Navigate to Community section

‘I’m a Jew. If That’s a Problem, That’s Your Problem.’

A roundtable discussion with converts to Judaism about why they chose to become Jews, where they have and haven’t felt welcome, and what they think about everything from brisket to Zionism to wearing a Star of David

Abigail Pogrebin
May 24, 2023
The Minyan
Roundtables on the state of the American Jewish community, bringing together people from a shared demographic or background—everyday people with personal opinions, not experts who earn their salaries discussing these issues.
See all in The Minyan →︎
Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine

For this installment of The Minyan, we gathered 10 converts who represent diversity in age, geography, denomination, able-bodiedness, and racial and gender identity. The one common denominator: They all chose to become Jewish. We talked about everything from what drew them to Judaism to family rejection, and whether the larger Jewish community has made them feel equal.

One in six American Jews are converts, according to a recent Pew survey, and thousands convert every year—across denominations, and not just for marriage, but for all sorts of motivations including seeking a different kind of spirituality or belonging, and an ineffable sense of returning to something that was theirs from the start.

Newer Jews rarely get asked how their Judaism is going, so we asked our participants. I didn’t expect to hear so many say they hate to be called “better Jews” for having chosen Judaism. They just want to be known simply as Jews—no better or worse, no less complicated or more monolithic. In the process, I was forced to confront my own biases about whether a Jew without cultural, familial memories can experience the visceral sense of being tied to the past—and whether that tether is in fact necessary, or even important at all. These committed, connected Jewish Americans reminded me that one’s Judaism is defined least by a grandma’s latke recipe.

One participant said he wants to “share the burden of the Jewish people to be a light unto the world,” while another said she discovered that Judaism is about “finding ways to encounter the divine through everyday ritual.” A trans participant said, “My queerness intersects with my Judaism,” and a previously Catholic participant said, “I don’t think I switched Gods; I just became myself.”


Their ages, locations, the religions they were raised with, and the years they converted to Judaism

Will: 52, Houston, raised Methodist, converted in 2021

Juliana: 55, New York City, raised Fundamentalist Christian, Church of Christ, converted in 1995

Fae: 23, Utah, raised LDS, converted in 2020

Genea: 50, Atlanta, raised Methodist, converted in 2015

Quinn: 24, Manhattan, raised “vaguely nondenominational Christian,” converted in 2022

Gershon: 59, Minnesota, raised Catholic in Europe, Conservative conversion in 1997 and Orthodox conversion in 2008

Sian: 58, Brooklyn, “raised in no religion,” converted in 2005

Carl: 73, Philadelphia, raised “staunch Catholic,” converted in 2010

Elizabeth: 22, Stamford, Connecticut, raised Roman Catholic, converted in 2023

Nicole: 49, New York City, baptized Catholic, raised in the Church of Christ, converted in 2003, ordained as a Reform rabbi in 2016

Please raise your hand if you comfortably use the word “convert” to describe yourself. I see eight: Nicole, Will, Juliana, Fae, Quinn, Sian, Elizabeth, Carl. Genea, can you tell me why you didn’t raise your hand?

Genea: Because I never say that. When people ask me, I just tell them that I’m Jewish. I think that my passion for being Jewish shouldn’t matter if I’m a convert or not. I don’t want anyone to judge me or make me feel like I’m less than a Jew because I converted. If someone ever asked the question—“Are you born Jewish?”—I would tell them I converted. But I never start off any conversation like that.

Gershon, can you say why you didn’t raise your hand?

Gershon: Like Genea said, I’m just Jewish. Usually the conversion question only shows up when someone says, “Oh, you’re from [Europe]? How did your family survive the Shoah?” And then I say, “Well, I converted to Judaism.” But other than that, I don’t volunteer it.

Does the word “convert” bother you?

I don’t want anyone to judge me or make me feel like I’m less than a Jew because I converted.

Gershon: It bothers me more when it comes from secular Jews. Sort of like, “Are you trying to overdo your Orthodox observance because you’re a convert?” That hurts.

