I don’t talk about this much, but I converted to Judaism in 2004. The whole process had a lot of up and down moments for me. The ups included learning about Judaism, going through the conversion process, learning from and connecting with my fellow converts, and becoming part of a community. The downs have been fighting the stigma and stereotyping that comes with being a convert, especially one who was getting married to a Jew and then got divorced.
It’s been hard to stay connected to Judaism since I got divorced, because the built-in Jewish family disappeared. After, I went occasionally to a reform synagogue, and even took another Hebrew class there, but I still felt disconnected and didn’t like going alone and I stopped going. I rely on my best friend’s family and family friends for holiday celebrations, but sometimes I can’t even celebrate the holidays because I’m traveling for a conference or something else prevents me.
The biggest hurdle I’ve had to jump, and mostly because of the frequency that I’ve had to deal with it, is the assumption that I converted because I was getting married. It’s the first logical connection everyone makes, and I try to diplomatically explain that no, I didn’t go through a year of Judaism classes, Hebrew lessons, and one-on-one meetings with my sponsor rabbi to go in front of a panel of rabbis and be tested for anyone but myself. I know it’s hard to understand. Even Sherpa slipped last week when we were out to dinner with our salsa-dancing friends before the ill-fated salsa class experience. One half of the couple found out I am Jewish, and she said, “Your name’s not really Jewish is it?” A very common question. No, I converted, I said. “Oh, I didn’t know that! … Why?” Always the question that follows. Sherpa chimed right in with, “She converted for her ex husband!” OY. I thought I’d gotten the point across to him about how much that one particular statement burns me up, but it’s a constant process, I guess.
So, it’s kinda lonely being a converted Jew with no Jewish family. Passover is coming at the end of the week, and fortunately I will be able to go to a Seder dinner at a friend’s family’s house, but I came pretty close to not being able to go to one. To top it off, when I got divorced I wrote to my ex’s Grandmom to say goodbye and requested a couple of her recipes, including her chopped liver recipe, although I didn’t think I’d ever make it, and now for this seder I was asked to make chopped liver and with all the moving around I can’t find the letter from Grandmom.
This has all gotten to me lately. I wonder if there is, or I wish there were if there is not, a community of young converted Jews to socialize with. To be fair to those people who assume I converted for my ex, it’s really rare for someone to convert without a partner to spur the decision, and for those people who have a Jewish partner it’s more easy to keep it up and create family traditions. My life has been in flux for the last 5 years, and every Jewish holiday is different. I recently read an article that reminded Jews that converts have a special place in Judaism, but I’m having a hard time feeling a part of anything, let alone special. Sherpa is very flexible and enjoys going to Seder, break-the-fast, and Hanukah celebrations with me, but obviously he isn’t going to motivate me to get more involved.
Cross your fingers that I can find that recipe before Friday! It would be such a nice tribute to be able to make Grandmom’s chopped liver, and maybe it would help perk up the holiday for me.