The perils of converting in your hometown

I just remembered that several people I went to high school with go to the Reconstructionist shul whose rabbi I just met. This would not be an issue if it were as large as the Conservative one I’ve been attending, but the Reconstructionist congregation is around 100 families, with only about 30 people showing up any given week.

First of all, since it’s such a small congregation, they’re holding Shabbat services in someone’s house. “Oh,” said Rabbi Reconstructionist. “I think Ty grew up near there, if I remember correctly. It’s at Hippie Von Communityactivist’s house.”

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Ty did, in fact, grow up near there. His mom occasionally works in the garden of that house. I’ve been in it twice–once to keep her company while she was house-sitting for Hippie, and once to play Settlers of Catan with Ty’s friend, the son of Hippie. I’ve also met Hippie several times, though I’ve only spoken to her at protests and street fairs. I doubt she remembers me. I’ve noticed a depressing trend in that social circle to, upon meeting me with Ty, relegate me to a mental box labeled “One of Ty’s Girlfriends, Probably Gone in a Year.” It’s been two and a half, but still, the old hippies seem to forget who I am as a rule. They do generally remember me if I show up with him–which is okay with me, sometimes you need a remind of how you know someone before you remember who they are. But Ty has not been coming to Shabbat services with me, even at the Conservative shul, because I AM NOT CONVERTING FOR MY JEWISH PARTNER, GUYS.  So if he, again, doesn’t come with me this weekend, running into Hippie at her house could be horribly awkward.

Furthermore, at least two of the members of this synagogue are people I went to high school with and was friendly with, but to whom I haven’t spoken since I graduated. They… do not know that I am converting. I am not sure how that conversation will go. Wait, yes I do. “I didn’t know you were Jewish!”


So at any rate, I’m pretty nervous this weekend. But I feel like I really do have to give Reconstructionism a chance, given what Ty has told me about it, and that I am kind of a wishy-washy hippy-dippy liberal activist type and all. I love the Conservative shul a lot, but I know that I need to give fair consideration to other denominations. And, as I have had to keep reminding myself recently, I’m still really early in this whole process.


6 comments on “The perils of converting in your hometown

  1. You are really early in the whole process, and more importantly, you will realize that in one city, the Conservative may be the best for you, but in another, maybe it’s Renewal. Rabbis, communities and ritual practices vary widely in the liberal communities, and I never settle on a home until I’ve checked them all out.

    I started out Reform 10 years ago and now love my Conservative shul. But that’s because it’s where I feel the most at home, not because it’s Conservative. Visit homes to find your home.

    • I can definitely vouch for the different cities thing being true when I was Christian–my favorite churches varied widely in denomination.

      I’m just glad I have so many friends in the various movements. It makes visiting different communities much less stressful for me.

  2. You know what, I’ve always been very curious about Reconstructionism. It’s not a big movement here in the UK – in fact, it’s almost non-existent… I converted Liberal (US version of Reform) but my conversion is actually valid as far as Conservative, which is handy, as my observance is more Conservative than Liberal.

    I echo Mikvahbound here – do go shul shopping, find out exactly what the movements can offer you, and talk to the Rabbis who run the congregations. Every Rabbi has their own unique style. Some are very inspirting teachers and others are like watching paint dry – but the beauty of Judaism is that the choice is wide and varied.

    Good luck in your journey. Starting it is always the hardest part!

    • I’ve often heard Reconstructionism referred to as “the only natively American movement,” so I guess it stands to reason that it would be less prevalent in the UK.

      I really enjoy meeting different rabbis and looking at different communities though. I guess that’s my second major in Religious Studies showing through.

      And thanks for the good wishes!

  3. I agree with Mikvahbound. Personally, I’ve always found finding a synagogue and rabbi to be pretty distressing. Rarely are any perfect; just like its rare to find a perfect spouse. But you do have to find a place where you are comfortable.

    Reconstructionism facinates me. I always find Reconstructionist Jews and rabbis to be pretty fascinating. They seem to take Judaism very seriously, yet think outside the box with it. However I am a bit uncomfortable with the core Reconstructionist tenet of not believing in a supernatural G-d (I happen to believe the Torah was divinely written…so I’m with the Orthodox on that one).

    There is only one Reconstructionist congregation in my area; and they very clearly hold that “G-d” is really only a figure of speech. I thought that there was another congregation, but they opted to unaffiliate with the movement and now are “trans-denominational”. & that’s the shul that I go to now :-).

    • I feel exactly the same way–I think they’re quite interesting, especially how their attitude toward halakha has shifted since they split from Conservatism, but at the same time I can’t get behind that vaguely Deist, god-as-a-verb thing. It’s kind of a major theological conflict for me.

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