How to Support a Friend Who’s Converting to Judaism
Treating others in our communities with audacious hospitality is equally important to both Jews and those interested in becoming Jews. If someone you know is taking the leap to embrace a Jewish life, they will need genuine love and support.
Here are a few ways to make that person feel more welcomed as they begin their journey to joining the Jewish people.
1. Congratulate them!
Conversion can be a daunting process, even for the most enthusiastic of converts. Between studying and soul-searching – and possibly dealing with pushback from their loved ones for choosing a Jewish life – it can be a lot to handle.
Because of this, your friend may need all the encouragement they can get, so don’t be afraid to show them your support with sincere congratulations and maybe even a “Mazal tov!” Remember that this is a joyous occasion. After all, your friend’s nefesh (soul) is on its way to becoming part of the Jewish people. Establishing a foundation with the knowledge that you’re happy for them and are on their team can go a long way in easing their anxiety and make their path an easier one.
2. Ask to learn and observe with them.
In the rabbinical commentary Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), Rabbi Chanania ben Teradion states, “When two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them” (3:3). It is important to remember that studying with a friend is not only a gesture of support, it’s also an act of holiness.
This can be as simple as picking up a copy of a book they’re reading and discussing it over coffee, or picking aspects of Judaism that interest them and having mini-study sessions. If they like podcasts, pick one that involves Jewish learning and share your thoughts on it. Whatever works for you both, embrace it and let the Divine Presence rest between you.
As a bonus: If you were born into Judaism but know little or nothing about the conversion process, this could be the perfect chance for you to learn more about it too!
3. Respect their path.
If you’re more knowledgeable about Judaism, whether you’re from an observant upbringing or if you’ve completed conversion yourself, it can be easy to interject unsolicited advice about the “proper” way to practice Judaism (i.e. keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, etc.).
Your intention may be to help your friend along their path to becoming a Jew, but this behavior can come across as egotistical and may even cause them to feel ashamed and embarrassed, which is expressly prohibited in the Talmud and certainly doesn't align with Jewish values.
It’s important to remember that every Jew and Jew-to-be is a lifelong student. No two individuals practice Judaism the same way, and it is our responsibility to respect our fellow Jews’ autonomy. If they are doing or saying something that causes an issue for others, then, yes, we should tactfully and lovingly “call in” that person, but to not, as it says in Leviticus 19:17, “bear a sin because of [them]” through potential embarrassment.
4. Be their ally.
It’s common for Jews-to-be to feel isolated during the conversion process, whether out of fear of not being as familiar with Jewish knowledge or perhaps even due to impostor syndrome: believing that they aren’t worthy of occupying Jewish space as an “outsider.” Since our inception, the Jewish people have been a civilization of outsiders, and we should ensure that those who want to join us feel as welcomed as possible.
- Extend an offer to attend Shabbat services with them.
- Be their cheerleader when they’re feeling inadequate or underprepared.
- Encourage them to take an active leadership role in your synagogue if they’ve expressed interest in doing so – and encourage your leadership team to welcome them with open arms.
- Celebrate with them once they’ve completed their conversion process, for you will now be connected to them on an even deeper level.
Throughout all of this, if you’re unsure where to start, simply ask what they need. Inquire as to how you can help them walk a less shaky path toward becoming part of Am Yisrael (the People Israel) and follow through. Even a seemingly small act of audacious hospitality can go a lot further than you think.
Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in the 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, OH, and holds a degree in creative writing and film studies. He grew up at Payne A.M.E. Chapel in Hamilton, OH, and converted to Judaism at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, MI, to reconnect to his ancestral roots.