Can all of you encapsulate in one sentence why you chose to join the Jewish people?

Sian: I’ve always been religious, but Jesus didn’t do anything for me and eventually it became clear that the God of the Jews was my God.

Elizabeth: Judaism has given me the opportunity to see the most authentic version of myself and embrace that most authentic version—which means that as much as I have chosen Judaism, Judaism has also chosen me.

Juliana: I felt like I was actively embracing Judaism because it was such a liberation from, and a change from, the ways in which I had been raised to think about religion and spirituality.

Genea: I chose Judaism because it helps me to be me and have a great relationship with God.

Carl: I returned to Judaism because, as an amateur genealogist and historian, I discovered I had crypto-Jewish heritage in my family. It was just something that I felt was a part of me. I have always known it was there, and I was able to document quite a bit of my background. So, I feel like I’ve returned.

Will: When I married a Jewish woman, I had no intention of converting to Judaism at that time. But as I went to more and more sermons in synagogue, I began to identify as Jewish and wanted, at some point, to make it official.

Fae: I returned to Judaism because the moment that I stepped into a synagogue, it was my spiritual home. It was like coming home.

When you say you were returning, it isn’t a literal return, correct? Were you Jewish before your conversion?

Fae: No. Mine is a spiritual connection.

The moment that I stepped into a synagogue, it was my spiritual home. It was like coming home.

Quinn: I don’t really feel as though I chose. I don’t remember ever making the active choice to convert. It was just something that became more and more apparent to me.

Nicole: I had always been a spiritual seeker, but it wasn’t until I met the man who is now my husband, who was Jewish, that I felt an invitation to explore Judaism, which has become a really meaningful path to spiritual community for me, and also allows me to be my authentic self.

Since you shared that you’re a rabbi, can you talk about the leap you made—from signing on to this religion and then choosing, in a sense, to be one of its leaders?

Nicole: I really jumped in with both feet—much to my husband’s surprise. I got very involved in my synagogue and I loved learning. I wanted to know all of the things that my clergy knew. It was really the love of learning that drew me along this path.

To all of you: Can you raise your hand if someone in your closest family orbit was unhappy with your decision to choose a different religion? I see three of you: Elizabeth, Sian, and Fae.

Elizabeth: I was raised by Irish Catholic parents, and I think every parent has a hope and dream of what they want for their children, but I chose differently. That is something that we work through, and frankly, it’s something that I have not let hinder the identity I hold with the Jewish people.

Does your family’s disappointment still exist today?

Elizabeth: It does, unfortunately. But just as firmly as I have chosen the Jewish people, I have a chosen family in those people. And I’m really thankful for that. I do not know what I would have done without the Jewish people who have become my family.

Sian: My parents were both dead when I converted. But I have a brother and sister and two grown nephews, and I’m exceedingly close to my nephews. I think they have more of a problem with the fact that I sort of came out as religious than with the Judaism per se. I mean, the Judaism is very weird to them. But just my belief—having some sense of God in my life—is really very strange for them. And they’ll ask me guardedly hostile questions, like, “What is it about keeping kosher? What is it?” They sort of want to know, but they’re also a little hostile about it.

Right after the mikvah, I went to my synagogue with my family and my husband’s family, and the rabbi took the Torah out of the ark and handed it to me and told me that everything in it was mine now. I can still feel the weight of the Torah in my arms.

Has that hostility ever shaken you?

Sian: Yes, because I was actually their nanny; their mom died when they were young, and I was nanny for both of them when they were babies. This is the first time that I’ve felt a fundamental wedge between us.

Fae: Two of my siblings are extreme evangelical Christians. They do not like that I have chosen the type of Judaism [Reform] that I have chosen. They really think Chabad is the only valid Judaism. My siblings have very outwardly spoken against me; they have claimed that I worship at the synagogue of Satan and that I worship a false god. It’s put a lot of strain on my familial relationships.

I would love to hear about a very specific moving moment that any of you remember from your conversion process.

