I'm Nervous! Re: Conversion to Judaism

Hello all, I’m looking for an ear to babble into and anyone who cares to share their experiences in converting to the faith.

I have been contemplating converting to Judaism since I was 16, I’m 26 now.

In a flash of bravery, I finally worked up the nerve to e-mail the Rabbi of a synagogue in my area. He replied to me today, and we are setting up an appointment to meet. I’m freaked out and excited at the same time. I have questions about the faith that I would like to discuss, but ultimately I feel this is the right choice. Nonetheless, I’m nervous to meet the Rabbi, and I feel so ignorant, in spite of the research I’ve done.

FYI, I’ve decided to convert to the reform branch of Judaism.

Advice and experiences would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance! I will be checking in tomorrow night.

Hi Rebekka, and welcome to The Clan! I didn’t convert, so I can’t help you there, but am a Reform Jew, so if you have any questions, I could try to answer them from my perspective. I happen to love the Jewish “religion” (and I use quotes because for me it’s less about a belief in Adonai, since I consider myself agnostic, and more about “Tradition” and history) and I hope you find satisfaction, contentment and joy in it.

You’re nervous?! Just imagine how nervous a man about to convert to Judaism would be!

snip! snip! :smiley:

I’m just investigating the conversion process, and am starting an Introduction to Judiasm class next month.

The problem I’m having is that the Reform synagogues around me aren’t really “hamish.” I’ve been attending services, hanging around for the oneg afterwards, trying to get involved in young adult activities at one synagogue, and I’m getting a very, very cold vibe. I did talk with one rabbi, the head of a very large congretation (well, they’re all mega-congregations around here), who was going to set me up with a “host family” for holidays, and another rabbi for general guidance, but then … nothing.

Step into any Christian church, and you’re instantly recognized as a stranger, and usually welcomed with open arms. The temples … they’re indifferent, even though they’re all pushing to increase the number of members. Really, I feel like I’m very alone in this.

elmwood, I’m very sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time connecting with a synagogue. I know it might be little consolation (and sure doesn’t make us look any better), but even as a Jew I’ve had similar experiences when trying to find a new congregation when I moved. There was one synagogue I went to as part of a “round robin” Friday night singles service where the Rabbi was downright offensive, basically “blaming” us for our singlehood because we were “too picky.” Yeah, that’s likely to give me a warm fuzzy feeling about your congregation. Not. Never went back there, that’s for sure.

All I can suggest is that you keep trying different places until you find just the right fit. If you were in my area, I’d invite you over for Shabbat dinner. I’ll put an extra couple of bucks in the tzedakah jar in your honor tonight.

Hey MOT (Member of the Tribe) to be,

Good luck. You can also e-mail me if you have any questions.


Thank you, everyone, for your kind words. I have booked an appointment for the 7th of September and we’ll see what happens from there.

Elmwood, I hope your experience doesn’t match my upcoming one, and I’m sorry it has been so hard on you.

Shayna, I do have some questions that I’ve been unable to discover online.

I have learned that the reform branch is open to the idea of Gay marriage, respects a woman’s choice in the issue of abortion and allows female Rabbis. Aside from being drawn to the faith in general, I am particularly impressed by the liberal aspect of Reform

Nonetheless, here we go:

  1. Are you expected to keep Kosher? If so, can you recommend some resources so I can learn exactly what this means?

  2. How does Reform Judaism view sex outside of marriage, ie in a commited common law relationship?

  3. What about my non-religious relatives who still celebrate Xmas? It’s not about the Messiah for them, it’s about family. Can I pull and OC and have a Chrismukkah?

  4. And, for anyone who knows, what is the process of finally converting after the classes end?

Thanks again!

I don’t know too much about Judaism, but just having met with a religious authority with regards to conversion (granted, within different Christian sects, but they’re nearly polar opposites), I wish you the best. My recent experience was great and I am completing the official process in a few weeks.

I’m running off right now for a few days, but I wish you the best!

Not in Reform. Some Reform Jews choose to keep kosher, but not all do.

I’m not a convert, but I am in an interfaith marriage (my husband is Catholic, I’m Jewish). If Christmas has no religious meaning for them, why not treat them to a traditional Hanukkah? They can still celebrate Christmas, just not at your house. (FTR, I think [and this is MHO] that combined religious celebrations like “Chrismukkah” are disrespectful to both, because the meanings of either or both disappear.)


