Is It Bad Form for Me Not To Tell Other Jews I’m a Convert?

I care about the opinions of those around me and I care about being respectful towards others.

Hello and welcome back to Hey Alma’s advice column on all things Jewish life — check out what our Instagram audience had to say about this week’s issue, read on for advice from our resident deputy managing editor/bossy Capricorn Jew, and submit your own dilemmas anonymously here.

Dear Hey Alma,

I converted via the Conservative movement. In conversation, I’ll be vague about it, or make statements that are broad enough that most folks will assume l’ve always been Jewish.

I’m not lying; I don’t create a fiction about a childhood I didn’t have, and I’ll tell those l’m close to about my past and conversion. I know halachically I’m Jewish, but I know that folks who were born Jewish will always categorize me at least a smidgen below them. I also know that I don’t have the same community connections or childhood experiences as my friends so there is something ontologically different about me.

My choice was a powerful one, one that matters so deeply to me. I care about my community, I care about the opinions of those around me and I care about being respectful towards others. I’d like to hear from the community: Is it bad form for me not to tell people I’m a convert? And, if someone finds out through someone else that I’m a convert, how might their opinions of me change?

Hi friend,

I have a lot of thoughts on this (spoiler: I think you are Jewish and you’re not doing anything wrong!), but in your question you explicitly said that you’d like to hear from the community, so I thought it might be powerful to begin my answer to you by honoring that request. As always, we posted this advice question on our Instagram first, and here’s how the community responded:

It’s no one’s beeswax. Shine on you beautiful convert. We should embrace you more deeply as you chose this. ❤️ — @quietrevolutions

I love meeting people who converted! I love hearing about why Judaism called to them. — @stalking.sarah

I would never think of a convert as being “below” me in any way — or someone of any other religion, for that matter. I think conversion is a beautiful thing. Also the Unorthodox podcast has some wonderful episodes on conversion that may be informative and inspiring. Welcome to the tribe, we are so very happy to have you. ❤️ — @sarahdpelz

You are Jewish! Full stop. Xoxox welcome to you in all your holy human self! — @modernjewishcouples

Convert here! Theres an interpretation my Rabbi told me once about how all the Jews — past, present and future — were there to receive the Torah and this includes us, our Jewish souls. If nothing else it is nice to think that my path has been ordered. —

I felt similarly until I had a Jewish by birth friend tell me “our souls met at Mt Sinai.” I’ve carried that with me for years and it makes me feel valid whenever I question it. — @jessica_rose_davis

You are not obligated to tell anyone your personal spiritual history, anymore than your personal medical history. — @elliotkukla

You found your way back to your Jewish soul. Our community is diverse and that’s what’s so beautiful about it. I’m Jewish by birth but did not grow up with a super Jewish childhood and that’s OK too. Your soul is Jewish and it has been forever throughout other lives. Any Jew that makes you feel less Jewish, needs to look inward and reconnect with their own Jewish identity. — @niki_bette_

Choose whatever feels most comfortable for you. It’s completely your choice, and what matters most is what you feel! Either way, I (along with many other Jews) are so happy YOU are happy with your choice ❤️ — @amylookszee

That really says it all, doesn’t it?

I hope you have the chance to scroll through the literal hundreds of affirmations your question received from our online Hey Alma community (and please disregard the few negative responses, sigh). It was so lovely and uplifting to see so many fellow Jews echoing the same thoughts: You are Jewish. Your story is yours to share — as much or as little as you want. If anyone changes their opinion of you and your Jewish identity based on the knowledge of your conversion, that’s on them. And truly, we could stop there! But in the spirit of always offering concrete to-do-list-style offerings in this column (as a Capricorn, I simply must), let’s talk through some action items.

1. Let go of assumptions

In some ways, this whole question is about the ways we all make little judgements about everyone as we go about our lives. You worry that your community will judge you if they learn you converted. You judge them in assuming they will think you’re “a smidgen below them.”

I’m not saying you don’t have reason to worry, or that it’s easy to let go of these fears. They come from the unfortunately real experience that some Jewish people do judge converts and Jews by choice — and that sucks. I’ll skip the quirky little saying about what happens when you assume, but suffice it to say, I think it’s worthwhile to really take stock of the assumptions you are making and see if you can let them go. You cannot control what anyone else thinks — though hopefully the affirming community response from Hey Alma is a bit of a balm for those who do have unfair or unkind thoughts about conversion — but you can control what you think and how that informs your action.

Make space for the idea that the Jewish community sees you and welcomes you wholeheartedly. That mindset will help you let your community show up accordingly.

2. Consider what you’d like to share or keep private

I really love what Rabbi Elliot Kukla said on Instagram: “You are not obligated to tell anyone your personal spiritual history, anymore than your personal medical history.” It’s not bad form to keep any part of your personal life private. We live in a world that increasingly devalues privacy, but that doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to any. In fact, social media inspires many of us to crave more privacy.

It sounds like you’ve already seriously considered your spiritual journey and if you’ve converted I know you’ve already contemplated what being Jewish means to you. I do suggest you take it one step further though, and ask yourself to really analyze what about your Judaism you’d like to share, what you’d like to keep private and what depends on the situation. Nothing in your question seems wrong or bad to me — plenty of us skim the details of our past and our childhoods when chatting with acquaintances because who has the time to unpack multiple decades of lived experience? But it doesn’t hurt to do a quick soul check in and ask yourself if you’re avoiding this subject because you want privacy around it or just by default. Are you afraid how people will react? Are you simply not interested in deep diving your personal decisions? Do professional settings feel different than personal settings?

Even if you land on the idea that you want to continue not sharing your conversion journey at all, I find it really helpful to know my own boundaries about what I will and won’t discuss with others when it comes to my life and my identity. I suspect finding clarity around how you want to talk about yourself and why will relieve some of the questions and anxiety you have around your behavior.

3. Let your community love you

Finally: Let your community love you. You are Jewish. You are part of our people. In your question you write, “I also know that I don’t have the same community connections or childhood experiences as my friends so there is something ontologically different about me,” and I would honestly really encourage you to let that thought go.

Plenty of people who are born Jewish or who practice Judaism did not go to Jewish summer camps as children, did not belong to synagogues growing up, did not have b-mitzvahs… the list goes on. There is no one way to have a Jewish childhood or a Jewish community, and in focusing on the differences between you and your Jewish friends, you’re not letting yourself bask in the similarities and the connections.

You are Jewish enough. You don’t owe anyone your story. But sometimes being in community means opening up about who we are and how we got to where we are currently existing — even if you don’t ever want to share that you converted, consider what you can share with your Jewish community and friends to connect. You’re probably far more similar than you are different.

Fellow Jews are out there wanting to make connections with you. Let them.

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