Genea: After my conversion, I was given an aliyah at Central Synagogue and my entire family—probably 50 of us—were there. Fifty. That was my most memorable moment.

Nicole: Right after the mikvah, I went to my synagogue with my family and my husband’s family, and the rabbi took the Torah out of the ark and handed it to me and told me that everything in it was mine now. I can still feel the weight of the Torah in my arms.

Will: When I went to the mikvah with my witnesses and my rabbi, that was a very moving experience. I invited to my conversion ceremony pretty much every Jewish person who had influenced my life from childhood all the way to that moment. So I had a pretty good size group of folks in the room, and I was able to speak much more eloquently than I normally would because I felt so spiritual during the entire process.

Quinn: My shul does this thing if it’s your first time there: You can stand up and say hello, your name, where you’re from. I chose not to do that the first time I went there. (This is not the synagogue that I converted through, but it’s the synagogue that I go to now. And I started attending there when I was in the conversion process, and I was there for about nine months before I said hi to anyone.) The week before the Shabbat before my conversion, I stood up and I said, “Hi, I’ve been here for nine months, but I never really introduced myself, then it felt a little bit too late, but”—I’m tearing up now talking about it—I said, “I feel like now is a good time to say hi because I’m going to the mikvah next week.” And I just started sobbing in front of this whole congregation, like I’m about to do now. And so many people just came up and hugged me and it was this really beautiful moment. Then when I came to shul the next week, the rabbi was saying his usual, “Welcome, if this is your first time here, welcome, and if this is your 10th time here, welcome; if this is your first time here as a Jew …” It was just really moving.

Quinn, what do you feel is happening as you recount this that makes you emotional? Is it the memory of feeling exposed? Or maybe held?

Quinn: It was really scary to stand up in front of however many people were there. And then it was really scary to cry in front of that many people. Then, to just be standing there crying and have people come up to me and physically hold me … it was unlike anything I’ve experienced.

Thank you for sharing it. I’d like to turn to the decisions you’ve all made to be publicly Jewish or not. Will, you told me you’ve chosen to wear a Jewish star. How many of you would say you wear something—a kippah, Jewish star, or a mezuzah pendant—that tells the world that you are a Jew? I see six: Will, Nicole, Sian, Gershon, Fae, and Elizabeth is in between. Can a couple of you talk about that choice, particularly now that it feels more perilous to be public in certain situations?

Will: Everyone who grew up with me knows me as a Christian, so when I see them, I like to notify them that I’m Jewish. And it’s not just because of my Jewish wife. It’s much more complicated than that, and I don’t mind exposing that to people I’ve known in the past. I felt like I was reaping the benefits of being Jewish because I was married, and part of my wanting to convert was to take on the responsibility of being Jewish myself. My conversion date was the 25th-year anniversary of my marriage last year, so it was very symbolic for me. My wife says that I got her a diamond necklace and she gave me the gift of Torah. So it doesn’t really equal out, but I definitely got the better end of that bargain. But I wanted to identify and let people know that I’m Jewish and take on that responsibility with my fellow Jews.

I had no idea how I was going to turn myself into a Jew—a New York Jew. How could I even do that? Is it even possible?

Elizabeth: It’s something that I’ve discussed a lot with my rabbi; there are a few things that I’ve been waiting to do until after my mikvah, and that’s one of them. I have a pendant with the Shema and a Star of David on my dresser, and it’s just sitting there waiting, and we’ve discussed the reasons why we would wait. But to talk about your second point very briefly, the word you used, “perilous,” to publicly identify as Jewish, is one I would agree with. Yet every time I’m asked, “What would you do if you were standing in a crowd full of strangers and they asked if you were Jewish—would you still say yes?” Yes, absolutely I would. Because as perilous as it may be to publicly identify yourself as Jewish, it is also perhaps one of the most proud things that I will get to do.

