“How does your family feel about your conversion?”
I know it will get asked, but I’m going to have to answer the question with another question: what do you mean by “family”?
The word “family” is fraught, for me. It’s actually a negative word, for the most part. I’m the oldest of three boys. I rarely met any of my extended family when I was a kid. Basically, I knew my grandparents, my father’s sister, and my mother’s youngest aunt (my great-aunt) and her youngest brother. The rest of the family was theoretical. I knew they existed, but I didn’t know them. They were just names.
My father was the older of two kids. He and his sister were about two years apart. He was raised Methodist, and converted to Catholicism to marry my mother. His sister has no children (she’s been openly lesbian since before I was born).
My mother was the fourth of six kids. All of them grew up in an abusive home. My grandfather was an equal-opportunity pedophile, and we know for a fact that he abused all three of his daughters and at least one of his sons (and me, when I was a toddler and a preschooler). My grandmother divorced him as soon as my mother and father got married, and her youngest son lived with her while their other younger son lived with my grandfather.
My mother’s oldest sister died when my mother was thirteen. The next sister got married to a fundamentalist Christian man, moved to the Midwest with him, had ten children, and was clinically insane for most of her life. We met her and one of her daughters once when I was about sixteen or seventeen, and they were just very strange to everyone in our home. She’s since passed away.
Her older brother stayed with me and my two younger brothers as a house-sitter/babysitter once, when I was in my early teens. It was in the summer, while my parents went to a liturgical music conference in another state. He abused us all, physically and emotionally, during those three weeks. I think the last time I saw him was at a wedding twenty-some years ago.
I’ve met my mother’s younger brother once or twice, and her youngest brother was in the area but not usually around when I was growing up. He came to the occasional birthday party or Christmas dinner. I was part of his first wedding when I was eight or so, and I met his kids from that marriage, but they were ten to fifteen years younger than I was – not exactly playmates, if you get my drift.
So just starting with that, you can see I have a complicated relationship with the idea of “family.” Sure, I have cousins, but the word doesn’t really mean much to me. For the most part, family was where I got hurt a lot, and I left as soon as I could.
As for my family now, well…
My father is deceased, and has been for nearly six years. I know he would have approved of my conversion, but I have no way of proving that.
My mother and I have not spoken in probably three years, and I doubt we’ll ever speak again. She was seriously emotionally abusive to me when I was younger (and I’ve talked about that in these pages, more than once), so once I finally got strong enough to say “no more,” that meant no more.
I know for a fact she wouldn’t approve. First, she never approved of anything that made me happy, because it meant I wasn’t working on making her happy. Second, my mother is a woman of large hatreds. She was racist and sexist while I was growing up; I have no doubt that anti-Semitism is lurking in there somewhere too. (And yet, ironically, if I have Jewish ancestry, it’s probably through her father’s mother, who was Hungarian with the right kind of last name at the right time period. I haven’t been able to dig more out of ancestry.com anytime recently, though, and I’m considering 23andme just to see what they can find.)
So when it comes to my mother, she is bad for me, and I can’t risk contact with her, but I don’t know if the beit din will understand that. This is my big worry.
My next-younger brother and I have a similar problem as I have with my mother: we’ve been at odds for most of our lives, and if we were not blood-related, we’d probably never speak to each other. I see him post on Facebook occasionally, but he lives across the country and we don’t interact much. If you had to ask me what he thought of this, my answer would be “I don’t know.”
My uncle (my mother’s younger brother) is all for it. My youngest brother and his wife are all for it. My dad’s sister says that she knows my dad would have approved. My kids think it’s great (my younger daughter even said “If I was going to be a different religion, I’d probably be Jewish”). But that’s all the blood family I can account for, and that does make me sad.
If you want to talk about chosen family, that’s different. My husband will be going through the same thing a few months from when I do (and maybe sooner; he said “when I have more understanding,” and now he’s thinking October instead of next February), and he is totally supportive. His parents are, too, which shocked us both. Likewise my best friend and her husband. Likewise her parents and all the people who are part of their regular Pesach seder group. Likewise just about every friend I have, even my atheist friends. Even my ex-husband is on board with it.
But I don’t know – will the beit din count that as “family”?
I’m honestly not sure how to talk about this question when they inevitably ask it. Every convert who’s posted their beit din story has mentioned it, so I know it’s coming and I’m really anxious.
Suggestions are welcome.