The Jews among Jews

“She is beautiful”, Yaakov said, almost whispering, to his friend sitting beside him.

“Yeah, she is, but I don’t think she is Jewish,” Itzhak commented, whispering as well.

“Why?” Yaakov asked, surprised, because he notes that young woman every shabbas at the shul.

“I mean, she is a Jew by choice. One can say that she is the most goyish of all Jewish things in this shul,” said Itzhak.

“If she converted, she is Jewish,” Yaakov affirmed.

“Yeah, but she is not a real Jew, they never are. One needs to be born as a Jew, otherwise one is not Jewish, at least that is how I think”, Itzahk said.

“I guess you’re right,” Yaakov agreed.

They were whispering because they were having this dialogue in the middle of the rabbi’s keynote on kashrut rules. They had to whisper, because if the rabbi listened to what they were saying, he would have exposed their stupidity to the rest of the congregation. Truth be told, we do not have so many Jews by choice, therefore any new face that is not approved by the Ashkenazi test of “looking Jewish” is automatically classified, in the world of hang tags, as “non-Jew”.

Listening to what these two young men were whispering, while siting right in front of me, made me think. Jewish converts, at least in our Orthodox community (and, something tells me that in many other communities as well) are the aliens and outsiders, or should I say, they are the Jews among Jews.

Jewish converts never fit in among our community, unless they are married to another Jew, but even so, they are always, somehow, different. They look different, they don’t have Jewish family names and there is always a doubt in the air, “is her/his conversion valid? Is he/she actually Jewish?”

Also, no one allows them to forget their status, because eventually the Jewish convert will invite a born-Jew to a dinner in his/her home and the question is always there, whispered or spoken aloud, “is this food actually kosher?”

A Diaspora Jew might agree with me, Jewish converts are the Jews of the Jews. Unfortunately, they don’t even have a safe heaven, I mean they have Israel, just like we do, but the Israeli Orthodox Rabbinate doesn’t seem to be able to allow their souls to be free and liberated in the only land on the face of earth in which a Jew can be free, because, in the end, even after the Beis Din, Jewish converts are not “real” Jews.

I wonder, while looking to these two Jewish guys in front of me, “what is a real Jew? What is an unreal Jew? Does a Jewish kid born after a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother is just half part of our Jewish community?”

Of course, the two Jewish guys whispering didn’t know I was one of those imperfect and misplaced creatures. And I didn’t want talk with them or expose my questions, as a matter of fact, I didn’t want to be noticed by them.

However, I can’t avoid looking to these two Jewish guys in front of me, because I’m fascinated by those who are born Jewish. I guess I’ll never fully understand what it means to have Jewish blood, to be filled with thousands of years of persecution and persecuted relatives injected in me, traveling through my body and making my heart beat. I don’t think I will ever completely understand what it means to have an obviously Jewish name, like “Zimmerman” or “Abramovitch”, which, one like it or not, put the fact that one is Jewish out there in the world, even during a quick coffee with friends.

I laugh when I remember a piece by a Jewish writer who wrote something like “I have an in-built radar to detect even the most distant antisemitic comment”, because when I read it, I remembered of myself. I also have a similar radar, I can detect the words “convert” or “conversion” around me.

The two Jewish guys continued their dialogue…

“Do you think she would accept to have dinner with me?’, Yaakov whispered to his friend.

“Are you insane?’ Itzhak whispered back.

“Why?”, Yaakov asked.

“I don’t know, I just wouldn’t like to date her… You know, what if she decides to give up Judaism after we have children, what about their status? It is just too complicated to date or marry someone who is not born Jewish, specially if you’re a guy”, his friend whispered back.

“Ah, yeah”, I thought to myself, “there is this problem too”.

Well, I can understand the Jewish religious guy that thinks something like, “if I marry a woman who converted to Judaism, will my children be Jewish? Maybe my wife’s conversion will be a problem for my children”, I honestly can understand their logic, but I can’t understand their lack of moral and spiritual courage. Unfortunately, when I hear this kind of comment, in my shul, while siting among my fellow Jews, my own people, I can’t avoid the feeling of discomfort.

After the keynote, I remained there, together with other five folks, making questions to the rabbi about kashrut laws. I always make the questions after the keynote is done, because I can’t make questions in front of everyone, the audience is just too scary, I fear their eyes looking at me and the invisible question marks floating above their heads. Well, when I was walking on my way out of the shul, I came across Itzhak. Who just likes “real” Jews. He was inviting her to have dinner with him.

About the Author
Avigayil lives in Belém (State of Pará), northern Brazil. Student of International Relations at University of Amazon.
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