This article is devoted to educating Jews about comments that are hurtful to converts – comments that no convert should hear. We recognize that not all Jewish communities are the same, but mistreatment of converts is a widespread problem. It will not disappear unless the problem is made known. We must take action to stop this desecration of the Name. Denial is not a solution.
Dor Deah is committed to establishing communities where attitudes of superiority will be disdained and new members embraced.
“You only get mistreated because you let people know you converted. Don’t tell them and you won’t be mistreated.” — Besides that this advice encourages the convert to feel as though it is a shame he converted, it also does not take into consideration the following or similar scenarios:
Someone introduces a convert by saying, “Meet Bob. He’s a convert.”
Even if the guy introducing the convert doesn’t give it away, the new person asks:
Yosi: “Hi. My name’s Yosi. I’m from Flatbush. Where are you from?”
Moshe: “Oh… I’m from Jerusalem. My name’s Moshe.” — Moshe tries to avoid giving away his childhood home.
Yosi: “Wow! Your English is really good. Where are your parents from?
Moshe tries to avoid a conversation about his parents: “Well… I actually grew up in the U.S., but I’ve lived in Jerusalem for many years.”
Yosi: “Ah. Where ’bouts?”
Moshe tries to change the direction of the conversation: “I learned for several years in yeshiva, in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood. After that I was at Bar Ilan University for three years then returned to yeshiva in Jerusalem.”
Yosi: “No no. Where in the U.S. are you from?”
Moshe: “Well, I’m originally from the southern U.S.” — Moshe thinks to himself, “Here we go. Another one of those conversations.”
Yosi: “Oh really? I have an aunt in Florida. Are you from Miami? Boca Raton? Hollywood?”
Moshe: “Actually… How was it growing up in New York?” — Moshe gives another try at redirecting the conversation.
Yosi: “You know… everyone’s from New York. It’s nothing special, but I like it. All my friends are there. So where did you grow up? You might know my cousins in Miami.”
Moshe: “Well, I’m originally from Mississippi.”
Yosi: “Wow! Mississippi? I thought that’s a southern draw I was hearing. That’s so cool. Were your parents secular?”
Moshe: “Not really. They had a lot of morals in common with the Orthodoxy.” — Moshe doesn’t want to present his parents in a negative light, relative to Orthodoxy.
Yosi: “So what were they doing in Mississippi?”
Moshe: “You know, there are Jews everywhere.” — Moshe thinks to himself, “…This isn’t right. Torah’s not supposed to make me mislead :(“
Yosi: “…Yeah, but that’s secular Jews. I don’t think there’s even a Conservative shul in Mississippi. Did you get to have a bar mitzva?”
Moshe: “Emm, well… I didn’t exactly have a party; but, you know, a bar mitzva is really something that automatically happens when a Jewish boy turns 13.”
Yosi: “Man. Isn’t Mississippi like the buckle of the Bible-Belt? I bet Christians drove you nuts growing up. Did you at least get out of school for the Hagim (Jewish Holy Days)?
Moshe: “Well, to be honest…” (Moshe gets tired of beating around the bush) “…I didn’t really know about the Hagim growing up.”
Yosi: “Did you at least get to celebrate Hanukka or Purim?”
Moshe: “Not really…”
Yosi: “What?! Even the Reform celebrate Hanukka and Purim! Were your parents Christian or something?
Moshe: “Actually yeah…”
Yosi: “But you’re mother was Jewish, right?”
Moshe: “Well, she taught me a lot of Jewish principles…”
Yosi: “Ah. So, she wasn’t Jewish?”
Moshe: “Um, yeah… I converted.”
Yosi: “Oh. That’s so unusual. Did you have a Jewish girlfriend or something?”
Moshe: “No… I was just a serious Christian and studied the Bible in depth. It eventually lead me to want to be Jewish.”
Yosi: “That’s amazing. You had to have been a Jew in your past life. I’m just curious… What was your name before you converted?”
Moshe: “It was Tom Dupree.”
Yosi: “You know what Tom? My sister has a friend who converted. You should get to know each other.”
The fact that people are not supposed to remind converts that they didn’t always keep Torah does not mean that converts should be made to feel like they need to keep the fact that they converted top secret. Converts should not feel compelled to dodge questions when meeting people in order to maintain a sense of respect in the community. Anyone who suggests that the solution to mistreatment of converts is for converts to proactively hide the fact that they converted actually gives strength to the very ignorance that produces such mistreatment.
R’ Yosef Eliyah
Related Article: “Thou shalt insult the convert?“
* DorDeah.com is an independent organization. DorDeah.com is not affiliated with www.mechon-mamre.org, the “Torath Moshe Society,” nor Chabad-Lubavitch. Though we are grateful for the contributions of these organizations in providing Mishne Torah resources, we do not endorse all the views espoused by these organizations.