Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Converting a child

I was doing my weekly reading on a variety of sites this morning and came across this interesting article about the challenges of converting a child to Judasim.  I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the author's concerns and felt like while some may be true, others are totally off base in my opinion.

Let me be clear that EG is not a converted child.  I am a Jewish mother, therefore EG is born as a Jewish child.  However, I have experience in being a converted child myself, since my Mother wasn't born Jewish and converted after I was born.  So, technically I'm a Jew by choice myself.  A choice my parents made for me when I was just around 5-7 years old.

I remember my conversion in great detail. I remember going to ttemple that day to have my mom talk to the Bet Dien. I remember going to the beach to go into the water- my mother, my sister and I.  My dad came in with us, to support and encourage us.  I remember being the first one to dive in, with the Rabbi on the beach. 

When I was in college I was considering moving to Israel, but was concerened that I wouldn't be able to get married, that my conversion may not have been considered halachically valid, so I contacted the Rabbi who oversaw our conversions (Rabbi Artson, now at the AJU) and chatted with him more about what the process was like, and how it was validated.  I know that there are some both here and abroad that will never recognize our Conversative Converstion- despite the Torah teaching that those who convert are to be treated the same, but generally, I feel good about my religious identity.

When I read the article about  converting your children, I can't help but be saddened by some of her experiences.  Her first point about converting a child with their own religion is spot on.  Nothing to be said about that.  It's definitely possible as a child to take an interest and to claim a religion outside of your parents, and converting a child against their will won't end up being the right thing, nor, I believe, halachically valid.  

However, point number two I have more trouble with.  I resent the idea that the children will never be accepted by their Jewish peers.  There are so many people with so many different backgrounds in my Jewish life.  There are many who come from blended families, some who are Jewish on both sides, and I don't think for a moment that any of them think less of us because of our families background. 

I don't think that I've felt 'like an outsider.'  Many of the things she complains about are also true of people who move across the country.  I was born on the East coast, but moved here to CA when I was in kindergarten. So no, I couldn't have been the great-granddaughter of a member of this temple.  And no, I couldn't have known the other Jewish kids since birth.  Does that matter?  People move all the time, and not fitting in likely would have less to do with your religious background, and more to do with your personal history in the area.  Did I fit in fabulously with my class?  No, but I think that was more because this religious school was more advanced than mine, and I skipped all of 5th grade so I could bat mitzvah on time.  Do we always fit in everywhere?  No.

I feel sad that she thinks this is a primary problem- fitting in.  There are Israeli's I know at school who don't understand some of the yiddish references, or the Americanisms.  Does their child 'not fit in'?  She's my daughter's best friend!

Point three is an interesting one, and one that I really struggled with getting Working Dad to understand.  That there is a fundamental difference in being the minority in a majority Christian country.  That by marrying me, having children with me, he was creating a world where people who liked him the day before our wedding, would dislike him the day after.  That there would be people who would literally hate our children just for being born.  That I was asking him to take that on as part of our marriage.  And that was hard.  But I also think she misses the point.  Every Jewish family might have to deal with moments of stereotyping, discrimination, etc.  But so does my sister-in-law, who gets flack for having 6 kids.  So does my sister for being interracial.  We all have to stand-up to idiots and bullies. 

Point number four makes me sad for her.   And it's a fear I have for our own little EG.  I don't think there is someone in our family in particular, but I worry about her each Easter, when some insists that she eat pie or chocolate with corn syrup.  I worry about someone from our extended family wanting to save her soul.  But the truth is that this wouldn't have any effect on our being a Jewish family- we'd be right where we are regardless.

I hope the author has grown to feel loved, accepted, and happy in her judaism.  If she's writing for Kveller, then it seems she has.  But I also want to make sure that her perspective hasn't turned away another family from converting.  If it's the right thing for you, then it's the right thing for you.

 Dear EG running up and down the aisles of synagogue, much like I did when I was young.  However, we don't know that we'll be going to this synagogue forever.  We might move when she's five or six or ten.  Then all of the things the author worries about will be true- she'll be the new kid on the block...

Here she is with one of the Rabbi's sons.  Playing,enjoying together.  Never has she or I felt like we didn't belong, like we couldn't engage or interact with those of different levels of religious identity. 

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