Monday, December 24, 2007

Guest Posting By A Spiritual Orphan - Without The Right Pedigree

(Picture courtesy of

I am a convert. For years my husband and I lived in an established Jewish community. Albeit not within walking distance for most folks. We lived about 3 or so miles from our shul. My husband would walk this on Shabbos and Yom Tov. We tried for a few years to move closer but could not afford the neighborhood. We did finally find one place, no heat, and no basement, wood of the structure sitting directly on the dirt, broken windows and us with two minimum wage jobs. We could only afford it if we took out one of those sub-prime loans we hear so much about now. After much soul searching we turned away from that house because the loan just seemed too ridiculous especially with a baby on the way and that house needing so much work. No, it was better to live in our apartment a little too far away.

When our first child was born we had her naming ceremony at our shul. When we inherited a house 240 miles away, we continued to make the long drive to go to shul on Yom Tovs and for special events. We would take extra days off of work to allow for the long drive up, get a hotel near shul, buy our food, stock up at the local grocer that had kosher food, etc. I drove the 240 miles each way, each month, for the mikvah.

Fast forward several years and we found out we were expecting a boy and hoped to have the Bris at “our shul”. We assumed our community of nearly a decade would not fail us. We drove up for the High Holidays as usual and my husband spoke to the Rabbi after Kol Nidre. He seemed visibly uncomfortable… why was he so uncomfortable?? Others who got a conversion with the same beis din as I, were accepted there (after time and careful observation)… Others from outside of town were accepted there…of course they always pledged big money, but still… My husband and I spent a very worried and sleepless night wondering what was going on. We had so many hopes and plans for our little boy. He did not deserve this.

Oh, Abba what have I done. I mean I can live with me not being ‘good enough’ or ‘Jewish enough’ or ‘pure enough’.. I am a big girl, and I am a convert. I am used to not being accepted. I am used to my ‘spiritual orphan baggage’, as I call it. But my children, please, oh please, accept my children. Being religious Jews is all they have known. As far as they know they are Jews through and through. Please don’t treat them this way. Don’t give them such a personal reason to leave Judaism behind one day.

The next day my husband spoke to our Rabbi again. This time all is good. ‘He has some ideas’ he said. “Call the shul after the holidays and I will give you some numbers.”

After the holidays we called and after a few days we got a call back with the name of a local mohel. ‘This is not the Mohel that they use. This is not the Mohel that we have seen at so many Bris there’ says my husband. “Why?? Why not give us his number? He has done a zillion of these, he is good.”

So we called the local Mohel. We were up front about my conversion. I still have my papers…I could fax them, I offer. No problem, no need, he would love to do it, he said. He would call our rabbi and work out all the details.

The next day we get a call from the same Mohel. He had spoken with our rabbi and now was not so sure things would work out. We should ‘call our Rabbi, he is a nice guy and has some options that we might be interested in.’

Options?? I thought we were all set??

So we call our Rabbi. In that phone call I am told how the Mohel was ‘not interested in doing the Bris.’ What?? He was fine with it… I am told that ‘perhaps he (the Rabbi) can find a mohel willing to do the bris for ‘the purposes of conversion’.’ I see…..

‘Tell me about your observance level’ I am asked by OUR Rabbi. You know the one who has known us for over 10 years. My husband is furious now.. He feels lied to, betrayed, humiliated. If he did not want to be a part of our sons Bris, he could just say so. Honesty we can respect, but this is not so much reeking of honesty.

As a convert I am kind of used to this kind of treatment. A convert is an orphan that is neither trusted by the Jewish world (because their pedigree is not right) nor trusted by the goyishe world (because they are different.) Fine I say, find us a mohel. Yes I can pay to have them flown in. We are talking about my little boy’s bris, here. Money is no object. Yes, I remember that I was laid off over the summer. Like I said, whatever the cost is fine.. This is important.

A week goes by, no call. Two weeks, no call. We check the email (maybe he lost our number.) We are getting mass emails from them asking for money, telling us about community happenings, but nothing else. We check the cell phone voice mails. Nothing. Three weeks go by and I am having the baby..still no call back. What do we do?? We have to make last minute arrangements. I am heart broken, completely and utterly heart broken. My sweet son did not deserve this. He deserved to have his bris with our community. My daughter deserves to still get to go to summer camp. I deserve to have a mikvah. My husband deserves to not be humiliated and lied to. But how can we show our face there now??

