AN OPEN LETTER TO JEWS BY CHOICE
We who were born Jewish need you.
There are about 200,000 of you out there. One of every 37 American Jews is a Jew by Choice rather than a Jew by birth.
Many of you have taken leadership roles in your congregations and organizations, becoming presidents and youth leaders, and teachers in our Hebrew schools. Some of you, with quiet dignity, are leaders at home where you pass on the unique beauty of the Jewish heritage. You learn Judaism with your children. More than once you have taught your born Jewish partner some insight about Judaism. Some of you have absorbed Judaism so fully you think of yourselves as having been accidentally born into the wrong family. Others of you see the continuity between your previous identity and your current one. Some of you take your new identity with simple joy. Some of you have written and spoken eloquently about your spiritual journey. Others speak with your quiet, private acts when you light candles, bake, pray, care for the sick in a local hospital. Some of you, with Talmudic justification, don't want to be reminded of a previous religious identity, and so don't think it is fair to be singled out as a convert or Jew by Choice; others of you don't mind such a designation, often accepting it with pride. I hope you all will be forgiving if I address you as Jews by Choice and not simply as that which you are--Jews.
You have the potential to make, as a group, an historic contribution to Jewish life. We, who have called upon you to do so much, call again and ask for even more. You can change American Jewish life.
Yes, we need your numbers. You 200,000 and your children add to our demographic density, and so to our political and economic power. You add to our communities so we can sustain our communal lives. Yes, we need your charitable contributions, your membership, your time. Yes, we need you to serve as role models for non-Jews intermarried to Jews so that those non-Jews will consider conversion and, looking at you, see it as a positive choice. We need you for all these prudential reasons and more. But those are not the reasons I have in mind. You can make a more profound contribution, one that is ultimately spiritual.
What do we need from you? What can you do? Here are some suggestions. I hope you will consider these and add many more of your own.
--We need you to tell us of your experiences. We need to hear your stories. There has been a large gap in Jewish history since the last time large numbers of people became Jewish. Your stories make conversion more familiar to us. You send us back to our past when Judaism welcomed untold numbers to its ranks and was proud to do so, seeing in such an effort the acting out of a divine mandate to offer Judaism to the world. You remind us of our universal purpose, one that we have neglected.
Please, tell us about your inner struggle to decide that Judaism was right for you. Tell us about your conflict with a parent, your encounter with one of us who uttered a mean-spirited word to you, your meeting one of us who showed you loving kindness. We need to hear about your secret fears and your fond memories that are difficult to let go of.
Tell us why you wanted to become Jewish. It is enormously validating for us to hear that there are people who voluntarily choose to accept a Jewish identity. Our own identities, so fragile as a minority in American culture, are strengthened by such choices; your act of choosing Judaism makes our act of remaining Jewish seem simultaneously easier and more worthwhile. Tell the stories to our congregations and organizations, to our Jewish community centers and Ys, to our children in Hebrew school, and to our parents in their senior citizens groups, but also tell the stories to your friends and your family, to the non-Jewish world. If you wish to, write about your experiences in a congregational bulletin, local newspaper, or in one of the national Jewish or general media.
--Give us advice. Tell us how we can be more welcoming. Tell us what we can do at every stage to make your initial entry and eventual assimilation into our community easier. Tell us how, together, we can make it known to the public that Judaism is available for those who freely choose it, that conversion is allowed within Judaism, that anyone can choose to join the Chosen People.
--Organize. Speak as a group. You can develop support groups for those thinking about converting, those studying for conversion, and those who have completed the conversion. You can monitor cases where converts suffer discrimination within the Jewish community and fight to end all such discrimination. You can go on trips to Israel together and show the people and government there as well as American born Jews of the contributions that Jews by Choice make to Israel. As a group, you can lobby the Jewish community to be more active in welcoming converts. You are in a unique position to provide information to non-Jews who are interested in learning about Judaism in general, or specifically about conversion.
There is much that needs to be done. It may be an irony, but it is nonetheless true that Jews by Choice can provide the kind of energizing leadership that will revitalize the entire Jewish community. Don't be timid. Don't have self-doubts. It is time to get to work. Thank you.
This article originally appeared in the October, 1994 issue of Moment. Reprinted by permission.