September 20, 2022
We are moved to issue this statement in the wake of the recent publication of Avitall Gerstetter’s troubling article, “Why the growing number of converts is a problem for Judaism,” in the pages of Die Welt, a major German newspaper. Because Gerstetter was ordained as a cantor in 2002 by the ALEPH Ordination Program, the seminary of Jewish Renewal, we feel it imperative to clearly state our position regarding the place of converts in the Jewish community.
Simply put, Jewish Renewal fully embraces and affirms those who wish to convert to Judaism and we welcome converts to participate in Jewish life to the fullest extent of their wishes, without exception or limitation.
We issue this statement as two leaders of Jewish Renewal who have significant personal experience with conversion.
I, SooJi Min-Maranda, am a convert to Judaism whose soul is and always has been Jewish. I am an immigrant from South Korea and was raised in a non religious home. I converted as an adult on my own. Judaism gave me a solid foundation onto which to tether my innate beliefs and values. Judaism, for me, is not just about doing Jewish but being Jewish. For me, Judaism is about welcoming the stranger, repairing the world, and being a righteous person.
I, Darren Kleinberg, was raised in a secular Jewish home and became Orthodox in my teenage years. In 2007, I was publicly disowned by the Orthodox institution that ordained me because I chose to join a beit din along with non-Orthodox and non-male colleagues to officiate at the conversion of an adopted child. Because of that painful experience, I am acutely sensitive to the ways that questions of status in the Jewish community can be used to wield power and harm others.
Together, we issue this statement to unequivocally communicate that, at a time when there is so much divisiveness and hatred in our world, the last thing we need to do is add to the suffering by tearing each other down. Let us instead remain focused on what matters most: wholeness and holiness. For Jewish Renewal communities that means something very simple: all are welcome.
And, lest the focus on the topic of conversion lead to any misunderstanding, let us be absolutely clear: converting to Judaism is not – and, we believe, should not be – the price of entry to participate in our Jewish communities. In Jewish Renewal, we proudly welcome all people to participate in creating joyful communities that will meaningfully contribute to the healing of our human family and our planet.
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, PhD
ALEPH Ordination Program