Nicole: Very much like Elizabeth, my best friend gave me a mezuzah pendant to wear when I converted, and I saved it to put on right after the mikvah. And I have worn it pretty much for the past 20 years since.

Fae: I have a Magen David. I wear a headscarf; I cover my hair. And in Utah, I kind of get a mixed reaction. Utah has this weird thing, in my experience, of being culturally appropriative of Judaism, so that people will come up to me and ask what tribe I’m from. Mormons believe that they are from specific tribes. And my response is, “Well, I’m Jewish. That’s all you need to know. My family life doesn’t need to be something we talk about on the street.” What I wear is a choice for pride. I feel more protected. It’s like armor—wearing my head covering. And the Magen David—it’s literally “the Shield of David.”

Gershon: I wear my yarmulke every day. But in certain neighborhoods in Minneapolis I will wear a baseball cap. When I travel, I always have a baseball cap on. Only in Israel—where my son lives—you don’t have to wear a baseball cap. That’s kind of a freeing feeling. But otherwise I’m cautious. I always say, “It’s better to be a living Jew than a dead Jew.”

And since you had an Orthodox conversion, does the yarmulke also convey a certain level of observance?

Gershon: Yes. Yes.

This is a question for whomever it speaks to: Does the denomination in which you converted make a difference to you, or to the other Jews in your life?

Carl: That’s a good question for me, because I was converted in a Conservative denomination, but then I switched over to a modern Orthodox synagogue—it was just dumb luck that there was a Sephardic, 283-year-old synagogue in Philadelphia. So it was, for me, an opportunity to return to my Sephardic roots from Spain and Portugal, to belong to that synagogue. That really meant a lot to me. In fact, our minhag [form of liturgy] is Spanish/Portuguese to this day, different from other Sephardic synagogues. For me, that’s very special, to be able to go back to those roots, because that minhag is pretty much the same that the Jews brought up from Spain—those who were kicked out.

Jews use Jewish geography as a way to close the gap and to find a sense of belonging. And I can’t play that game.

Fae: I converted Reform because there’s not a lot of synagogues in Utah; there are only three. I live in the northern part, and the other two are in the south. That’s where the bigger population center is, but I just don’t have the resources to drive an hour every day or every Shabbat. Plus, driving is not kosher. I identify more with neo-Hasidic thoughts; I really enjoy Rabbi Art Green’s type of Judaism. Give me one Jew who follows all 613 commandments. The denomination doesn’t really matter to me; in my heart I’m Jewish.

Will: I have a good friend who is part of the Orthodox sect, and it’s not so much that he has a problem with my conversion, but with my conversion to Reform Judaism. Reform Judaism, in his mind, is not a serious Judaism; it’s basically one step above atheism in his mind.

Am I correct that he does not recognize your conversion?

Will: Yes. Nor did he come to my conversion celebration, even though he was invited. All my other Jewish friends came. But my sect friend did not. It hasn’t affected our relationship, he just doesn’t believe that I’m fully committed to the cause.

Gershon, can you explain why you chose to have a second conversion?

Gershon: I did a Conservative conversion, got interested in text study, started asking questions: “Now that I’m Jewish, what do I need to do?” Basically I never really got an answer, so I started studying with some Orthodox rabbis, learned a lot of texts. Then I was blessed with two boys, and I looked at the long-term view—the idea that my kids might marry frum, or observant, and a mixed family would probably not look that great. I also looked at the long-term potential of making aliyah to Israel—myself, my wife, and my boys—so an Orthodox conversion was to me a practical one, in addition to being a very spiritual one.

You were looking ahead to the possibility of moving to Israel and wanted a conversion that would be recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, which does not legitimize a non-Orthodox conversion?

Gershon: Yes. That was the reason why. So a lot of it was spiritual, but half of it was practical—for my family, basically.

Genea, I know you’ve been employed at both a Reform and a Conservative synagogue. Have you seen a difference in the community’s response to you as a convert? I know you can’t extrapolate to generalize about each movement, but have you seen a different orientation?