‘Oh you have a son’, I can imagine our community members saying, ‘when was the bris?” A loaded question to be sure…and how would we respond?

So now ‘our community’ is our ‘old community.’ I have no kosher mikvah to attend. We still look to move, but no longer look for a community of that denomination to move into.

So as I help my small children with their prayers, teach them to love our dear, sweet G-d as I do, remind them to say their brachas and grace after meals, home school them and cover my hair to go shopping, I am heartbroken, betrayed and furious. No wonder so many Jews who don’t have quite the right pedigree are lost… No wonder.


At December 24, 2007 at 7:34:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're in good company ASO! King David was also not so accepted, because his GREATGRANDMOTHER(!) Ruth was a convert! Gemara sais that they almost announced that he was a mamzer! And Greatgrandmother Ruth was still alive at this time, imagine how she must've felt?
Not being accepted in not unique to gerim BTW. Many BTs and other truth seekers necessarily pass through this stage...
Be strong and remember what king David sais: "Hashem watches over converts..."(psalms, 146:9) We're with you ASO.

At December 24, 2007 at 10:40:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sure the right community is out there for you. I wish you speedy success in finding it and in attaining tremendous success in both spiritual and material matters!

At December 24, 2007 at 11:47:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am incredibly saddened by this. As a convert myself, I've had my own share of humiliating experiences. But they have thankfully been far and few between, and none of them have even approached what you and your family are going through. My heart goes out to you.

When I hear stories like this, I fear for my own future.

At December 24, 2007 at 11:56:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ASO, your post really broke my heart and reminds me that we are indeed in the times of "Ich'visa d'Meshicha".
I can only think that your old community will one day face the day of reckoning and will be asked why they afflicted a ger. The Torah goes out of it's way so many times to stress that we were all once "geirim" and must therefore love the convert.
Indeed, Hashem works in mysterious ways which we can't understand but we know that it is all for our ultimate good. Stand strong and you will persevere! Hashem should open all the gates of bracha to you and your family!

At December 24, 2007 at 11:59:00 AM EST, Blogger RD said...

The facts as you present them break my heart. If this is still an issue, please email me.

At December 24, 2007 at 12:07:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also a Ger, and thank G-d my experiences (over these last 25-odd years since) have been virtually all positive (other than really trivial insignificancies). Whenever people suffer it is sad, and as a fellow Jew and convert it’s closer to home.

However, I don’t really understand the particulars here. What denominations are we speaking of? Does your conversion status meet the requirement of the denomination that you are affiliated with? It would seem that this is the problem. The only plausible explanations that I can put together with your description would reflect a scenario like this:

1. Conversion through a beis din that is not recognized by the community shul and Rabbi.

2. The level of observance is below the acceptable standard for an Orthodox shul and Rabbi, casting doubt on the conversion.

Due to this, a Rabbi would not feel comfortable with the status of the child and is therefore uncomfortable with the bris (if the Mother’s status is unclear, so is the child’s)

There a number of solutions to this problem though, and I’m surprised that none of them are being pursued… but maybe I’m missing something. In any case, I wish you the best in all matters -- and may you have nachas from your children!

At December 24, 2007 at 12:35:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The denomination that would not do the bris is a popular jewish inreach organization. I will leave you to figure out what that is. This group almost never does conversions..hence creating a problem. Our observance level is right up there with most at that shul, so that was not a problem.

At December 24, 2007 at 12:57:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Jewish born Israeli Jew my heart goes out to you and I wish you joy and happiness among good and honest people who will respect you and care for you as a fellow human being who chose the Jewish path.


Hagay Hacohen

At December 24, 2007 at 12:58:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

-- Sigh --

Was there no advice about what could be done to deal with the situation? It’s so unbelievable that I still can’t get my head around it.

You surely know that the standard for kosher conversion is not really that the observance level be the same as the majority of the congregation, rather, it needs to be in accordance with halacha (regardless of what the rest of the community does). So, a Jew from birth – even if he is not religious – is still a fully recognized Jew, but, a convert that, let’s say, never FULLY kept Shabbos, Yom Tov or Kosher would not. As a convert, this was all made a clear prerequisite to me – and in fact, the Beis Din would not have even allowed my conversion if I wouldn’t agree to live in a religious community to regularly daven with a minyan and properly keep Shabbos, Kosher, etc, al pi Halacha. Had I, let’s say, decided that I would believe in G-d but still drive to shul on Yom Tov, I would still simply be considered non-Jewish.

