Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Awkward Moments for Converts-in-Process

A note on this post: It is meant to be both informative and humorous. It was not designed to single out any group or person. Where it might sound harsh in places, none of this really bothers me as much as it might appear by the writing. The community I am in treats me wonderfully, no doubts about it. Enjoy it for what it is!

Being a convert-in-process is filled with awkward moments waiting to happen. Often, you have no idea you’re about to be confronted with an awkward moment. After awhile though, you become familiar with a few specific ones that occur most often. Here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

Minyan Nothing like praying before you pray. How’s that? Well, before you daven, you pray that there are already 10 men there when you show up. This is more relevant when you’re not going to a familiar minyan. There’s just no way to make it clear that you don’t count towards a minyan other than standing up and essentially announcing that you’re not Jewish. Unless at least half of the guys there hear it, they all will say at some point: “Hey, we have a minyan, let’s go.” Some people just don’t pay attention.

Bonus: Weekday Shacharit Being offered teffilin and having to reject them. Either you tell the truth, or they think you’re some kind of weirdo for rejecting the mitzvah. Instead, they just think you’re a weirdo for being there. You can’t win some battles. *sigh*

Double Bonus: Shabbat Torah Honor Being in a strange shul with generous people who want to find a way to honor their guests and visitors. Thus, they offer to give you hagbah or some other Torah honor. This makes the teffilin rejection seem like child’s play!

Goyim Trash-Talking Try sharing the awkwardness with others! Become peripherally involved in a conversation with some healthy trash-talking about how silly/stupid/annoying all goyim are. The best part is when those who know you start looking at the ground and shuffling uncomfortably, which causes the person talking to look around with a “What? Is the rabbi right behind me? What’s going on?” face. Classic.

Bonus: Ger Trash-Talking Just like the above, except instead of goyim, now the topic is gerim. The best part here is that the knowledge of you converting won’t stop some people. The typical response to any strange looks from others is: “What? I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about those others!” (Note: I actually don’t mind this one, because I actually can sympathize. Still, you’re commanded to love all converts, right? I am putting it here because OTHERS feel awkward only because I am there, which in turn makes me feel awkward. Vicious cycles I tell you.)

Presumed Stupid Until proven otherwise, of course. For whatever reason, people will assume the fact that they’ve never met you, and that you are convert, to mean that you know diddly squat about being an Orthodox Jew. While of course that was true once upon a time, the whole POINT of the conversion process it to learn a lot, as fast as possible. You don’t stay eternally clueless. That means people should be taking at least a little time to try and gauge your aptitude before sticking you in the “Duh” bucket.

“Presumed Stupid” Irony Corollary These are often people who are becoming newly observant themselves, or aren’t even in that category yet…but feel they have a handle on the whole “Jewish” thing better than any non-Jew could have. Then, watching them do something that is known to be forbidden, you have to find as gentle a way as possible to tell them without embarrassing them. (My technique? “I think I read somewhere that there is something about X that could be a problem. I don’t know though, you should probably ask the rabbi.” This despite the fact that I know full well it’s not allowed, and sometimes even from where…but some people would be mortified to be corrected by someone like me.) It’s impossible for the aftereffects of this situation to not be awkward though, because in the end, they knew you were right about something they didn’t know.

There’s a ton more on this list to be sure…it seems like the entire first few months are designed to be nothing but awkward! This seems like as good a start as any. This may become a recurring theme, but honestly, as my comfort level increases, my awkwardness decreases. It may have been a better series 6 months ago. We’ll see how it goes. Shabbat Shalom!

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