Genea: Yes, very different. I worked at a Reform shul for 15 years, before I ever stepped foot in a Conservative shul. The Reform shul was my home and most people there knew me before I converted. So there was a very warm response to my decision to convert, like, “Genea, thank you; we’re the lucky ones.” When I got to a Conservative shul, I think they were a little surprised that I knew as much as I knew. But not everyone was as open. I can’t say everyone felt like, “Thank you Genea; you did us a favor by joining the Jewish people.” But you know what? It’s all good. I think now, as time has passed, most people I work with and the congregants there see the passion that I have for Judaism, and they respect that, more than anything else.

I would really like for people to teach more and judge less.

Juliana: I had a Reform conversion and have been an active and engaged member of a Reform congregation in New York City for many years. My choice to become a Jew was really one of joy because I felt it was so freeing and liberating. It was giving me tools to actually concentrate on the here and now—the world in which you’re living—rather the faith in which I’d been raised, which put so much credence in thinking about the afterlife, where faith mattered more than your actions. Reform Judaism, to me, was so exciting because it gave credence to saying, “Let’s stay current and think about—be active about—the world in which we live, making it a better place and thereby fulfilling the commandment of tikkun olam,” which is so powerful for me.

In our pre-interview conversation, you mentioned that your recent move to the Upper West Side marks the first time you have felt a little bit like a Jew out of water.

Juliana: Yes, all the years I lived on the Upper East Side in New York, where my synagogue is, I never felt that I was anything but a fully authentic Jew. Until I visited Israel and realized that a Reform Jew in Israel is not an authentic Jew.

You mean not considered by the Chief Rabbinate to be authentic.

Juliana: That’s right. But I didn’t think that I would ever have that feeling in New York City. Recently, my husband and I moved to a different neighborhood—the Upper West Side—and it’s been the first time in my life here that I’ve felt uncomfortable about being considered authentic or not. That came as a surprise to me, I have to admit.

Are you describing a sense that the fellow Jews you see—walking to and from synagogue or the mikvah in your Upper West Side neighborhood—are living by a stricter embrace of mitzvot and the Jewish calendar, and in some way, you’re comparing yourself, or feel disconnection?

Juliana: In some way.

It heightens a kind of delineation.

Juliana: Yes.

Since Juliana mentioned Israel, I want to touch on it. Having joined the Jewish people, do you feel like there’s an expectation that you are also a Zionist?

Quinn: I went to a very progressive college where being a Zionist was like the worst thing that you could be. There was so much Israel-Palestine discourse. Everybody was pro-Palestine. I wouldn’t say that there was necessarily an expectation that I would be a Zionist when I became Jewish, but in my conversion classes, when they talked about Israel, there was no discussion of Palestine at all. And that was really surprising to me, having come from the progressive space that I did.

If you wouldn’t ask about someone’s marriage, hold off on asking about their conversion.

Are you comfortable saying whether you feel—today—that being Zionist is an identity you need to embrace?

Quinn: I don’t feel as though it’s something that I have to have an opinion about. I don’t think it’s something that any Jew should have to have an opinion about. I will say I have become more Zionist in the time since I’ve converted. But I wouldn’t say that that’s necessarily due to any external pressure or expectation.

Juliana: I converted in 1995, so it’s been a lot of years. I don’t think that in any of that time I ever defined myself as a Zionist. But I always had very strong feelings for Israel. Pride. I loved it when I visited Israel. I now have two 20-something children who were raised within the Jewish faith—bar and bat mitzvahed, confirmed. We spoke about Israel when they were growing up—not very deeply, because I wasn’t necessarily so informed, but both of my children went to a college like Quinn describes: very progressive. And it’s now become difficult for me to express the same feelings of pride in the land of Israel with my children because they are very mixed about it. Very mixed. I think this is a reality right now for so many of us.

