Late Bloomers

Julie Wiener at The Jewish Week has a nice column about non-Jewish women who convert many years after their intermarriage.

This phenomenon marks a change from the typical pattern 20 or more years ago, when women would often convert before marriage under pressure–either overt or subtle–from their partner’s families.

“Today we’re seeing a flip, and more and more — I would say the majority of people who go through the process of converting — make that decision after they’re married,” says Kathy Kahn, director of outreach and membership at the Union for Reform Judaism.
While being careful not to criticize those who convert before the wedding, Kahn observes that “often these later conversions are particularly deep and rich.” …

Traditionalists often argue that if gentiles married to Jews are accepted, not pressured to convert and allowed to participate fully in Jewish life, there will be no incentive left for anyone to convert. However, the stories of Beth and other late-marriage converts indicate that for many people, the acceptance and lack of pressure — in short, having a positive, not coercive, experience in the Jewish community — allows them to feel comfortable enough to explore Judaism on their own terms.

Rabbi Sam Gordon, who works for a congregation in suburban Chicago that specifically serves interfaith families, has a nice analogy for these converts:

Rabbi Sam Gordon … compares gentiles in Jewish households to immigrants who have not yet decided whether to become naturalized.

“You don’t become an American citizen sitting on the shores of France or on the boat over here,” he explains. “You live here for a while and then it becomes yours.”

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2 thoughts on “Late Bloomers

  1. This is so true, especially for me. When my husband and I married in 1975 in an inter-faith ceremony it was really very difficult to do. Although we wrote our own vows, the rabbi and priest both had distinct restrictions regarding their portions which would actually “seal the vows”. Both of us were very turned off to religion in general after that. Then something remarkable happened when we had our first child. We decided to raise our children in the as Jews. We joined a temple that was small but when we walked in felt welcomed. Our rabbi did inter-faith weddings and he was part time for our congregation which allowed a large portion of the day to day activities to be run by the congregation. So I volunteered. I lived among my friends and worked with my heart. I found myself praying for the first time and really feeling moved by my prayers. I was never asked to convert only to participate.
    Then one evening we had the rabbi over for dinner and he invited me to a study session about conversion. He was approached by another congregant about converting and I guess he thought I might add an opinion that might be different. I thougnt he was right. I was so impressed with the way he went out of his way to make me feel welcomed and comfortable and I was not necessarily supportive of the person who was asking for conversion because I thought they were not converting for their own reasons…they were her family’s. I felt so moved I said that I would only convert if it were something I wanted. I said it must be completely for my own personal feelings of completion. When I told my husband he said I was right, so did the rabbi. That’s when the wheels started turning. I wanted something just for me, not for my family. They all had what they needed spiritually to be complete. I did not feel complete and I wanted to do something about it…so I did! After 21 years of marraige, I finally asked to convert to Judaism. I studied, asked questions, questioned myself and the rabbi too! I finally converted with just my family present and my best friend and her husband to witness. I was blessed to become a Jew and my congregation blesses me with it’s support and admiration every day. Our family has lost many members over the last several years and the support of our congregation has meant so much to us. Rabbis came and went but our congregation remained strong because our congregants are strong in their belief in being warm, welcoming and inviting. We are still considered a small congregation but are big in our hearts. We still have many inter-faith families and we are proud of their active participation in temple life.

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