Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Social Strategies for the Isolated Conversion Candidate

Some of you may be considering orthodox conversion, but you don't live in an orthodox community. You know that you will be required to move if you want to pursue this. (See Convert Issues: the Community Requirement.) However, because of school, a lease, saving money, owning a home, or a million other reasons, you're stuck in the Jewish boondocks for a while or longer.

All is not lost. Sure, your learning is probably limited to books and the internet. Maybe you even have a small orthodox community and a local rabbi! Regardless, the availability of quality (and enjoyable) books and internet resources is constantly increasing, and there is more than enough to keep you busy. The problem is that you won't be learning the standards of the particular community that you want to live in. However, that comes in time. If there is a difference of opinion and you don't have a rabbi, just pick one. (See How Do Converts Choose a Minhag?)

But what about orthodox society? How can you learn about that from a rural Midwestern town or a small town in Russia? Your options are limited, but they're not nonexistent. And there are more opportunities every day. Here are my suggestions, and most of them are ways I've found to cope in my own small communities. Except for the first suggestion, they're all in the virtual world of the internet. After all, you found your way here, right?

First and foremost, VISIT orthodox communities! I know this is difficult for shy people and those with social anxiety, but take the step. If nothing else, it can help you realize that orthodoxy is not for you, long before you pick up your life and move. Call the local synagogue and ask for hospitality. They will either arrange a family/person for you to stay with (they will probably say "stay by so-and-so") and meals. If not, they will tell you about the local hotels within an easy distance. (Before making a reservation at a hotel, make sure they have real metal keys available instead of electronic card keys!)

If you can go to a nearby Jewish community, get on the mailing list for the Jewish Federation, the synagogues of interest (even if you don't plan to move there), and specialty groups (such as Hillel college groups, Jewish Student Unions, young professional groups, Israeli dance groups, seniors' groups, etc). When you can, go to their events. You'll make new friends, and you'll see the orthodox in their original habitat. You may also have some success with or similar sites.

Read blogs by orthodox Jewish people. (You can get a good start on my blogroll!) You'll get an insider view into how orthodox people approach life, and the issues currently facing the community. You may even learn some halacha along the way! Comment. Comment to the other commentors. Email the writers. Make the connection. It's not impolite! However, remember that bloggers are people too, and a response to your email may take some time. And of course, just like in real life, some bloggers don't want that interaction. If one person is a jerk to you, judge them favorably and don't let it stop you from talking to other virtual people.

Get involved on Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I find Twitter to be more interactive between individuals, but Facebook allows a much wider sweep of your brush. You can also join groups and "like" pages as a way of getting information and interacting.

As your circle of orthodox friends increases, so will your interactions with the orthodox (makes sense, right?). But more than that, they'll introduce you to their friends, and when you travel, maybe they know people where you're traveling. The Jewish people is all about connections between people. That's all Jewish geography is! We take care of our own; it's the Jewish grandmother complex. We're family.

Please share your suggestions in the comments!


  1. Ultimately, you'll need to live in a community, or at least spend every Shabbos and all of the chagim for a year in a community (like I did). But you have to have special circumstances understood by your sponsoring rabbi and the beth din. It can be done, but just making connections and visiting communities will never be enough.

  2. Why do hotel keys need to be metal and not electronic? I'm merely curious :)

    I found your blog recently, I really love reading your posts. I feel like I learn something new every time I check in!