Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Support Networks for the Terminally Weird

With all this complaining about the difficulties of converting, the impression must be that this is a horrible, lonely process. While that is true to a degree, and part of the reasons this blog exists, it is not the entire story. There have been some rays of light that helped lift spirits when things started to drag. Today, we cover them.

As you might expect, my girlfriend has been supportive…but only to a limited degree. She has refused to encourage me overly much, or make too many suggestions. She knows that this is not her journey, and it does neither of us any justice to ease the burden. Plus, having been frum all her life, how much advice could she give a prospective convert? Her knowledge of the process has been as limited as my own. That said, her quiet but firm support has been invaluable to prevent a meltdown at times.

Most important has been the normalcy of our daily interaction. Even though she is thousands of miles away, being able to chat on IM and the phone about mundane matters is an incredible comfort. Just generally having a good friend helps me feel human and forget about the fact that my old life is slowly withering on the vine. Without that, there could have been some deep depressions at points in the last few months.

The other source of serious support is my personal rabbi. He has been the fountain of Torah that I have drunk from for the last year now. His support has come in an entirely different fashion: Providing quiet advice on how to work with the rabbi who will be converting me. Assigning things to read and study. Welcoming me into his home every Shabbat. Letting me be a part of his family, almost. Without him, I’d still be very lost.

Now on to the unconventional locations support has poured in from. First and foremost have been the Jews of the small new congregation we are forming. All of them are learning for the first times in their lives. They have very few prejudices when it comes to someone like me. To them, I am just one of the guys. Not only does it add a degree of normalcy (which is stretching the use of that term…most of this group is not ‘normal’ in the conventional sense of the word) but it provides a benchmark that learning can be measured against. Becoming frum or converting when surrounded entirely by people far more learned than you can be useful, but it can also be discouraging. It will always feel like you have made no progress in relation to those around you.

To a lesser degree, work has helped. My company allows for flexible scheduling and generous vacation time. People can generally come and go as they please, as long as they complete their work. This makes leaving work early for Shabbat easy, and scheduling days off for Yom Tov virtually free of drama. Company functions can be catered with kosher meals, and there are other observant Jews around to keep me from being a sideshow among the crowd. (Besides the fact that I didn’t used to be acting this way, of course.)

The last unexpected group of supporters has actually been my parents. Their reaction when told about converting was expected…but the relief I felt was palpable. It was good just to get it over with. Since that time, they have been wonderful. Asking questions about what this means for my visits; Trying to figure out how to make the extra kitchen work; Welcoming my girlfriend when she paid a visit to their neck of the woods. You get the idea. All in all, they’ve been fantastic about everything. While it will never be something my mother 100% agrees with, it will not turn into a painful rift in the family, and I cannot thank God for that enough. My family deserves many posts of their own, which they will get in due time.

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