GUIDE FOR JEWISH PARENTS
CONVERSION TO JUDAISM: A GUIDE FOR JEWISH PARENTS
This information is for Jewish parents who have a son or daughter dating, engaged to, or married to someone who has converted to Judaism or who may convert in the future. At first, many Jewish parents are concerned about their son or daughter being romantically involved with someone who was not born Jewish. Some parents experience feelings of pain, guilt, anger, and helplessness. It is important to remember that if your son or daughter is married to someone who has converted to Judaism, then there is no intermarriage. An intermarriage means a marriage between someone born Jewish and someone born non-Jewish who has not converted.
If your son or daughter's partner has not yet converted, remember that, through your kindness and help, the partner may consider conversion. If you are dealing with one of these situations, consider the suggestions below.
* Learn all you can about the subject of conversion to Judaism. There are some suggested readings on this web site. Talk to a rabbi and to those who have converted. Learning is important because it can dispel many myths about conversion.
Many Jews were brought up to believe, for example, that converts are somehow not really Jewish, or that welcoming converts has been outside the Jewish tradition. Remember that Abraham and Sarah were not born Jewish and Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David. A sincere convert is genuinely Jewish. The real Jewish tradition is to accept and welcome converts.
At one time in Jewish history Jews were able to announce the availability of conversion very openly. We stopped at first mostly because we were persecuted when so many people actually did convert. Untold numbers of people have chosen to become Jewish in our history.
Learning about conversion is important in order to accept and welcome converts. Such learning will increase knowledge about some of the reasons why converts will help the Jewish people:
(1) Converts will add to our numbers.
(2) Increased conversions among the romantically-involved will reduce intermarriages.
(3) Converts will make their own unique and special contributions to Jewish life.
(4) Seeing someone want to become Jewish should make all born Jews reflect on the value of their heritage.
* Express and explore your feelings. Talk over your feelings with your son or daughter, other members of the family, and friends. Of course, talk to a rabbi and others who can provide professional advice and help. Most Jewish parents who have a new son-in-law or daughter-in-law who has converted become proud that the person has chosen to become Jewish. Also, be sensitive to the needs of the person who has converted or is considering doing so. Obviously, such a time can include uncertainty and confusion. Also be sensitive to language. Some people who have become Jewish prefer to be called a "Jew by Choice," or a "Choosing Jew," or some other name. Some find the term "convert" offensive.
* If your son or daughter's partner has not converted, help the partner learn about conversion to Judaism. Very frequently in a relationship that could lead to or already is an intermarriage, no one in the family even suggests examining the option of conversion. Of course, do not use any kind of threat or pressure. Love, kindness, and patience are the keys here.
* If your son or daughter's partner is converting or has converted accept and welcome that partner. It is vital also to help the partner become part of Jewish life. This can be done by patiently answering questions. But don't worry if you don't know the answers. You can ask a rabbi and learn more about Judaism. Explain all you can about a Jewish home. It is especially important to give a new Jew a sense of feeling part of the Jewish people, of pride in being Jewish, and knowledge about some of the expressions, food, attitudes, and so on. Celebrate with that partner. Have a Sabbath meal together. Have a Passover seder. Observe all the holidays you do ordinarily, but do it together. If you don't celebrate many traditions yet, teaching a newcomer to Judaism about those traditions provides a good moment for you to celebrate more of them. Actually, when someone in a family converts it is common that all the born Jews in the family learn more about their own Jewish heritage as the convert learns. If appropriate, go to conversion ceremonies where you can. Give Jewish gifts. Your patience, humor, and support can bring the entire family closer together.
* Help your grandchildren lead Jewish lives. Stay in touch with them, taking care of them when you can. Tell them stories about your parents, about your own life, and about your son or daughter. With permission, give them Jewish books, music, videos, and other presents. It would be very helpful if you prepared a family tree so your grandchildren will know their roots. Write down stories or prepare an audiocassette or videotape in which you tell such stories. Tell the stories that you remember over the years that you want to pass on to your family.
* Let the Jewish community know how wonderful it is to welcome those who become Jewish. Letting people know of your positive experiences will help other Jewish parents with new Jews in their families. Jewish life is always exciting. Part of the new Jewish world is the large number of people who have chosen to become Jewish. There are about 200,000 Jews by Choice in the United States today. These people need your support and your acceptance.