The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that this is where the problem begins. But with all that said, there are other communities and there are alternatives as to this can be handled, anyone seeking a serious relationship with G-d and with Torah can achieve this if they really want to… and they’ll be embraced too. I know of so many Geirim like us that can attest to this. Chazak veaamatz!

Once again, I wish you all the best

At December 24, 2007 at 1:35:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been teaching candidates for conversion and converts and worked as an adjunct to batei dinim for decades, and never heard such a story.

There are probably thousands of fully accepted and well-integrated converts in the Orthodox community, even in such "right wing" places like Satmar and Bobov and Stolin. There are LOADS of them in Breslov, and their children marry into the kehillos.

Something is wrong with this picture...

Please email me the name of the rabbi via A Simple Jew if you would like me to inquire.

At December 24, 2007 at 2:10:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hats off to north-eastern ger and to Dovid Sears for their level-headed and constructive comments.

I find the behavior of ASO's rabbi as described in the account to be incredibly puzzling. He appeared to be strangely circumspect in revealing his concerns about the validity of the conversion. I can only imagine that the agmas nefesh experienced by ASO would have been strongly mitigated had the rabbi been direct and upfront in expressing his concerns.

At December 24, 2007 at 2:22:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

That story does seem horrible. I am also a ger and if there's anything you'd like to talk about with the situation, you e-mail me. dixieyid(at)

-Dixie Yid

At December 24, 2007 at 3:25:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We keep kosher, observe shabbos etc. etc. It is mostly that we do not live in an established jewish community that seemed to always be the big problem. ne ger - My beis din was the same. Accept halacha in order to convert. I don't think he truly questioned our families halacha..but he always mentioned where we lived and how far from a community we lived. To some Rabbi's (my experience is) that is the end all and be all..

At December 24, 2007 at 5:33:00 PM EST, Blogger Schvach said...

Your story is heartbreaking. Hazak, hazak, v'nithazek! Many of us readily accept you, without proviso, without hesitation. Find the right rabbi and kehilah and you'll find happiness in this matter. Shalom v'brachot to you,
your husband, and children.

At December 24, 2007 at 6:14:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife posted anonymously so to respect her privacy I will post this anonymously also.
First of all please allow me to extend my sincere thanks to all those that have offered help. Unfortunately since you have not met us except through this post, this would make contact on our behalf, with the Rabbi from the sefirotic acronym group, somewhat problematic.
My problem with the individual involved is that he lied, right to my face. He told me that he was fine with us having the Bris there, when he was not. If he had come out and said he didn't want us to have it there because he did not feel that the Rabbi that performed the conversion was Orthodox enough for him, or since we no longer lived in the area he couldn't keep tabs on us and had questions about our observance level, I might have been upset, and wanted to know why he thought we were "kosher" enough and my wife was "converted" enough to take her money when she made the 420 mile round trip drive each month to use their mikvah, but at least I would have respected that he was holding firmly to his own religious principles. But to pretend it was alright with him when I was in front of him,or on the phone, when in fact it wasn't, that is lying and hypocrisy and a sore test of my ahavas Yisroel. We have been embarassed and dishonored, how could I show my face in that shul again? Everyone saw us there for Yom Tov, one month before the baby was due, and we told them that we would see them again in a month for the Bris. To show up there now with the baby? How could I answer those questions? Turn, point at the Rabbi and say "ask him"? Then we would be acting no better than he did. So all I can really do is say that I will never again have anything to do with the sefirotic acronym organization.

At December 24, 2007 at 6:29:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very sad.

I think I also have friends and some loose affiliations with the same organization (based on your description), and I can only say that my relationship with them has been excellent. Please don’t let this individual experience be representative of the entire movement. Your tale is obviously terrible. I wish there was something we could do.

I have no clue why a rabbi would act in such a stupid manner (I would think that he would need all the support he could get) – what could he possibly have stood to gain from this? I can’t begin to understand it. And the Mohel too? Something doesn’t make sense. In any event, I can only assume that aside from being a poor excuse for a rabbi, he lacks basic people skills.

It is all so very bizarre and unfortunate. May it be a kapara! May you experience great joy and closeness to Hashem in the future.

