A week after I emerged from the mikveh (ritual bath) as a Voluntary Member of the Tribe at age 18, I departed on a summer Birthright trip like the true Jewish-American I now was. Despite my lack of a Jewish upbringing, I felt immersed in the full Birthright experience—praying at the Western Wall, drinking two Iced Aromas a day, and kissing a frat bro on a kibbutz patio. When the trip ended, Josh and I decided to continue our Holy Land romance back in the States. He brought me home to meet his parents a few weeks later.
When we walked in the house, his mother greeted me and offered us seats at the kitchen table. As soon as I sat down, she turned to me.
“So, you converted? Why did you do that?”
I know Josh’s mom was genuinely curious, but I felt embarrassed and unsure of what to say. If I didn’t answer correctly, she could question my intention to convert. If I talked about God too much, she might wonder how religious I really am. If my response was too casual, she might wonder if I was serious about my adopted religion at all.
She wasn’t the first person to ask me why I converted. I’ve answered the same question from random people at Hillel, synagogue matriarchs across the kiddish table, anonymous Tumblr users, curious colleagues—as soon as someone realizes I chose to be Jewish, they want to know why.
I get it. I finished my conversion at the end of my freshman year of college, so I’m younger than the average Jew-by-choice. Plenty of people are surprised to learn that I didn’t convert to please any future in-laws.
But regardless of your intentions, I am begging you to stop asking me and other Jews-by-choice why we converted to Judaism. Choosing a religion and joining a people shouldn’t be a topic for casual conversation. It’s incredibly personal, and like most big decisions in life, very complex.
I don’t have an elevator pitch ready to explain why I abandoned my own religious upbringing and my familial traditions. My decision to pursue conversion wasn’t a conscious choice. It was an affirmation of beliefs I already held and a process that would allow me to join the community that pushed me to be the best version of myself and to put good into the world.
When you ask me why I converted, you’re putting me on the spot. You’re asking me to tell you, someone I barely know, what guided me through a multi-year religious journey.
You’re also ignoring Jewish tradition and law. While questioning everything is an undeniably Jewish experience, the Talmud specifically tells us not to remind a convert of their past, as doing so is considered a form of verbal oppression.
Ask me what I cooked for the holidays. Ask me where I’m going for Shabbat dinner this weekend. Ask me who my favorite character on Broad City is. But unless you’re willing to go in-depth in a casual conversation about your own religious journey, please stop asking converts why they chose to become Jewish.
Abby Seitz is a freelance journalist in Chicago.
Image via Flickr/adriana komura