February 23, 2020

Are You Sure You Want to Be Jewish?

I’m floating in the mikveh wearing a very heavy, soaked cotton robe. Standing over me are three bearded Orthodox men, including a rabbi, who are serving as my conversion beit din. So far, I’ve pledged to follow the commandments to the best of my ability, renounce all former religious beliefs and keep the Sabbath. 

I’ve waited five years to get to this place, and I’m extremely excited to finally be a Jew. 

Then the rabbi brings up anti-Semitism. “We have been persecuted for all time,” he says. “We have been kicked out of countries and hated for our beliefs. We face constant anti-Semitism. If someone were to come and demand that all the Jews had to evacuate or face death, what would you do?” 

Without pausing, I say, “I would go with my people.” 

And with that, and some blessings, I became a Jew. 

That was in 2015. During my conversion, I’d never experienced true anti-Semitism, except for some off-color, stereotypical comments about Jews. There were attacks in Israel and France, but they seemed so far away and not part of my reality. 

Throughout my conversion process, people asked me why I was converting if I was just going to be hated as a Jew. It especially puzzled Holocaust survivors. I always told them that it wasn’t my choice. I was born with a Jewish soul and I knew I had to become part of the Jewish people. Can you deny your true self?

“Throughout my conversion process, people asked me why I was converting if I was just going to be hated as a Jew. It especially puzzled Holocaust survivors.”

Fast forward to 2018. The Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh; two politicians who express anti-Semitic rhetoric were elected to Congress; the Chabad of Poway shooting; strikes from Gaza into Israel;. an anti-Semitic cartoon in international editions of The New York Times; white supremacists; Brooklyn Chasidim being tormented by their non-Jewish neighbors. And on and on and on. 

I finally experienced anti-Semitism in 2017, when my Uber driver told me that Jews put the blood of children into their matzo ball soup. And then I saw it again when a funny commentator I used to follow suddenly started posting anti-Semitic tropes, encouraging his followers to wake up and realize that Jews control the world. After Pittsburgh, my husband, Daniel, and I led an effort to get an armed guard at our synagogue, and we’ve since had to take additional security measures. 

I don’t have much hope that things are going to reverse any time soon. We are hated on the far left and the far right, and every day I see more stories about hate crimes against Jews. I don’t know if it’ll reach a point where we have to physically defend ourselves or leave for Israel. I pray that it never does. 

What I know for certain is that although I am now experiencing anti-Semitism, converting to Judaism was the best decision I ever made. People shouldn’t be afraid to convert if it’s what they’re meant to do, and Jews should still be proud of their Judaism no matter what.  

Practically, we need to safeguard our shuls, schools, community centers and homes, be alert, be there for one another, share news about anti-Semitism and petition our politicians to call out hate. Spiritually, we need to have faith that God has a plan for us. Things may seem dark now, but eventually, they will get better. 

The anti-Semites cannot tear us down. If time has proven anything, it’s that we — the Jewish people and not our adversaries — will survive. We need to stick together, because when we do that, we are stronger. 

In these trying times, I know that’s what I will do. I will be with my people, and wherever they go, I will go. That was my pledge, and I intend to follow through.

Kylie Ora Lobell is a Journal contributing writer.