Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What Do My Friends Think? - Jew Edition

I was thinking of making this one long post, covering my friends in general, but I figured that would make it overly long and keep me from concentrating on the unique experiences I have had so far with my friends of differing backgrounds. This was something I had wondered about before I took the plunge. I had an idea that this would not necessarily be the most popular decision among the non-observant Jews that I was friends and acquaintances with.

I was never too worried about my real friends. I knew even though they weren’t observant, they would probably be happy I was choosing to be a Jew. Still, I had to hold my breath a little whenever the topic came up. It seems like most of them knew it was coming though…either through experience, or just because I wouldn’t shut the hell up about other Jewish topics, including the reason for my sudden interest. (May have been a hint to them I think.)

The first person who I told about my decision to convert was a friend from South Africa originally. He’s not non-religious, but he’s not orthodox either. At the time I was just getting used to the various denominations; their differences and how strongly they identified within themselves and away from “others”…so when I talked to him about how he practiced I was mildly shocked because he was impossible to pin down. Seems like from his standpoint, there were Jews and Goyim. The only difference in Jews was degrees of observance, and he felt fine in any shul, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, whatever.

Instead of pressing him on how strange that was, I let it slide. After all, he was happy and excited for me, and I wanted to enjoy that for a bit. The more I thought about it though, the more I was surprised by how much truth there was in his view of The Tribe. (His preferred term.) Most Jews who DO positively identify as religious would disagree with that sentiment, but it seems like from the standpoint of God, there are only Jews and Non-Jews, and some Jews do more of his will than others. The conflict comes in when Jews claim they know what he wants them to do. (I’m leaving out the more recent conflict of “Who Is A Jew?”)

Later reactions, especially among acquaintances, were generally lukewarm at best. One coworker, an Israeli now living in the U.S, looked at me like I had cracked and started treating me very coolly. I was very disappointed with that because we had an excellent working relationship prior that was doing wonders for the both of us. Maybe he was afraid Torah was contagious?

I don’t have as many Jewish friends in my new location as I did where I grew up, so the cross-section of my experience is smaller than it might have been 10 years ago. I’m sort of curious what the reactions will be at whatever the next reunion milestone will be. I am such a drastically different person than I was at the time that I can’t help but marvel at it myself.

I might make this more of a recurring theme if and when I encounter strange reactions to who I am down the road. Also, feel free to leave your impressions and ideas about my converting, converts in your community, converts in general. Feel free to be as brutally honest as your heart would like, I have a very tough skin and won’t take it personally. (Since you really don’t know me, personally.)

Keep an eye out for the follow up “Goy Edition” tomorrow.

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