My experience within an interfaith relationship of 15 years (including marriage and two children) is that there is room a plenty to do both. I am Jewish, my (soon to be) ex is Catholic. Neither of us exercised our respective religions but we did enjoy the traditions of eachother’s holidays. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

My advice is that you don’t worry right now about what you have to give up or sacrifice with respect to your family or friends and current traditions. Figure out how you can incorporate your interests in judaism rather than what you’ll need to give up.

Lot’s of people will colour it in absolutes but these are just their opinions. You are under no obligation to do anything that doesn’t feel right to you. Smile and nod politely if you must and then just do what’s right for you.

Not sure what the rules around conversion are from a reform perspective. I know it’s far more relaxed than conservative or orthodox requirements. Even among the reform, the rules will vary to some extent from congregation to congregation. We jews don’t do anything the easy way. ;j
Good luck. :slight_smile:


I think your idea of focusing on my interests first. I’m just so overwhelmed, I think that is the correct word. I feel that this decision is one of the most important I will make in my life. I’ve always shyed away from organized religion because I couldn’t fathom being a hypocrite, facing my best friend who is gay and telling her she was unholy when she is one the most spiritual people I know, and other reasons.

That being said, I’m actually starting to eagerly anticipate my meeting next week! I hope my hand doesn’t shake too much when I meet the Rabbi. It’s going to be interesting finally talking to someone who can put you on the path to something you’ve wanted for 10 years.

Make that “I like your idea”, rather than I think…


If you want to meet friendly Jews don’t limit yourself to congregrants. Look into Jewish social organizations that aren’t affiliated with a synagogue. For example, there’s Mosaic, for Jews who like hiking. The JCC or B’nai B’rith have many activities, and are also good resources to find other groups. Here in the DC/MD/VA area there are several e-mail lists announcing events sponsored by one Jewish group or another practically every day. Look into them for your social needs, and look to the synagogue just for your religious needs.

Hi, Rebekkah and elmwood!

I converted Conservative a little over two years ago.

I have sent you both an email. Feel free to ask questions either here or by email.

A couple of books I recommend, both by Anita Diamant:

Choosing a Jewish Life

Living a Jewish Life

Good Luck!

You might be asked to keep kosher in some way for a limited amount of time, just so you can see what it’s like. I’m not fully shomer Shabbos, but the rabbi recommended keeping one Shabbat fully, just so I could see what it was like.

I got pamphlets from the rabbi about Conservative standards of kashrut. If your rabbi asks you to keep kosher for a limited time, ask if there are similar pamphlets you can have.

Living a Jewish Life has information about various levels of kosher observance.

Most Reform Jews don’t keep kosher, AFAIK, but your synagogue’s kitchen might be kosher, and if you bring in any food, it will have to be kosher. They will tell you what their standards for kashrut are- it varies from synagogue to synagogue.

I had a really hard time with this one. My family is religious. I had no problem not observing Easter any more- that really was just a religious holiday once I was too old for an Easter basket. But Christmas was different. I don’t celebrate Christmas now, because it just seems silly to do if I don’t believe in Jesus. I give Christmas presents to my family, and they send me Hanukkah presents. I try to go somewhere that won’t be Christmasy around Christmas-last year it was Sonoma, and probably will be again this year. But YMMV, especially if your family doesn’t think of Christmas as a religious holiday.

If you are male, at some point you have to be circumcised. If you’re already circumcised, they’ll take a drop of blood from your you-know-what as a symbolic circumcision. I’m a girl, so I have no clue what either one is like. I think this might be optional for Reform.

You’ll meet with a group of three rabbis (in my case, three Conservative rabbis, in your case probably three Reform rabbis) called a Beit Din. They will, at least in theory, ask you questions about what you’ve learned about Judaism. Mine didn’t- they all knew me by then, and knew I was knowledgeable and sincere. The latter being more important- they really want to know if you sincerely want to be Jewish and learn about Judaism.

After they determine that you are ready to convert (they almost never turn people who honestly feel they are ready down, don’t worry), you will immerse yourself in a ritual bath called a mikveh. The Bet Din and the mikveh will probably be held at an Orthodox synagogue, because those are the ones that have mikvehs (Orthodox women immerse themselves in the mikveh monthly after their periods, Conservative and Reform women generally don’t). You will have to immerse totally naked in the mikveh, but the only person in there watching you will be someone of the same sex. You will have to say some blessings while you’re in the mikveh (the witness will prompt you if you forget). I think the mikveh might be optional for Reform, too. I liked my experience in the mikveh, though- made it feel more like I had actually changed, in some sense.

