More and more converts are streaming towards Judaism

Many saw Covid as a moment to reflect on their own spirituality


Close up image depicting the Jewish religious symbol of the star of David inside a synagogue. The star is in silhouette, while in the background stained glass windows are blurred out of focus. Horizontal colour image with copy space.

February 24, 2022 13:24

Ask any Liberal rabbi for one of the most meaningful and rewarding parts of their job and it will be escorting their proselytes to the Beit Din (rabbinic board) and watching them become full members of our Jewish community.

I cannot tell you the number of times in the last two years that I have been close to tears, either when bringing someone to the Beit Din or sitting as one of the three rabbis who will approve a conversion.

The wonder of hearing someone explain their journey, what it has meant to them and how they finally feel complete is a blessing you cannot underestimate.

As a movement, we take very seriously the idea that we are the home for everyone’s Jewish story. That does not just mean for those born into the community but those who have been searching.

But no matter how welcoming you say you are on a website, or as reassuring you may be on the phone, it’s tough for someone to walk into a synagogue for the first time.

Judaism has a reputation for putting up obstacles to those looking to enter — and now there’s also the security guards on many of our doors. The fear is that once you walk in, you might feel like you stick out.

But when Covid happened, within days all of Liberal Judaism was online, from national conferences to small study sessions, from coffee mornings to panel debates and, most importantly of all, our wide variety of services.

People streamed in — in more ways than one. At our first international online conference in May 2020, just months after the pandemic began, the largest community in attendance was not one of our big active synagogues but those describing themselves as “non-affiliated”.

Soon after, we noticed that the most searched thing on our website was conversion. Inquiries started to increase and the amount of people converting through Liberal Judaism has now doubled.

To me, and the co-chairs of our Beit Din, it certainly appears that many saw Covid as a moment to reflect on their own spirituality, connectedness and community, as well as taking the opportunity to step through the doors of a world that for one reason or another had felt too difficult before.

In my own communal rabbinate, and now supporting other communities with their proselytes, I have seen a profound change in those coming through the Beit Din — one I believe has become even more pronounced during the last two years.

Because Liberal Judaism is fully inclusive of mixed faith couples and families — culminating in our decision in 2020 that mixed faith marriage blessings can take place under a chupah where a couple intend to build a Jewish home — people do not need to convert for marriage.

But the emphasis on their own personal connection has become more apparent. Where people are converting within a couple, they are coming with their own story and their own need.

And now, more frequent than the relationship motivator, are those converting on their own, inspired by a time or moment of how Judaism enlightened their lives.

It may be that they had an experience at school with Judaism that has stayed with them; were inspired by a trip to Israel; were welcomed by a Jewish friend or have been one of the growing numbers to discover a Jewish ancestry.

As we begin to re-enter buildings and communities re-form in a new way, we have to remember that our challenge is, as it has always been, to not put up walls but to break them wide open so people can see in and experience community and religious life and not be afraid.

I’m certain that there are not only converts out there waiting for a home but Jews disconnected from community and looking for a way to step back through the door.

That’s my challenge for Liberal Judaism as we enter our 120th year — and perhaps a challenge also for the Jewish community as a whole.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism CEO

February 24, 2022 13:24

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