Worse than the "halachic" double standard is the community double standard. You can't be the lowest common denominator of your community, whatever the place or movement. Converts are great inspirations to their communities. And, for good or for bad, you will be considered an example. You will be held to a higher standard. When you mess up, people will take more notice than if a born-Jew messes up. It's better to make peace with this now, long before a conversion. Converting to Judaism isn't worth it if you end up hating Jews.
As a more basic root of the problem, converts and BTs seem to enter the Jewish world with the idea that orthodoxy is monolithic. At most, we divide it into 2 groups (there are 2 variations I've seen): either (1) modern orthodox and chassidic OR (2) orthodox and ultra-orthodox.
Get that idea out of your head this minute! Nothing is farther from the truth. There are dozens of subdivisions within orthodoxy. And like with any human group, there is a great deal of inter-orthodoxy Jewish politics (even on the conversion issue, which many paint as an "orthodox v. liberal" issue). On the bright side, whatever "kind" of orthodox Judaism you could want, it exists. There is a place within Judaism that will bring out the very best Jew in you. You just have to find it! And honestly, that might be the hardest part of the orthodox conversion process. Correctly, conversion rabbis want to make sure each candidate finds the right "fit" before they convert them. We converts have a hard time with that requirement, in my experience, because we're willing to go with "good enough" of a community so long as we can be a Jew already! But when you're looking at a decision for the rest of your life, those rabbis want to be sure that you find your perfect place first. Like babies, we need the strongest possible start to our Jewish lives!
Here is a short list of the more common orthodox groupings. I apologize if something is incorrect or if your group has not been listed. This list has been compiled based on my (limited) experiences.
Modern orthodox: This is a philosophy that one can keep the mitzvot and still be a part of the modern/secular world. There also tends to be an emphasis on equality between secular and Torah education.
- Modern orthodox liberal: These folks keep at least the "big 3" commandments: Shabbat, kosher, and the laws of family purity. Besides that, they may look and act like anyone else you know in the secular world. As an example, Esther from America's Next Top Model would likely fall into this category.
- Modern orthodox machmir: These are the folks who thought the original modern orthodox took it too far, so they created a stricter version of modern orthodox, thus creating the split within modern orthodoxy.
Carlbach: These are followers of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach. They tend to be ex-hippies, especially in Israel. Carlbach focused a great deal on music, which means the services are very long, and you either love them or hate them. I adore them. Carlbach folks tend to be super friendly. Even liberal congregations will often have a "Carlbach Shabbat" every so often, and just about every orthodox congregation uses some of his tunes for prayers. Going to a Carlbach service is a rite of passage in the Jewish world, and every one of you should go at least once.
Syrian Jews: As you might guess, these are transplanted Syrian communities. The thing for converts to note is that Syrian communities will perform no conversions and will not accept conversions.
Indian Jews: Yup, Jews in India.
Ethiopian Jews: Supposedly, just about all the Ethiopian Jews have finally left Ethiopia. There are very interesting and bothersome integration issues in Israel with this community.
Kai Phang Jews: Jewish community in China.
Chassidic: There are approximately 40 or more active Chassidic dynasties today; many were eliminated by the Holocaust. I once heard someone describe chassidus as the philosophy of emphasizing the spiritual/emotional side of the mitzvot and observance, thus increasing joy and happiness. This is very different from the secular portrayal of chassidim as ultra-strict, closed-minded, and judgmental. Sure, those people exist (more so in some groups than others), but chassidim tend to be the most passionate Jews you can find. Here is a sampling of some of the larger dynasties active in the US today:
- Chabad Lubavitch
In summary, be wary of using the phrase "the Orthodox do/say/believe..." It's the fastest way to dig yourself a very big hole, especially if you have foot-in-mouth disease like myself.
I wrote this post well in advance of its posting, and a few days later, Lori Almost Live of the Aish website put up a video on this same idea. I particularly love the questions she ends with. Going back to What to Do When You're Craving Treif, we should be self-aware of our actions, minhag, and interactions with Jews different from ourselves.