Elizabeth: The best way for me to recap how I stand on this is to share what one of my mentors says quite regularly: “I am absolutely a Zionist, but what we’re seeing right now perhaps isn’t Zion.” There’s something very sacred and special about Israel. I wholeheartedly believe that. One of my dream goals is to go to Israel and take my shoes off, so there’s nothing between Israel—that Holy Land—and me. Nothing. Barefoot on the ground in Israel. But when I do that, it is going to be Zion. And right now I just don’t think that’s what we’re seeing.

I know this is a little bit hard to get at, but in joining a religion where you don’t have a lifelong experience of it—where you can’t participate in the family’s inside jokes about gefilte fish or “Chad Gadya,” the memories of the synagogue in which your family grew up—are there moments where you feel like you can’t make up for the history and memory shared by the Jews around you?

Sian: Absolutely. That was a huge sticking point for me, when I knew that I had to convert and first went to my synagogue, but I had no idea how I was going to turn myself into a Jew—a New York Jew. How could I even do that? Is it even possible? Luckily, I converted at a super-supportive synagogue. They accepted me as a Jew without batting an eyelash. But the cultural stuff was really hard for me to get a feel for, especially Jewish summer camp. Everybody had been to camp, you know, and learned all the songs in camp, and I didn’t know how to sing all the prayers.

Oh yes, the camp cult! I was left out of that, too.

Sian: I just felt very lonely sometimes. And that’s why I don’t like Pesach. I must be the only Jew who hates it. I hate it. Because it’s all about family and food, and I didn’t have either of those things growing up. For a long time, I was taking notes to try to write a book about Jewish food because there was just nothing more alien to me than gefilte fish and super-boiled vegetables and brisket. It all just seemed very strange. I actually did make some good inroads there: I asked a bunch of older folks at my synagogue to teach me how to make some of their family dishes because I didn’t have a bubbe who taught me how to make tzimmes or soup meat or whatever. So I did learn a lot. But it takes a while.

Nicole: The hardest part for me is that Jews use Jewish geography as a way to close the gap and to find a sense of belonging. And I can’t play that game. So when I tell people that I’m originally from Arizona, they’ll say, “Oh, there’s not a big Jewish population in Flagstaff, is there?” And then I have to say, “Well, I wasn’t Jewish when I lived in Flagstaff.” So there’s a way in which the expectation that everyone should be able to talk about who went to camp with who, both outs converts and can feel really alienating. I’m also with Sian on the food. The fact that there is brisket at every holiday seems like such a shame to me.

Elizabeth: This is something I struggled with for a very long time, and in several ways I still do. But one of the greatest reminders to me that really helps is that while I did not grow up going to Jewish camps and I did not go to Hebrew school or a Jewish day school, my neshama [soul] was there at Sinai with everyone else’s.

We should all be questioning or wrestling with our Jewishness, but I think for a convert it’s a little more.

When you say your neshama was at Sinai, how would you explain that to someone who doesn’t understand what you mean?

Elizabeth: It means that there is a connection between me and this sacred text, the sacred tradition of Torah, that started well before the physicality of my life. Whether Sinai was a literal occurrence in your belief or Sinai was the ultimate symbolic story, my soul was there.

Thank you. Please finish your answer as to whether you feel there’s a cultural family history you can’t, as a convert, attain.

Elizabeth: At Yom Kippur, one of my favorite rabbis—I look up to her in so many ways—delivered a phenomenal sermon at Central Synagogue called “All of You.” It talked about when Moses stood on the plains of Moab and said, “Atem netzavim hayom kol chem” [“You all stand here today before Adonai, your God”] and how “kol chem” includes all of us, too. So while we don’t have these cultural memories of Bubbe’s soup and wrapping your pinky around your dad’s tallit at services, we do have these core memories of the history of our Jewish people and that’s something that means so much more to me.

Raise your hand if you have had any kind of experience in the Jewish community that was not welcoming. I see five: Nicole, Quinn, Elizabeth, Sian, and Gershon.

