Monday, January 18, 2010

Oh, let me count the ways! The ways we are treated badly

A discussion developed in the comments of the Daas Torah blog about how members of the Orthodox community treat gerim poorly. Another gyoress and I were invited to write a guest post about this treatment. The other girl declined. I would first like to qualify the scope of this writing as only dealing with the negative experiences that I and some of my friends and acquaintances have encountered. I have had positive experiences, as well. Unfortunately, though, I've had far more negative experiences than positive ones.

One of the community’s favorite places to go after a gyoress is the Shabbos table. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been at a meal and someone has just ransacked me with questions and comments that were wholly out of line. The converts and conversion candidates themselves are just as guilty as the others. I had a convert tell me at a meal that the host had told her I was a convert and she was too. She would like to hear my story. I told her I would be happy to remember her Email address and send it to her later. She declined. What was the purpose of announcing to the other guests at the meal that I was a gyoress in such a manner? In the incident with a conversion candidate, she asked me, “what’s your background?” I said, “what’s yours?” She said she was Catholic her whole life. I didn’t feel like arguing and dealing with such a thing.

One of my favorite insulting actions that members of the community do, is they start trying to talking me out of converting-except AFTER I’ve converted. So, I tell them this. They continue with comments about how I don’t need to keep the mitzvos because I’m not Jewish. I tell them very strongly, “I have already converted. You are telling a Jew to go off the derech.” They keep on with it.

Another jem is how they treat me when it comes to shidduchim. At the beginning of last semester, I was at the shul of a rabbi who I had used for a shidduch reference. He totally caught me off guard and embarrassed me profusely. He nonchalantly asks me, “You’re dating a rabbi, right?” “no…” with a really perplexed look on my face. He continues, “Well, they called me for a shidduch reference and I gave them a good one.” “I went out with one once.” “Why didn’t you go out a second time?” “Yeah, well, these guys don’t want to marry a gyoress. They think it’s a big joke to go out with one and try to prove I didn’t deserve to be converted by grilling me on Talmud and seeing if they can find something I don’t know.” The rabbi says to me, “Well, if you don’t get married, you won’t stay observant.” I’m thinking, but not saying, “Thanks for tell ME what I’M going to do.” He continued, with statements like: you have to get married, you didn’t like anything about the FIVE guys you went out with? (You’d think I had said 500) This continued on as I tried to defend myself. I was told, “women know what to do to get a man to marry her.” If I didn’t know, I should, “Read a book and learn!” I said, “I don’t have time.” Maybe that was too nice. Maybe, “I refuse to study manipulation tactics out of a book,” would have been a better statement.

Since shadchanim aren’t so nice to anyone, you can imagine what they do to me. I was offered a guy who doesn’t keep Shabbos. He has a “job problem,” you see. Another shadchanit started telling me about a 44-year old Yeshivish man, but something gave me a clue to inquire if he was for me. She said, “oh, no! I thought you could find someone for him for me.” Then she told me he was shorter than me. I’m 5-4. It seemed odd to me that she didn’t tell me this when she was telling me about him, if I was really supposed to set him up. Also, I was offered a blind guy at one point. The woman who Emailed this to me said it was someone else’s idea and wouldn’t tell me who.

Moving from set ups, to dates themselves and the feedback. I went out with a guy who asked me on a date various questions. One of them was, “do you know what bishul akum is?” Unless a girl went to seminary, do you think she would know it by name? Of course if I knew the principle as the “gentile can’t light the flame thingy,” does it matter if I don’t know the term “bishul akum”? It turned out I am friends with his cousin who informed me that I’m not on his level. If he wanted a seminary girl, he shouldn’t have accepted a date with me. He admitted it was just nosy curiosity about a gyoress.

Some miscellaneous insults from the community include strangers just asking point blank, “are you a gyoress?” One girl started asking me, “Do you have a blue skirt? Do you own a brown skirt? Do you own any gray skirts?” I think she was trying to see if I had enough skirts for a frum wardrobe. Not at a Shabbos table but at someone’s house on Shabbos, their guest grilled me as to why I wasn’t at a parent or other relative’s house-surely there must be someone…

After so many incidents like this, I stay home by myself on Shabbos. I don’t want to be around anyone anymore. I’ve come to hate people enough. I just don’t have the energy to constantly defend myself on a day when I, as a Jewish woman, am entitled to rest. I think, though, they feel it doesn’t apply to me. In the minds of some, I will never be Jewish.


  1. Yes, this is polished, honed and well-written! Some real classics, especially the one about them trying to convince you not to convert.

    I identify with all this as I've also had a fair bit of emotional abuse in my time, although I'm not a convert. I think it's inappropriate for me to give advice but I will speak a little to my personal experience.

    I started out not being able to deal with the outrageous emotional abuse I was receiving, mainly from shadchanim (stories available upon request). Either I would not stick up for myself (and feel rotten) or I would lose my temper (and feel rotten). So I found the trick was to stick up for myself without getting emotional, being matter of fact. This was not an easy skill to learn, but it really helped when I was able to pull it off. Even my aggressors respected me!

