When we think of conversion, we often think of going from one religion or faith tradition to another. Consider someone who was raised Catholic and choose to become a Buddhist for example — they were once “this,” and then they became “that.”
For some, conversion to Judaism works this way. You were raised with one religious identity, say Hinduism, and now, you wish to become Jewish. This is a traditional idea of a convert — a person with no Jewish ancestry but a desire to become part of the Jewish peoplehood.
There are others who have some kind of Jewish ancestry and not having been raised Jewish, would like to become in a sense “more Jewish.” An example of this might be someone who has Jewish grandparents but was raised Lutheran. Another example might be someone who has a Jewish father and an other-than-Jewish mother but was not raised in any particular religious or faith tradition. In both these cases, you have an ethnic connection to the Jewish people; however, the practice of Judaism, the religion, has not previously been a part of your life.
Alternatively, someone born to a Jewish mother, regardless of whether the mother practiced Judaism, is considered already Jewish by all branches of Judaism, including traditional and progressive communities. This is because halacha (Jewish law) says that a person is a Jew if they have a Jewish, biological mother. Even though you weren’t raised with a single prayer or tradition, you are still part of the Jewish peoplehood.
Within Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, the same is true of someone with a Jewish father and an other-than-Jewish mother. You are considered part of the community, even if you have no connection to the religion other than being born to a Jew. This is often referred to as the rule of patrilineal descent.
However, when already Jewish individuals are brought up in other-than-Jewish settings, it can often feel as if there is a need to convert to become Jewish. But Judaism teaches that you are already Jewish!
So, how do we work with these students who feel not-really-Jewish but are technically Jewish?
Instead of a conversion, we consider this an affirmation of Jewish identity. A person who has no connection to the Jewish peoplehood according to Jewish law becomes Jewish through conversion, whereas a person who has that connection, even if it is slim, embraces their dormant spiritual identity through affirmation.
A person who fits into the “already-technically-Jewish” criteria does not need to convert. However, you may want to go through a similar process to what a convert might with the goal of having the spiritual experience of affirming your Jewish identity. It’s important to know that you do not have to do this, but you are welcome to do so. Darshan Yeshiva’s mentors will work with you to develop a plan of study and confirmation of your personal, Jewish identity in a way that is meaningful to you.