a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Am I a Conservative Jew?

Posted on: August 15, 2010

M seems to think so so I did some more researching.  I’m not going to lie, there’s something a bit off-putting when I hear the word Conservative.  I know that the Conservative that main-stream society thinks of and Conservative Judaism are different but the word itself has definite negative connotations at times.  For instance, I started with typing “Conservative” into my Google search engine and here are just some of the gems that came up.

I mean, even Charlotte York was confused when Harry Goldenblatt ordered pork. Figuring out what kind of Jew to be is hard.

So am I a conservative Jew (to be).  I don’t know.  It’s just another piece of Jewishness to be added onto my big ole plate of Jew.  I actually hadn’t thought about it or learned about the movement as much as I have the Reform so I’m quite mystified.

There are things that I’m comfortable doing which would point to Conservative Judaism.  For instance, I haven’t missed temple on Sabbath for an entire month now, I read the Torah daily, I pray a lot, and I’m keeping a Kosher Kitchen (as of September 8th)  I have a new-found love and respect for Talmudic writings, the 5 books for my conversion class are on their way from Amazon in addition to the 2 Sephardic Israeli cookbooks I ordered so there’s no way I’m ordering a box set Talmud any time soon.  I’ve got readings and websites coming out of both ears and all I’m really preoccupied with right now is planning Rosh Hashanah dinner.  With all of those things, and the fact that I haven’t found a rabbi yet-I’m still on the path of discovery and of conversion which means at this point it’s all up in the air.

Which denomination am I converting to?  Not sure yet.   On Wednesday I have a meeting with NYCs LGBT temple and on Friday I’m meeting with a rabbi of a west side Temple so there’s still time.   On the other hand, two of my new favorite Jews of Color, Aliza Hausman, a Dominican Orthodox Jew and Yavilah McCoy, a black Orthodox Jew are both, well, Orthodox.  I came to bed the other night with a silk scarf on my hair and Mirs asked me, slightly horrified and slightly but, cautiously supportive, “Are you going to be an Orthodox Jew?!”  I can understand her concern.  I’ve been obsessively reading all that I can about both Aliza and Yavilah not to mention one of my new favorite blogs, Jew In the City, about an Orthodox Jewish Woman.

I assured her that my obsessions were just that-obsessions and elation at finding not only other Jews of Color but Orthodox Jews of color.  It seems that a lot of the non-white Jews that I’m finding online have chosen Orthodox conversion or were born into Orthodox families.  In term of “legitimacy” if I chose to do an Orthodox conversion I could walk into any temple any where and know that I was a “real” Jew.  There are changes afoot in Israel currently on such topic so I know that I won’t have to (and have no desire) convert Orthodox.

My interest in the Orthodox has been one of curiosity and I’ll admit, fascination.  The Conservative movement seems like a “middle ground.”  Giving my Shabbat observance, my desire to be Kosher, and my need to study, read, and pray on a daily basis it seems like a good choice.

Does it matter?  Yes and No.  Yes, because I’ll be converting in a temple before a bet din and get submerged in a mikvah to come out on the other side as a Jew-I’ll have figured out who my rabbi will be and which synagogue in NYC will be my new home.  No, because I still have a lot of time.   Something as important as converting needs time, reasearch, and thought and cannot be rushed.

So there is no answer, really.  I’m still just me, only more Jewish.

7 Responses to "Am I a Conservative Jew?"

You will almost certainly NOT find an Orthodox rabbi willing to convert you if you’re in a relatioship, but I know several gay people who are single who had Orthodox conversions (some of whom later had relationships and some of whom didn’t, but all of whom I think had to indicate that they would remain celibate). Conservative Judaism will not recognize Reform conversions, but will convert LGBT folks. I know Conservative Jews who keep an Orthodox leveld of observance, though – Hair covering, mikveh, kashrus, etc. So some people don’t fit into boxes.

Bryna you’re blowin’ my mind right now with all of this information! :)

I’m not sure if you’ve made the decision already as I figured I’d start at the beginning of the blog. I wavered and wavered on where I wanted to convert but in the end, I chose the Rabbi I wanted to work with regardless of the affiliation. Some would say that wasn’t the best route.

Reform Conversions are accepted by the Conservative movement if they include the beit din and mikveh. There may be a few Rabbis who do not but as a whole it’s accepted.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t be expected to determine right now exactly where I am going to be the rest of my life. What works for me today but not work for me next year, in five years or in 10 years. I chose a Rabbi who I could talk to easily, who saw things in me that other people did not see and who would challenge me spiritually.

That’s sort of where I’m at Dena. I’m finding, though, that most of the conversion classes here in NYC come with the requirement to join the shul I’m converting in. Yes, it is just one year to commit to a synagogue, but it’s also a little bit daunting at the same time. I’m also running into a lot of “classes” which, of course, have schedules so if I miss the time frame to sign up, I’m out of luck and have to wait another year.

At the present moment, I’ve dropped out of one class and opted for another, both reform and I’m enjoying it thoroughly. I feel the same way you do, if I find another synagogue or another “denomination” in the future then so be it. The way I see it, once I’m in, I’m IN!

As bi racial, queer, modern orthodox, Jew myself I would hope you take the conservative route . Orthodoxy in general has a “limited: but changing views on Sexual minorities .Also, when it comes to Israel the religious right might soon not even except conversions outside of Israel so, it should not really factor into your consideration.So, conservative Judaism is your best bet and you can still embrace all the texts and traditions from any movement once you have the the the backbone of traditional Judaism.

P.S.
I love what your doing

Hi Malcolm,

Thanks for the note and for reading! I hope you come back often and tell your friends!

Ultimately, I’ve decided to continue with my Reform Conversion under the assumptions and the realization that my practice will be mirrored to the Conservative movement in many ways in regards to my observations and how I keep mitzvot. One of the things one of the rabbis at my shul said to me is that the reform movement isn’t “Jewish lite” but should really be about knowing and then choosing which observances you’d like. Who knows, I may walk away a Modern Orthodox down the line but I do like the flexibility to know that I’m aware of “rule” and decide how they fit into my life right now.

For me, so much is about gradually (and sometimes diving in) to mitzvot and seeing how they work with my life and in my relationship. There is a conservative shul I’m interested in checking out this year-I’ll be sure to share!

[...] no secret that I’ve often considered doing an Orthodox conversion and I’m envious of those who have the chutzpah to do so. It [...]

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