Sunday, December 19, 2010

Memory Lane: The Converting for Marriage Stereotype

Since we've been discussing converting specifically for marriage this last week (See Why on Earth Would Someone Convert to Judaism and Taking a Shyne to Judaism), it reminded me of a funny story. (I'm not sure if it's funny weird or funny haha!) But it's the kind of story that could only happen to me. I attract crazy like you wouldn't believe. On the other hand, this isn't so outrageous that it doesn't happen to other converts.

On the first day of class earlier in my law school career (though not long ago), I had a teacher who decided to make us go around the room introducing ourselves. A pretty convenient way to waste an entire class period, if you ask me! I was the last to go, and I don't remember how it came up, but I mentioned that I am a Jewish convert. I do remember being suspicious that my new professor might be Jewish, so maybe that's why I threw it out there!

Then came the question. " is kind of personal, but are you marrying a Jew?" That's right. On the spot, right in front of 40 of my classmates. Thankfully, I was able to say that I am single and converting for myself. And to be honest, I remember nothing of the class before or after that moment.

I don't know why people don't think about their actions more. If you get the answer you're expecting, you just make me publicly look like a jerk who doesn't take an entire faith, people, and history seriously. I don't know if it would really make a difference, but I think a female professor would have been slightly more subtle. I'm not sure if that would have been better though.

Personally, when asked if I'm a stereotype, I prefer giving them an answer against their stereotype (even if that means a little rephrasing of my answer) in an approachable way that shows I'm open to discussing the subject further. I do this because I think the person-to-person approach is the most effective way to overcome stereotypes. Getting upset just closes the bridge of communication, and you both walk away feeling like jerks.

Of course, there are days when I don't feel like having this conversation (or can't), and "I can't discuss it right now, but maybe later?" is definitely in my vocabulary. And some days, I say, "Stereotypes exist for a reason. I was dating a Jew. But then...blah blah blah [showing how that was just the beginning of a difficult and rewarding journey]."

The lesson? Have an answer ready for this question at all times. You're going to need it, and you'll need it in the most unexpected of places. But don't take it personally, and don't get defensive. There's nothing to be gained from it.


  1. Unfortunately, it doesn't get any better once you ARE married, because then people will think you converted for that person (your spouse won't, of course, they'll respect you for your AWESOME life decision, but people you meet will jump to that conclusion before asking you the real story). I'm from a (really) small town in my state, so when I meet new people in the Jewish community, and they ask where I grew up, their response to my answer is always, "Not a lot of Jews there!"

    Sometimes, I tell them, "Nope, just one." Or, "No, not really." Or sometimes I tell them the story. There are lots of different answers for different people... as long as you remember the reason for yourself :)

  2. Very true! I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get there! Builds character, right? hahahah...

  3. I go through this weekly. People are always asking me questions and making impolite statements. “You don’t look Jewish, you must be a convert.” “Why would YOU want to be Jewish” “Are you sure that you know what Judaism is all about?”

    My Shul even had to have a diversity program after I converted. Apparently, people did not think that I would be active after conversion. My presence made some member uncomfortable. The Rabbi thought that since I was not going anywhere that he would have to teach his members how to be aware of diversity.

    Once it is established that I am a convert; People assume I am married. When I tell them that I found Judaism on my own and that I did not convert for a man they look at me as though I just landed on earth from another planet.

    I think that as a convert you have to learn to get some thick skin. Some converts blend in better than others. I don’t blend and I don’t want to blend. I add a unique quality to my Jewish Community and Shuls that I visit. Sometimes whether they like it or not.

  4. Anonymous: I've decided to write something about this kind of issue. I'll have it posted tomorrow! I hope that you'll find it helpful! And if not, may you continue to have great strength and find happiness despite the naysayers!

  5. I am already married but my husband is NOT Jewish. That totally throws people for a loop.