Gershon: For me, it was my in-law family. When I first started dating my wife, it came up that I wasn’t Jewish, and I didn’t want to convert just to accommodate a marriage because they were not very religious. But when I did convert...sometimes there were some hurtful expressions, and I would tell my wife, and she’d say they were all in jest. But it [still hurt].

Sian: I had one experience: I flew from New York to the Midwest, and I sat next to a young Orthodox mom who had a baby who was crying. And I helped her out as much as I could. We got to talking and I was all full of my conversion and I told her my story; I felt like we really bonded, we were on a wavelength. At the end of the conversation, after like an hour, she said, “Well, wouldn’t you like to really convert?” And I thought, “Wow, man. I’d thought you got me.”

Carl: For the most part I was very welcome, but I felt a little bit awkward when I switched over from the Conservative synagogue to the Sephardic one. And of course, being modern Orthodox, the first thing the rabbi said was, “I’m not sure that they taught you everything you were supposed to know. Maybe we need to have you get some instructions here, and do a conversion with us.” I chose not to. And he wasn’t happy about that. But for whatever reasons, my membership had to go to a board vote, and the board voted to accept me as a member. It kind of put a distance between me and the rabbi because I’ve never felt comfortable around him since. And even when I get called up for an aliyah, especially by him, he looks at me and I don’t feel like I’m an equal in his eyes. So that’s bothered me a lot. Of course, now I’m on the board of trustees, and so things are a little bit more awkward for him because he sees me all the time. We just agreed to disagree on this.

Quinn: A month before my conversion, I wanted to have a Shabbat dinner and I invited a friend of mine who had previously been very supportive of my conversion, and he said that he felt uncomfortable coming, because he felt that a Shabbat dinner should be hosted by a Jew. He did not consider me a Jew. And I told him that was really hurtful, that I was about to be Jewish in a month, that I wanted to practice these things. And he felt the need to go and check with his rabbi if it was OK for me to host a Shabbat dinner. His rabbi said, “Yes, of course it is.” As did mine. So he came to my Shabbat dinner. But I have to say, I have not been nearly as close with him since.

Jews just need to be reminded that at the times of family gatherings or Jewish holidays, they should think about the converts and welcome them.

The last question is this: What is one thing you would like the larger Jewish community to know or think about when it comes to converts in their midst?

Genea: I would really like for people to teach more and judge less. Sometimes when people do find out that you are a convert, they test you—to try to figure out how much you know—instead of offering to teach you more. I would like to be taught more, not tested as much.

Nicole: I’d like to make sure other Jews know that our conversion story is a very intimate story, not always one that is appropriate to ask about at the oneg. If you wouldn’t ask about someone’s marriage, hold off on asking about their conversion.

Fae: I encourage people to be in dialogue with me, but we should have kavannah—intention—that isn’t invasive or deeply personal. Get to know us first before you ask how my mikvah was.

Carl: People have to remember that converts generally are the only ones in their particular families that have converted. I’m lucky because I’m married to an Ashkenazi Jew, so I have her family as my community. But I have many friends back in New Mexico who have converted, and it’s very lonely for them during the Jewish holidays, because their only families are other converts or their fellow congregants. I think Jews just need to be reminded that at the times of family gatherings or Jewish holidays, they should think about the converts and welcome them.

Quinn: I’d like the Jewish community to remember we’re not any better or worse Jews than anybody else. There’s a stereotype that converts are better Jews because we care more. But we’re just Jews.

Gershon: It is a struggle to be Jewish, even without being a convert. We should all be questioning or wrestling with our Jewishness, but I think for a convert it’s a little more.

Will: One of my rabbis taught that all Jews converted on Mount Sinai. So going way back, we were all converts at the beginning.

Juliana: It’s not that we are converts. It’s that we are Jews.

Elizabeth: A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

Sian: I’m a Jew. If that’s a problem, that’s your problem. I’m happy. I’m happy.

Elizabeth completed her conversion on May 18, 2023.

Abigail Pogrebin is the author of Stars of David and My Jewish Year. She moderates the interview series “What Everyone’s Talking About” at the JCC in Manhattan.