Kenneth Cohen

Those Inspiring Converts

There is well known rabbinic dictum that says that converts to Judaism are like thorns. Some interpret this to mean that often they prove to be insincere and a burden. While others explain this to mean that the converts are so special that they outshine those born into our faith.

I have been working with converts for more than two decades at Machon Meir. We have received men and women from all over the world. Recently we converted individuals from places like Kenya and Namibia. And currently our conversion candidates come from the Philippines, Germany, Poland, and Canada.

All of these unique individuals share one thing in common. They are passionate in their desire to join our faith, and they are passionate in their love for the Land of Israel.

Many are disowned by their families who believe they will suffer in eternity for making such a foolish decision. Recently, a student told me that his father was so furious that he was becoming Jewish, he cut him out of his will. His portion that he forfeited was in the neighborhood of two million dollars!

A common story that is told is the impression they received on their first visit to Israel. On numerous occasions, I’ve seen these incredible people get teary eyed when they recount that special feeling when they walked the streets of Jerusalem. Something inside of them, told them they were in a holy place. This holy land must become their home.

Despite the difficulty of being in a new country without the connections of influential family members, they are content to duke ir out here. They are not proud and they are prepared to take on whatever work they can, in order to pay their bills.

The most common reason given for their decision to convert, is the State of Israel. In their search for truth, they are unable to accept Christian doctrine that G-d has abandoned the Jews. When they see our flourishing country filled with over six and a half million Jews, they do not see us as rejected. When they witness the numerous Torah establishments and the study of G-d’s law abounds, we do not look rejected. And the same is true of our army, modern cities and high-tech achievement. It is crystal clear. The Jews have come home. The Jews are G-d’s chosen people, and His love for His people, is as strong as ever.

Their search for truth is over. They feel the magic and uniqueness of the Jewish nation. Their desire to become Jewish and help strengthen our country, burns within them. Many join the IDF after conversion. None have been dissuaded by the unpleasantness of having to go through circumcision as adults. They eagerly run to fulfill this final step in the conversion process.

It is understandable why I have a deep love, respect, and admiration for my students. I see it as my duty to do all I can to help them through the process. They deserve every bit of assistance that can be given.

One of the most beautiful weddings I ever attended, was the wedding of my Kenyan student to an Ethiopian lawyer. Here was a young man who grew up not knowing what running water or electricity was. Because of his desire to become part of our people, he was blessed to meet the love of his life and stand under a Chuppa, wedding canopy, in holy matrimony. The love and joy felt by everyone at that wedding, was beyond description.

It is very obvious to me what the Rabbis meant when they said that converts are like thorns. They put to shame Jews of privilege who for some reason are denied their passion for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. We have a great deal to learn from my converts. I love them. They inspire me.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at