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I’m a Transgender Peace Activist Who Converted to Judaism. I Wasn’t Expecting My Fellow Progressives to Turn on Me.

As soon as I put on the Star of David, I was accused of supporting apartheid by my former friends on the left

Bex Gerber
January 18, 2018
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Demonstrators in lower Manhattan protest against Israel's recent military campaign in Gaza on July 24, 2014 in New York City.Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Demonstrators in lower Manhattan protest against Israel's recent military campaign in Gaza on July 24, 2014 in New York City.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Here’s what they don’t tell you when converting to Judaism: Everyone has an opinion on Israel. And once you convert, everyone has an opinion regarding your opinions on Israel.

To say I chose a rather interesting time to convert to Judaism is an understatement. Considering the current political climate, I’ll admit that I braced myself for certain negative reactions to my being Jewish. Being queer, transgender, and Hispanic, I’ve had my share of slurs thrown at me.

My social group and volunteer work are where I find a safe place from the nonsense outside. If things got bad after my conversion, I had this community to turn to. Imagine my surprise, then, to find accusations and anger not from the usual suspects, but from my own progressive communities. To give a few choice examples:

1) My Catholic parents bought me a Star of David necklace to celebrate my conversion. I showed this to someone I had attended numerous LGBT events with. Their response was to call it “pro-apartheid jewelry” and said I was wearing “that star on the Jewish flag.”

2) For about a year, I catalogued footage of humanitarian disasters during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for use by a humanitarian organization. I’m proud of that work. I mentioned my conversion to a few friends who knew me at the time. All immediately asked if I had changed my views on Israeli politics.

3) Whenever I mention my conversion to anyone in my larger social circle, the response is never congratulations. Four out of five times, I’m immediately grilled on my views regarding Israeli policy.

When I chose to convert, my rabbi made it very clear that conversion was just a ritual. “You’re already Jewish,” he told me. “This is confirmation of what already exists.” In some ways, that’s true. I was the same person when I entered the bet din as I was when I exited the mikveh. What has changed, though, is how others see me regardless of who or what I am.

Talking about my experiences today on social media, I was surprised by how many private messages I received from other Jewish folk (converts or not) who have experienced the same. So many of us have similar experiences. Honestly, I don’t know how to respond to that. I had hoped that my experiences were unique only because I wouldn’t wish negativity on anyone. Now I’ve discovered that, in many ways, anti-Semitism exists across the political spectrum. All that changes is how bigotry manifests. But what can you say to those who have already deemed you an aggressor?

Jews are not a monolithic group. We all know the old joke about how, between two Jews, one finds three opinions. I just wish more activist circles and progressive folks could see the range of viewpoints to be found in our community. There are many Jews, like me, who call out Israel’s crimes but still believe the state should continue to exist. There are Jews who unfailingly support all Israel does. There are even Jews who oppose the existence of Israel entirely. We are, if nothing else, an opinionated people. To paint us all with the same brush is as much an act of anti-Semitism as throwing slurs at us. I’m simply at a loss as to how to communicate this nuance to my own community.

It is always more painful to receive negativity from loved ones than from strangers. If these are the responses I should come to expect from more progressive communities, I’m starting to wonder if that harm is worth continuing to remain here.

Bex Gerber is a librarian & recent Jewish convert trying to make sense of it all.