At December 24, 2007 at 7:47:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ASO, this may be small consolation, but almost any American Orthodox Jewish congregation/rabbi would have treated you fairly with no runaround. However, you still need to do some due diligence investigation before choosing another community. The Beis Din that converted you should also provide you and the new rabbi with any documentation you need to introduce yourselves effectively.

At December 25, 2007 at 12:40:00 AM EST, Blogger Kosher Foodie said...

I agree with R'Sears, although I feel the pain of the couple, there is still something that doesn't click in the story.
Yes, converts do face difficulties, I am a geores myself. However, to my knowlge gerus is not a simple issue, I know a few gerim who had to do a gerus l'chumra, because of "issues", I know descendants of gerim who had problems being admitted to certain yeshivos because of the beis din who did the gerus of their mother...etc.
But I also know that many batai din are careful not to convert pple until they live within reasonabl walking distance from a shul/mikvah...etc, so I can't undrstand in the first place how it started.
Yes, there are those people out there who won't "accept" gerim, BT's as nicely, but the rabbeim are not a bunch of mean paranoid convert-haters, thy usually know what they are doing.
Not knowing the full story I can't help but defend the community and rabbeim you seem to be accusing, I wish you hatzlacha, and the patience it takes to deal with these issues.
May we all witness the revelation of Moshiach soon.

At December 25, 2007 at 10:16:00 AM EST, Blogger Alice said...

I have really enjoyed living in a big city with a large community. There are many more options with regards to shuls, rabbis, friends, people to learn with, places to learn in general, etc. It really takes the pressure off of relationships. When we were in a smaller city with only one Orthodox rabbi, I felt like that person could open or close the ONLY door at his whim, without ever offering an explaination. And he didn't have the time to explain much because he was so darn busy doing many important things.

Maybe moving would be a good idea?

At December 25, 2007 at 11:39:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear ASO,
Unfortunately, several years ago our family went through a very similar experience as yours. It has been a huge test and we are still trying to fully come to terms with it. However I wanted to share a few points with you that have helped us.

First, we've learned that the origin of these kinds of issues is very complex, and may have less to do with you or your rabbi personally than you might think. There are sociological factors on a macro level (e.g., the need to clearly define Jewish identity in the face of widespread assimilation, and so react strongly to issues relating to boundaries, especially conversions) and on a smaller level (e.g., sectarian tendencies within particular Orthodox communities). There is an ongoing struggle for authority unfolding today between multiple elements within Orthodoxy, each refusing to accept each others' halachic decisions in multiple areas, and not only regarding conversions. Just look at the multiple hechshers now seen on many kosher foods from Israel, for example.

But multiple opinions can be a good thing, too. Despite being rejected by a certain organization and their congregations, we have been accepted by other groups within Orthodoxy. Thank G-d for our tradition of halachic plurality.

We have forgiven those who rejected us. One of the hardest things to come to terms with, though, was our disappointment with the behavior and the midot of those leaders whom we had followed and so admired once. But the lesson we had to learn was that you can never expect someone else, even important rabbis, to be really spiritual. Religion is about your personal relationship with Hashem. Do not let any human being come between you and G-d. Stay strong in your observance of mitzvot and learning Torah with devekut to your Maker.

At December 25, 2007 at 4:19:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

May Hashem wipe away your suffering and your tears - very soon!

Why does Hashem make things hard for those who seek him? (Which would include putting us in situations where we are faced with less than ideal circumstances.)
I don't really know, but I do know that He has a reason...and that reason begins to be fulfilled when we overcome it.

I think we all wish you only the best!

At December 25, 2007 at 8:06:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to you also. My wife and I converted over three years ago. We had our ups and downs, but nothing like this. We wish you nothing but the best

Chazak u Baruch!


At December 26, 2007 at 3:10:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well everything G-D does is for are own good even if we cant see the big picture right now. Maybe frum jews shouldnt live so far from a community? Theres no minyan no mikvea no talmud torah no jewish influence. Why would you go so far away ? did you ask your rabbis advice before you moved? I know as a convert I cant live without a jewish community. Come home to Israel. Sale the house and find a nice quiet community here.

At January 23, 2008 at 5:18:00 PM EST, Blogger redsneakz said...

There are a lot of problems right now for converts, potential converts, and so on. It breaks my heart to hear your story, and I think that we need to carefully examine our motives as to why and how we stop welcoming new Jews.


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