Why Converting To Judaism Saddened Me (Guest Post)

A few days before I went to mikvah to complete my conversion to Judaism, I asked my very good friend, who had finished her own conversion several months before me, if she had any advice or words of wisdom to share. What should I think about in the mikvah? I wanted to know. What should I pray for? How can I maximize the unfathomable G-dly potential of this holiest of moments?

She ignored my spiritually ambitious questions and instead said, “You’re going to feel really, really sad when you go to bed that night.”

I had no idea how to respond to that. How could I possibly feel anything except for the most sublime elation after almost three years of working tirelessly to earn the right to re-join my people? After countless hours of grueling introspection? After memorizing seventy-three chapters of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch? After months of calling a Jewish friend to come over and turn on my stove every time I wanted to cook so that I wouldn’t render my new pots treif for the blessed day that I would finally be obliged to keep kosher?

I didn’t believe her.


When the time to immerse came, I was in another world. I had spent the day fasting, praying, and reading Tehillim. The mikvah attendant took my robe, and I carefully walked down the steps into the warm pool of water. She stood above me for a few moments to make sure that the black tarp floating on the mikvah’s surface would hide my naked body from view of the three rabbis who would witness my conversion. Smiling, she asked if I was ready. I was.

I don’t remember what the rabbis said when they came in. I just remember closing my eyes and sliding under the water, waiting to see if I would feel the moment that my G-dly soul made contact with my body.


I arrived home that night and immediately affixed mezuzahs to all the doorways in my apartment. I changed into pajamas and laid down in bed. I said the Shema. And then I cried myself to sleep.


For a long time, I didn’t understand why I cried. I didn’t understand the deep, seeping sadness I felt as I sank into sleep that night.

It has only been over the course of the years afterward, as I, thank G-d, have married, had a baby, and settled in to an indescribably beautiful Jewish life that I have begun to understand.
There is a concept in Torah called yafes to’ar, “beautiful captive” in English: if an Israelite soldier is overcome by desire for a beautiful woman from an enemy nation, he may take her into his home, but he may not marry her or engage in relations with her until thirty days have passed. If, after that time, he still desires her, he may marry her. If not, he must send her home.

Jewish mysticism explains that the beautiful captive is actually a Jewish soul that has been born into a foreign nation. The righteous Israelite soldier desires her because he senses the holy spark within her, and is spiritually compelled to redeem her.

The yafes to’ar is a convert.

And, powerfully, the Torah says of her conversion process, “…she shall weep for her father and for her mother a full month…”

When a person converts, they focus fully on all they are becoming. Because what they are becoming is miraculous.

But what they are leaving behind is also important. Because no matter how warm and close your relationships with your natural family and old friends remain (and thank G-d mine have only grown better in the years since my conversion), a cosmic gulf is created that can never again be bridged: you are now qualitatively and quantitatively Jewish. And they are not.

Though you will, G-d willing, build your own home, you can never really go home again.

Though you have gained Infinity, you have become a stranger.

And for that you shall weep.

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10 responses to “Why Converting To Judaism Saddened Me (Guest Post)”

  1. Ruchi Koval Avatar
    Ruchi Koval

    Wow. I don’t really know what to say but it’s so important to share our stories. Thanks Elad for being the conduit.

  2. Malka Hellinger Forshner Avatar
    Malka Hellinger Forshner

    Makes me want to cry, too…..

    a story well told……….

  3. RB Avatar

    I don’t understand the part stating that “you are jewish and they are not?”

    1. Hannah Bemel Avatar
      Hannah Bemel

      Can you elaborate a little? I may be able to help clarify.

      1. RB Avatar

        The article was about being converted to Judaism- I assumed it was a secular Jew becoming (or converting) to become a more observant Jew- if this is what the article was about and the person’s family were reform Jews, why then is the so called “convert”considered jewish, but his/her family is not? Is it implying that if his/her family is not observant, then they are not considered to be Jews?

        1. Hannah Bemel Avatar
          Hannah Bemel

          Oh I see. She was a Gentile who converted to Judaism. One who is secular and becomes traditionally observant is known as a baal t’shuvah. They are Jewish by birth, just choose to become more traditional with time.

  4. Moshe Avatar

    When Moshiach comes, we all will recognize HaShem and HaShem’s touch to all of us, all nations. We’ll see He has been there all the time, in Israel and out of Israel, within the Jewish people and at the Gola/Galut/s. And we will somehow be happier as suddenly we all have Him “in common” knowing it’s all G_Dly. May it happen soon. THEN we won’t feel as much as strangers, but smarter, have real peace and become better people as we all should be.


  5. ravmitterhoff Avatar

    This was really beautiful. Most people don’t really understand what it means to be Jewish. A Jew who is in contact with himself knows that his soul is only a visitor here for a special purpose. This realization is a kind of a death which leads to joy on the path to eternity.

  6. Bryan Bridges Avatar
    Bryan Bridges

    Thank you for sharing this. I became curious about Judaism as a teen and eventually approached a rabbi; after several years of study, I converted. My family has always been supportive and we are still close. However, after marrying an Israeli and expecting our first child, little things make the gulf feel wider. For example, my grandmother doesn’t understand why we want a Hebrew/Israeli name (she thinks they’re ugly sounding) or that Christmas and Easter won’t be a part of our children’s upbringings.

    There are so many things that I love about Judaism and Jewish culture (and Israel). More than 20 years after converting, I still think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

  7. Tall Muse Avatar
    Tall Muse

    Thank you to the guest poster for sharing her conversion experience – it was eloquent and captured one convert’s experience. BUT…

    I reject the idea that one will definitely cry oneself to sleep after conversion, and I reject the reasons she gave. Yes, it’s a deeply emotional day and that can be draining, but my experience was one of joy.

    So while I appreciate how beautifully she wrote about her own feelings, I reject the premises she puts forth.
    -Becoming Jewish is not a death sentence.
    -Becoming Jewish does not make me a stranger. Not to my friends and family, not to born Jews.
    -Becoming Jewish does not make it so you cannot “go home” any more than becoming an adult does.

    On the day of my conversion to Judaism, I split my face with smiles, and I also cried a ton – but not out of sadness, not out of alienation, not because I thought that “a cosmic gulf had been created between me and my family and friends”. I cried out of joy. I cried out of the certainty that after years of spiritual numbness, I was alive and growing again. I cried at the potential and the possibility before me. I cried at my happiness that I am finally what I have always felt I should be. I cried in joy because now I’m Jewish. And that is a beautiful thing.

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