10 Things to Know about the Conversion Process

If you've considered becoming Jewish, or are currently in the process, here are some things to keep in mind.
John Propper

Choosing a Jewish life means many things. To some, it represents a significant investment of time for study, prayer and contemplation. To others, it signals an invitation to be part of a rich and storied tradition. Others may describe it in terms such as "coming home" or "finding a family." If you've considered becoming Jewish, or are currently in the process, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. There are many Jews-by-choice.

There was a time when conversion to Judaism was less frequent, but today, Jews-by-choice can be found in most any Jewish community. We are a significant part of Jewish life, participating in leadership, education and programming.

2. You'll never stop learning.

It's a common misconception that most extensive Jewish learning stops (or should stop) after conversion. On the contrary, Judaism is filled with history, law, and spirituality! Be open to lifelong learning, and don't blame yourself for not being an expert. Most Jews aren't, regardless of their background.

3. Be comfortable with yourself.

Questions like, "Why convert to Judaism?" may get tiresome, even when coming from well-meaning loved ones or fellow Jews. For this reason, Jewish tradition teaches that reminding a Jew-by-choice of their conversion can be insensitive. Don't feel pressured to share more than you're willing. Most people in your community will understand.

4. Be honest.

Be honest with yourself and your rabbi during the conversion process. Share how you're feeling about the experience, including any misgivings you have. If you're serious about conversion, they won't turn you away during your doubts. In fact, more than one fellow convert has told me how liberating it can feel to have support from a sponsoring rabbi in moments of questioning.

5. There is no one type of Jew.

Sometimes Jews-by-choice fear that we'll stick out. After all, many of us didn't have formative Jewish memories: summer camps, Hanukkah presents, Shabbat dinners at grandma's house. But you know what? That's OK! There's no single Jewish background; even many Jews-by-birth haven't had those experiences. Authentic Jews come from all walks of life. The best way to be authentically Jewish is to be yourself.

6. You might not enjoy all of it.

Some of us like learning Hebrew, but for others of us, it's intimidating. Some of us appreciate the parts of a prayer service, while others of us prefer Shabbat at home. Just because some things speak to you more than others doesn't mean Judaism, as a whole, is wrong for you. Each of us takes some time to find our paths.

7. Experimenting with tradition is fun.

Liberal Jewish communities encourage members to build a personal practice by exploring tradition. Not all Jews keep kosher, for instance, but others find an adapted practice meaningful. Not all Jews pray three times daily, but some find that it builds gratitude and inner peace. Consider taking on Jewish practices to build a spirituality that meets your needs and helps you to grow; each practice is unique, and the process can be fun.

8. There are Jewish opportunities everywhere.

While my community has been the most important influence on my Jewish identity, other projects helped a lot too. They're a great way to meet fellow Jews, and to experience the varieties of Jewish life. Find Jewish websites where you can share your story and connect with others, some of them fellow converts! When you're ready and you feel comfortable, it can be worthwhile.

9.  Jewish culture can bridge the gap.

There are many pieces of Jewish culture - food, language, and the arts - that aren't explicitly religious. For some, Jewish culture can bridge the gap between our ordinary daily lives and those days when we engage in religious practices, like attending services. Trying out a Jewish recipe, perhaps or watching a film on Jewish history can build our connectedness with the Jewish people as a whole and reaffirm our identity as Jews.

10. Every experience is unique.

Likely the biggest misconception about conversion is that the process is the same for everyone. It's not! For some, the process is short, a matter of months or just a year. Others may prepare much longer. In liberal Judaism, even the rituals in a conversion ceremony may vary, based on the preferences or beliefs of your sponsoring rabbi (and, in Reform Judaism, with your input).

There's no single path. Feel confident enough to carve your own. Blessings, and best of luck on your journey!

Learn more about choosing Judaism or find a Judaism class near you (or online).