Clinically speaking, the tip of the penis in the male corresponds to the clitoris in the female. So harvest a drop of blood from your clitoris and you’re there.

“Secular” circumcision is quite common now, so the need for full-on adult bris ceremonies is less pressing.

Good luck tomorrow.

I don’t mean to be a wet rag and put a damper on your excitement but I feel you should temper your expectations.

These are my speculations and your experience may differ, but:

  1. Don’t expect the rabbi to welcome you with open arms when you express your intentions or interest. He will be polite, probably solemn and very likely less than enthusiastic. I think there is a course in rabbi school that teaches them to discourage conversion and permit only the ones who are truly persistant to go through the process. You will be discouraged on more than one occasion throughout the process.

  2. Expect the process to be slow.

  3. It may cost you money. Most rabbis will strongly urge you to join their congregation and the membership fees can be quite high. Again, this may be a way to test your strength of conviction. I was born Jewish and it certainly tests mine. ;j In fact, I’ve never joined.

  4. Please don’t expect the earth to move, heavens to open, angels sing or anything more than a very simple and uninspired conversation that can best be equated to a cold shower.
    Having said this, I hope I am completely wrong and you find exactly what you seek.

Drop a line to tell us about it. :slight_smile:

Rebekkah, I think you and I have an awful lot in common. I was raised agnostic, with a faint Christian touch (holidays without any religion, basically and getting sent to Catholic school because my parents couldn’t afford private school). The Jewish faith appeals a lot to me, and I go to Temple occasionally, fast on Yom Kippur and do the Passover thing. I haven’t converted, but it is something I think about doing when I’m in a religious mood.

I wish you the best of luck and keep us posted.

Well, my experience is confined to my aunt who converted so she can be buried next to her wife. (And for her wife {and now her}, it is more a matter of tradition and identiy than religious belief so how relavent that is to you I don’t know but here goes).

As has been noted, no, not *expected. * There’s a pretty wide range of practice as far as keeping Kosher. My aunts keep Kosher for Passover and other holidays but not otherwise. I would imagine if you go for religious instruction they will cover that…my aunt didn’t meantion that part but then she already had a live-in Kosher authority. (Mostly she talked about having to learn Hebrew. Don’t worry…you don’t have to learn all of it ;j )

Well, obviously, given that the rabbi was willing to instruct her knowing her reason for converting, some Jews are just fine with relationships outside of traditional “marriage”. Depends on what group you join.

They don’t celebrate Christmas…but when we went to visit for The Hoildays they played Christmas carols all through dinner. Because they like them. Just about drove me nuts :smiley: . Oh and my aunt’s wife (who is also my aunt…damn, when we legalize SSM, we made need some new terms!) talked about how much she used to enjoy all the Christmas festivities when she was a kid. Because she didn’t have to do anything :smiley: .

I think you have to go with what you’re comfortable with.

Hmmm. I think she talked about this but I don’t remember. I could ask her.

Anyway…mazel tov!

Most everything posted so far is correct and any apparent discrepancies can be explained by variation within the way different rabbis operate. I do have one nitpick and that is that the Bet Din does not have to be three rabbis in the Reform branch, it just has to be three Jewish people. When my (soon to be ex) wife converted ten years ago, her Bet Din was the rabbi, the cantor and one other guy.

You will be discouraged at first and that is by design. We love converts and in fact a “Jew by choice” is considered to be more (I’m not sure of the word here) holy than a “Jew by blood” but it ain’t gonna be easy. We do not seek out converts and haven’t in millenia. You’re at least two years away from becoming a member of the tribe.

Most synagogues have people who are involved in outreach and they will be very helpful. Sadly, most synagogues also will have a small number of buttheads who will treat you like a second class citizen. Ignore them. Every group has their share of the ignorant.

This is just my opinion but any sort of Christmas celebration is going to have to stop in your own home. There is no harm, however, in taking part in the traditions of Christmas when you’re in someone else’s house.

