HOW TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT
YOUR CONVERSION TO JUDAISM
There is no right answer to the question of when to tell people about your decision to convert to Judaism. In this section, I am going to discuss telling your parents about the conversion, although these general ideas can be applied to telling others as well.
People vary greatly in their approach. Some write a letter. Others talk over dinner. Some drop hints, such as giving books on Judaism, to get their parents used to the idea of conversion. Some never tell a parent.
You should decide, in consultation with a partner, a rabbi, a trusted friend, or a counselor about the best approach for you. I have asked various people with a lot of experience about this issue. This section is a summary of their views. Do not, however, take these suggestions as the ones you should necessarily follow. You need, most of all, to trust your own judgment. Only you know the situation best. Here, then, are the suggestions:
(1) Think through your feelings. Practice talking them out. Consider rehearsing telling your parents.
(2) Most experts think telling parents in person and to both parents at the same time is best. Obviously, this is the very moment that many people find the most difficult. If this is not possible, consider alternatives.
(3) Telling your parents as soon as possible is best. The danger in delay, such as by only dropping hints at first, is that the parents will hear about the conversion to Judaism from others or unintentionally provide awkward moments at family gatherings. Ideally, telling parents should be done prior to a wedding to allow all parents to participate in the planning of the wedding. Such participation reenforces the idea that parents are not being abandoned.
(4) There is no special time to tell. Of course, such an announcement shouldn't be made during days of obvious religious significance, such as Easter or Christmas, or even obvious personal significance such as a birthday or anniversary.
(5) There is a difference of opinion among those with whom I spoke about whether or not to bring a Jewish partner to the discussion. Most people said it was better to speak to parents alone. Others needed the support and help their partners gave during this potentially difficult time.
(6) In telling your parents about your conversion to Judaism, discuss what you find attractive about Judaism, how it met a particular need, how it helped a relationship, how you feel closer to, not further from, your parents, in part because of Judaism's emphasis on family. Make it clear that it was your choice to convert and the conversion was not due to emotional pressure from your partner or partner's family. This statement of your reasons needs to be accompanied by reassuring your family of your continuing love, of the obvious fact that you will always be their child and be part of the family. Some parents feel they are being rejected, so it is crucial to tell them that is not the case.
(7) Be prepared for a range of reactions from support to shock to total disapproval. In general, remain calm, show an understanding of any resistance to the idea of converting, and stick to your views. Be polite, but firm.
(8) Follow up a visit with a letter or phone call.
The vast majority of converts to Judaism with whom I have spoken report that they received support from their parents, or some initial resistance and then support. There were cases, however, of continuing resistance. If your parents do reject your religious conversion, remember that parents may in time change. In the meanwhile, seek support from your partner and from within the Jewish community while constantly seeking continued communication with your parents.
Perhaps most of all, try to maintain a sense of humor and a clear display of love.