    Then I began to realize that really it was their problem/issue and not mine. I believe people need to be educated when they are insensitive and work on themselves to learn derech eretz. This applies to regular insensitive people and not plain nasty ones, who I just stay well away from.

    Then I realized that Hashem is sending me the kind of pain that I can handle even though it's painful (though that's not to say we shouldn't do something about it). And I can thank Hashem for finding me friends, families and communities who are really rooting for me and support me. I hope you find them too!

  2. I'm sorry that you have to go through that. It makes me sad that even with all the work you've put into a choice that means alot to you, people still question your status in the community. I will convert in the future but it will not be an orthodox conversion.

    However, dating a Jewish boy for almost three years means that I've been asked some pretty ridiculous questions by my future mother in law. Like, "Do you know how to say Mazel Tov?" I politely said, "Of course", but what I wanted to say was, "Did you happen to know that I took enough Jewish Studies courses in college to approach a minor in the subject? If I had had the extra hours available I would have tried my hand at Hebrew so I could achieve that minor." I get so frustrated by the way that people in the Conservative community here assume that I would be so tactless as to date someone for so long and not want to know more about his culture, his history, and his beliefs.

    It's a different kind of frustration but I know where you are coming from. I also wonder if his family and community will ever consider me truly Jewish or if I will just be the woman who converted to Judaism?


  3. Would you care to hear alternative experiences had by people?

  4. "I started out not being able to deal with the outrageous emotional abuse I was receiving, mainly from shadchanim (stories available upon request). "

    Please Email guest post to: michalbasavraham at Gmail

  5. "I hope you find them too!"

    I do have people that are good to me. I stated that. This piece was to make a point.

  6. BeeZee,
    I accept submissions for guest posts. However, I never get them. The guest posts that are up on this blog are from friends and I nagged for them.

  7. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    "BeeZee said...
    Would you care to hear alternative experiences had by people"

    Ummm, BeeZee? Assuming one wishes to help others in distress, and not just to argue their own personal or institutional righteousness, the first rule of thumb is not to deny the suffering of the other. Do not tell the victim that they did not, in fact, suffer. Even if your justification is correct in part, you are totally screwing up on the level of compassion.

  8. Michal-

    Welcome to reality. While your journey has been one of discovery and growth, it bears remembering that most people, Jewish or otherwise are not, so fortunate as to share your most rare (and thus most valuable) experience.

    As you are well aware of by now, simply being a religious Jew does not a 'mensch' make.

    Being in close proximity to Harvard or Cambridge does not necessarily guarantee that you will be a scholar or well educated. In fact, most often the determining factor of success are your own efforts despite that close proximity. The vast majority of students are monuments to mediocrity.

    So it is with authentic Judaism. Proximity to religious people is no guarantee of religious or moral behavior. Your success as a human being and as a Jews will be determined by your own efforts and behavior and willingness not to capitulate to the mediocrity around you.

    Judaism is a remarkably tolerant and forgiving way of life. When it is all said and done, while G-d treasures our successes, he treasures our failures and teshuva even more. It is from our failures and teshuva we emerge as better human beings and Jews.

    Many in close proximity to real Judaism, like those in proximity to Harvard and Cambridge, believe that proximity alone elevates them. They believe that proximity endows them with a certain superiority, religious, moral and otherwise. More often than not they cannot and will not even see their own failures and shortcomings. Instead they focus on displacing their dysfunctions on others.

    The road you have chosen Michal, is not easy. Then again, nothing worthwhile ever is. Noble words and platitudes will not soothe or cover up that vast ocean of mediocrity.

    Show me someone who has sacrificed for their faith- really sacrificed- and I will show you someone quite extraordinary.

    Someone like yourself.

  9. I'm sorry you have to go through that. But I think that people who are tactless don't limit their insensitive comments to geirim or BTs. There are some people...too many...who are like that, and few people escape their abuse.

  10. The tactless and insensitive hit us all...but it could be that when it comes to BTs and geirim, 1) there are more inappropriate things to ask, and 2) the subjects are more sensitive.

    All I can say is that I'm sorry that you've been hurt.

  11. Curmudgeon -
    I think you should add the word "presumptive" to your name. I never said that her experience was not there, nor did I deny that she has the experiences she has had. I simply asked if she would be willing to have guest posters who have had different experiences than herself. Does this mean that the other people have had great experiences? Not necessarily, as they may have had much worse experiences. Also, if one were to present a positive view, it is rather incorrect of you to assume that it would be presented to counteract the experience of another, when it may in fact be delivered to assist the person in distress so that they might find a place where people do, in fact, treat others positively and with respect, in contrast to the place where they are currently receiving poor treatment.

  12. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    BeeZee--I believe the word for which you are looking is "presumptuous".

    I deal with a lot of people who are suffering, grieving or traumatized. They don't necessarily stay in that place forever, but not because some well-intentioned person tries to "cheer them up", or worse. Do not invalidate the suffering of others; save the pep talks for yourself.

  13. My heart breaks when I read things like this...