FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get started? What is the first step?
The first thing you must do is find the rabbi that you want to work with towards conversion. That involves deciding which movement of Judaism you want to convert into – Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Orthodox or Renewal. Start by reading about the different movements. Remember that even if you pick a movement and begin working with a rabbi, should you change your mind you can always discuss it with your rabbi and switch. Go to services at a couple of congregations; meet and talk to people who have converted there. (We can connect you to converts at SF Bay Area synagogues.) Once you know where you want to convert, contact the rabbi by calling him or her. Tell them that you would like to meet with them to discuss conversion.
How long will it take to convert?
Generally speaking, it typically takes a year. Rabbis want you to experience the full Jewish calendar. However, it can take longer if you are going slowly, don’t have time to meet with the rabbi regularly or are having personal conflicts with the ideas in Judaism It may take less time if you are married to someone Jewish and have been leading a Jewish life for some years.
What if I am not married to or dating a Jew, will I be accepted by the rabbi for conversion?
YES! Rabbis are delighted when someone comes to Judaism as a seeker from their own ethical and/or theological studies. Once a woman called and said, “I am 72 years old and I have always loved everything I heard about Judaism. I want to die a Jew.” Another time a man called to say, “I have a Masters in Comparative Religion; I know I want to be Jewish. Don’t tell me no!” In each case a rabbi was most happy to teach and convert them.
What if I am married to a Jew but my spouse is not interested in Judaism?
The first thing you need to do is determine whether your conversion would be destructive to your marriage. If your spouse can accept that you will be active as a Jew and not be threatened by you or angry with you, then go for it. If you converting might tear your marriage apart, consider going to counseling before you convert.
Can I convert if I’m gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered?
The short answer is yes. The vast majority of gay seekers choose Reform conversions. Some choose Renewal, Reconstructionist or Conservative. Each of these movements welcomes gay Jews and gay converts. Many Bay Area synagogues make real efforts to gather in gay Jews. Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco is a primarily gay synagogue. They have a conversion mentoring program. Other synagogues with smaller gay memberships have chavurot (friendship circles) within their shul to meet the needs of LGBT Jews who want to have separate activities. However, most gay Jews simply participate in the life of their synagogue shoulder to shoulder with straight Jews. If you want to convert with a gay rabbi it may be a bit more challenging because you’ll have to drive to the city where that rabbi works. There are gay rabbis at synagogues in San Francisco, Berkeley and Alameda.
What if I am a person of color? Can I convert? Will I be accepted as a Jew?
Jews exist all around the globe; they come in all colors and races. Yes, you too can be a Jew of color. Most American Jews are Ashkenazi – that is, they are of Eastern European descent. They have an idea of what Jews “look like” and that is white. However, 14% of SF Bay Area Jewish families are now multiracial. So you will see born Jews who are multiracial in synagogues. Do born Jews say inappropriate things? Unfortunately, yes. However, once you are ensconced in your own synagogue you will come to belong and people do forget that you are Asian or black or whatever. There are presidents of synagogues that are Jews of color; there are no barriers to participation as a Jew. Should you meet with negative behavior, tell your rabbi. He or she will want to nip it in the bud.
Locally there is a terrific organization that advocates for and support Jews of color called, Be’chol LaShon ("in many tongues"). If you want an immersion experience as a Jew of color, go to their events.
Do you have more questions? Email Dawn at email@example.com.