Most of all, don’t be nervous. This is a long process and you don’t have to make any sort of commitment until the very end. You have plenty of time to figure out if this is right for you. In fact, you have as much time as you need.

Mazel Tov

Interesting thread- and so many varied responses. :slight_smile: I was born and raised Jewish and now do not practice. I attend Quaker Meeting. It suits my pacifist leanings greatly.

The cold shoulder is not surprising. It is difficult to find a group of Jews who will be openly accepting of a convert since assimilation has been regarded as the end of Jewry and to many Jews, any non-Jew wishing to join is going to dilute the waters so to speak. It is a highly closed-minded attitude but it’s born out of a desperate need for survival at all costs. I understand the mind-set because I grew up in it and was exposed to it repeatedly. I find it to be incredibly nauseating, however. The level of racism in Judaism is nightmarish. Not only are minorities not worthy, but all non-Jews are not worthy. It is the dark side- but an accurate and honest part- of dealing with becoming a Jew. It was thrown in my face over and over and over again.

Here’s a first-hand example. After getting out of Nazi Germany with some clothing, bits of furniture and two small kids, my late grandmother should have had a bit of appreciation for those different than herself. After all, it wasn’t Jews who let her into the United States in the first place. However, her racism against all non-Jews of any color was daunting. When my wife and I brought our freshly adopted Korean-born son to her home so she could kvell a little bit ( Yiddish for expressions of great pride ), the very first comment out of her mouth was, " Well, at least he’s not too darkskinned…" :mad:

This is not unique. The clannishness and closed-minded racism is born of a frantic need to live with, marry and birth observant Jews, so that Jews will not disappear off of the face of the earth through assimilation and whatnot. As I said, intellectually I get it. Emotionaly it turns my stomache and turned me away completely. It’s irrefutable that this attitude persists today and is not solely a part of Jewish history.

Interesting side-note. I live 1/2 mile from a village of Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Even amongst other Orthodox, these folks are regarded as hard-core. My last name is one of the Twelve Tribes. I certainly was born and raised a Jew. To them, I might as well be any other religion, for all peoples are lesser than they are, are unworthy…unless they are also of the same Ultra-Orthodox sect. Proof? They will not touch a hand of a person who is not of their sect. We’re all unclean. When I buy my needles, thread and fabric at the local shop which is owned by members of this sect, I know enough to place the money on the counter. The man ( or his wife, whomever waits on me ) picks it up and makes change. I know not to hold out my hand to get my change. It is put down. Then I pick it up. Lunacy to me, but this is how they regard all non- sect members. And so it is for many Jews of other flavors ( Hasidim, Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed and Reconstructionist about covers it ).

All of this by way of saying that you will find people in any congregation who have no use for you as a newly converted Jew, and will never have a use for you or a kind word. I would encourage you to make use of your faith and your desire to learn and become observant and use that as a barrier against said rejections. You will also find people in Reformed congregations who will be delighted to meet you, bring you in and help educate you and be excited at the idea of an adult who is deeply drawn to the Jewish culture and faith.

I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture, only a very accurate one. It is an excellent idea to seek out Jewish adult groups. For one thing, I would suggest that if you do join a congregation, that you become involved in the Adult Education classes immediately. Many are the haughty arrogant Jews who in fact know precious little about their people and past. Sadly, to many American Jews the sum total of their knowledge and mindset stops with the diaspora created by WWII out of Europe. How many could name more than one Talmudic scholar? And so on.

There is a book called The Jewish Book of Why, by Alfred J. Kolatch.( ISBN 0-8246-0256-0 ) I heartily recommend it to you. It is excellent and gives very straightforward answers to the kinds of questions that will occur to you, may have already occurred to you. I keep it right here on my desk, next to the Torah, King James Bible, Book of Mormon and Koran. ( Seriously. One cannot discuss what one has not read, or at least tried to read. )

Here. Lemme open blindly and read one query:

You get the idea. It’ll really help as you move along the path of understanding the Jewish religion. There’s Faith and then there’s Practices. Some of the rituals and practices of Judaism are startlingly beautiful, just as some are in other religions. Others are seen as barbaric or horrible. ( the bris, or circumscision of newly born males comes to mind. At least for some folks. :wink: )

As for the Faith, if you have it, then I wish you the very best in your pursuit of knowledge. Remember, Rabbi doesn’t mean High Priest or anything of that ilk. It means Teacher. ;j