Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Want to Annoy a Someone Who is Converting?

If there is one character trait the conversion process is good at building, it is patience. It’s not something many have to spare to begin with, and it is definitely a requirement for many aspects of Jewish life. So the workout isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On a day-to-day basis, my patience is not tried in a serious fashion by much of anything in life. It is not an unusual occurrence to be accused of being the most laid back guy someone has ever met. Work, play, food…all get their due, in their own time. Setbacks and changes to the schedule are just bumps to be navigated.

Heading into the quest, there were no illusions this would be fast or easy. Just a quick discussion with someone who has done it before will provide all the information you need. There are closed doors, rabbis who make you cry, and unbearable amounts of time waiting in ignorant silence. It’s enough to try a true tzadik tzedek, let alone the average guy on the street.

There were points where the uncertainty became almost unbearable. The support network that made it possible to get to this point is the topic of another post, though. The issue that has tested my patience more than any other in the last few months has come as a surprise though: Jews who are just beginning to become more observant.

Now before you get angry at me, let me set up the scenario. The rabbi I learn with is in kiruv. He is an amazing man, trying to start a new community out of the remnants of an old one. His personality is such that he can draw anyone in and make them feel welcome and loved. In a very short time now he has already pulled together the start of something interesting, bringing in a number of Jews in who have never been observant.

By turn of fate, I nave had the good fortune of being part of that process, almost from the start. For a long while I’d come to classes and services regularly. During that time, scenes similar to this would unfold repeatedly: Various different people would come and go at their leisure. The rabbi would expend great effort to get them hooked on their heritage, to want to learn more. Some would come back more often, others never bothered with a follow-up visit. In either case, there never a sense of urgency there. They were there to learn a little more, have a little fun, eat some cholent. Let’s not get too serious here! And there I was, dying to learn more but always being on the outside because of my status.

It has been more trying recently because our little group of people, (myself included) have been together for some time now. I am the only non-Jew, but all of us are on same steep upward ramp of learning, though at different points. The frustration comes in watching the others continue to take their Jewishness for granted. Mitzvot that I would cherish doing are purely optional for them. Watching one gentleman treat his tallis like a burden almost caused me to lean over and say something to the effect of: “I would give almost anything to wear one of those. Try not to treat it like an embarrassment.”

In the real world, that would never happen. I would never humiliate someone in that fashion, but the fantasy rattling around in my head was something to be savored for a moment. To be honest, I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to become more observant at their own pace. It’s a very tough task, and everyone needs to approach it in a way that is most constructive for them. In fact, I have started to become someone others trust to ask questions to, so I am enjoying the feeling that my own learning is helping others. (Don’t worry, this is VERY basic stuff like filling in brachas, simple concepts, or maybe talking about commentaries. Anything even REMOTELY serious just gets an “Ask the Rabbi” response.)

So my patience for others has increased, but not from the same source you might have guessed. I’m not sure what the moral is here, other than this simple one:

I want to be Jewish already!

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