Conversion to Judaism Resource Center

LEARNING JEWISH CULTURE

Those who join the Jewish people not only have to learn the beliefs and practices of a new religion, but they must also become part of an ethnic group. Conversion to Judaism takes an extended time of adaptation precisely because so much needs to be absorbed. During the time of learning, many who become Jewish feel awkward or even still feel like outsiders despite the fact that they have converted. There are several steps to take to speed up the process of learning Jewish culture and so feeling a part of the Jewish group as well as the Jewish religion. Here are some suggestions for developing a Jewish ethnic and cultural consciousness:

(1) Learn some Hebrew and Yiddish non-religious terms that are commonly used. These, of course, should be in addition to Hebrew and other terms used for religious purposes. Leo Rosten's book The Joys of Yiddish is particularly funny and useful. Other more recent books on Yiddish sayings are also useful. To get you started, here are a few:
a. mensch (rhymes with "bench"). A good, decent person. "He's a real mensch").
b. schlepp (rhymes with "pep"). To drag behind. "Don't schlepp that all the way over here."
c. potchkeh (rhymes with "notch ka"). A playful slap; to waste time ("Don't potchkeh around, we've got work to do").

(2) Learn the names (and tastes) of some key foods. Include, among others, challah (braided bread), potato latkes, gefilte fish, tsimmes (a side dish of carrots and prunes), kreplach (dough filled with meat), and latkes (pancakes made of grated potatoes and fried in oil).

(3) Listen to some Jewish comedians. There is a special brand of Jewish humor that is part of American Jewish ethnic identification. Of course, other aspects of culture (especially Jewish-oriented movies, music, and books) are also helpful.

These and similar activities can make new Jews become comfortable with their Jewish identity.