Telling Parents About Conversion

Plenty of empathy and emotional support can help most parents to understand and ultimately accept their child's decision to convert.

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You can help reassure your parents by stressing the ties that will always bind you together. Many converts tell their parents that the religious education and moral example they received as children started them on the path that led to this unexpected but fulfilling destination. The decision to become a Jew is thus a continuation of the values and spiritual roots learned from parents. The bottom line is that while you may be choosing a different religion, you are not converting out of your family.

Regardless of your reassurances, however, your conversion may hurt or anger your parents, and their feelings may cause you to respond with strong emotions of your own.

When there is acrimony or an outright break, it helps to remember that hurt feelings usually mend. Some parents need a period to mourn, adjust, and make peace with the idea. Sometimes the anger is short-lived, but there are cases where it takes years before a reconciliation is possible. It is up to you to keep the lines of communication open.

Every family is different. In some households, intimate conversations are completely taboo and there may be little or no discussion of your decision. There are families where conversion becomes the focus of unrelated and long-standing family issues. And sometimes converts confront the painful fact that members of their immediate family harbor anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and Judaism. If that is the case, it's important to gently but emphatically confront bigotry whenever it arises, "I can't believe you said that, Mom. You raised me to believe in the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. Talking like that about other people goes against your own religious beliefs, and now you're talking about me and people I know and love."

Finding Support

The more difficult your own situation, the more important it is that you find support. Turn to your rabbi, your spouse, teachers, group leaders and classmates in your conversion course, and other Jews-by-choice. Some converts have found it helpful to speak with their parents' clergy, or a trusted friend of the family who can act both as a sympathetic sounding board for their feelings and as an advocate for you. If there is a family breakdown, it may be useful to seek professional help to sort out the underlying family dynamics.

Since you are the person responsible for turning your family of origin into an interfaith family, it also becomes your responsibility to answer their questions about Judaism and Jews. Don't wait for them to ask for information. Recommend or give them a few of the books and articles that you found useful; these can introduce them to some of the basic vocabulary of your Jewish life and provide a foundation for further discussion. Don't recommend any book you haven't read yourself, and don't limit reading suggestions to "Introduction to Judaism" literature. Sometimes, fiction or biography conveys information in more personal and compelling ways.

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Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant is a writer. Her books include Choosing a Jewish Life, The New Jewish Wedding, Saying Kaddish, and The Red Tent, a novel. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.