, not us. I am sorry if you construed my essay in any other way than this, and I thank you for the opportunity to clarify this.


  25. R'Daniel:

    >”in your case, from the social identity they assumed while growing up…Your experience was likely very different than someone who grew up without knowing many Jews. Many converts come to love Judaism through their intense study of the texts, rather than a lifetime of positive encounters with Jewish friends and possibly family.”
    >>In fact, I didn't know many Jews in my childhood. As I said there were only about 3% Jews in my high school. Then I went to a college that was over a quarter Jewish and where a majority of my friends and roommates were Jewish, and so was my boyfriend whom I later married. But I didn't start attending synagogue until I was in grad school when I was 22 years old. So all my exposure to Judaism was as an adult (with the single “exception” being that I attended a seder at the home of the family of a dorm-mate of my boyfriend [husband-to-be] as a freshman when I was 18, if that might be considered “pre-adult”).

    But my path to conversion was long and atypical of most converts. I was exposed to Judaism first through Shabbat services and other Hillel activities, and then by being married to a Jew. I visited Israel several times and then lived for a summer in Israel where I studied Hebrew in an ulpan. And then my family became involved in a close-knit Jewish community. Only after all that socialization, did I finally formally convert. So my experience was more “holistic” in encompassing both cultural and spiritual aspects of Judaism. And I took a long time, so the transition was slow, and allowed my sense of self to change gradually.

    Sorry to ramble. I think the point I wanted to make is that given enough time, a convert's Jewish identity may not be so very different from that of a JBB. I think that is the case for the other JBCs in my minyan, a few of whom converted more than 30 years ago in their early 20's and have been Jewish for almost all of their adult lives even if they were not Jewish in childhood.

    >”People's psychological issues are caused by a variety of factors, but among converts, nobody can doubt that there are unique factors that present themselves in a transition of such a large scale.”
    >>Yes. And because of this, I think that professionals who are best able to help converts and/or JOC (who are not all converts) need to have a special understanding of the issues involved. (Unlike say the social worker that Aliza talked to.)

    >”Any time we become part of a new group, there are challenges we face.”
    >>This can be eased by having that new group being accepting and welcoming. I am lucky in having had that support rather than face the rejection that many JOC and JBC face.

    >” I also believe, as do social workers, that this also creates a better society for all.”
    >>Absolutely. When those who are “different” are treated well, the atmosphere is better for *everyone*.


  26. >”While Aliza, Debbie, or anyone else may have had negative experiences with psychotherapists, I would urge everyone to seek out a competent professional who embodies empathy, respect, and humanistic values, as well as openness and non-judgmentalness, as I do in my practice day after day.”
    >>I've never been treated by a mental health professional. But I was lucky that I had a sponsoring rabbi who is the most sensitive and empathetic person I have ever met. I admit that when I finally started to study for the purpose of conversion, I was surprised by how moving the experience still was even though I had thought that I had worked out all my psychological issues already. But I found that removing the psychological barriers that I had kept up in order to keep my sanity while not converting, in combination with studying my rabbi who is so profoundly spiritual, had a deep effect on me.

    >”The client is of course not the problem when they are discriminated against. I never said that at all.”
    >>Sorry if I interpreted some of your comments as implying that the convert's own issues of identity were responsible for much of the hurt that occurred when people discriminated against them. But I thought the topic was discrimination and then you brought up the internal issues that converts may have.

    >” I am sorry if you construed my essay in any other way than this, and I thank you for the opportunity to clarify this.”
    >I re-read your earlier post more carefully and realized that I did misconstrue it in a few ways. For instance, the “education” you spoke of was evidently connected to the following phrases, not the previous phrase. So I now see that it was not meant that a convert's educational background might be lacking, but rather you were referring to teaching the person coping methods.

    I guess it is just that so often people lump all people with certain characteristics together, that I became defensive when I read your descriptions of issues of converts that I did not think applied to me.

    So I think we understand each other now.


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