On a golden night this summer – where the grill was smoking, the wine was flowing, and the conversation was sparkling – my husband, Jason, and I were courting new friends.
We weaved between our kids’ activities – volleyball, sleepaway camp, and saxophone – and the stories of our youth. Where we were born, our first jobs, how we met.
Not being a born-and-bred Minnesotan means that I “date” new friends regularly – still, a decade after moving here. And it’s at this point – where the husbands have met and the kids have played and the second “date” is imminent — that I tend to hedge between over and under sharing.
One of the biggest questions that I never know how to answer is do we tell people that Jason converted to Judaism? Is that information that new friends need or is this story thread best tucked away into the deeper crevices of our past?
On this night, I leaned toward over-sharing; this is how it happened.
My new friend is a fellow writer. She asked questions like I do – in rapid-fire succession with the sole purpose of fitting the puzzle pieces of our story together. She already knew that our family is Jewish and when she asked Jason where he was born – small town Montevideo, MN, population approximately 5,000 — I could see her trying her very best to make these two pieces fit, but they were mismatched.
In the several seconds that she paused, tilting her head in thought, Jason and I made eye contact across the patio table and did the mental gymnastics around Telling or Not Telling. And with the kids tearing through the yard, their little voices ebbing and flowing under and over each other as they shared their own stories, the sun settling in the background and the wine settling into my mind, I blurted, “Jason converted.”
A golden rule of writing is to use simple words – “I went” instead of advanced, progressed, and passed and “I said” instead of uttered, vocalized, and blurted. But, friends, trust me on this one – I blurted.
And that’s how it always feels to me when Jason and I share this information – like it needs to be said, because it’s not a secret, it’s definitely part of our story, and for those who know our backgrounds, it’s a necessary piece to make our picture complete. But it feels a bit like an awkward over-share; it’s a definite blurt.
Rabbi Erin Polansky says, “I don’t think [conversion] is something that needs to be announced or declared upon meeting someone new. But neither should one’s conversion be considered a secret.”
There’s a history there. Rabbi Polansky explains that many decades ago, there was a belief that converts should be embarrassed that they were born a “heathen” or an “idol worshipper” so conversion secrets were kept on both sides (no need to ask and no need to tell) to avoid bringing up “past sins.”
This thinking isn’t prominent today and conversion Telling or Not Telling is obviously a personal choice. But I wonder if this long-standing history of silence is partly where Jason’s and my hesitation comes from.
Even in the conversion class that we took just 14 years ago, we were told that once someone converts, there’s no need to mention it ever again – because a Jew is a Jew. But I’m not sure that I agree.
Jason made a huge decision to convert, and his choice says so much about him and about us. Besides the fact that our story doesn’t make sense without the conversion chapter, the religion he was brought up with, his “Before” story, is important; it shaped him and it should be told.
So I think, for now, when it comes to conversion, I’ll stick with over-sharing and blurting. As awkward as it might be, Telling is a part of our story – potential new friends, you’ve been warned.
How about you? Do you want to be told friends’ conversion stories? Do you feel comfortable asking? And if you’re on the flip side, do you want to be asked? Do you feel comfortable Telling?