April 26, 2007
Conversion for those raised Jewish? Rabbis address unique obstacles for patrilineal converts
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Some Conservative rabbis have come up with new ceremonies to embrace patrilineal converts in a loving, nonjudgmental manner.
Rabbi Sharon Brous, a Conservative rabbi who leads the non-affiliated IKAR community in Los Angeles, discovered a couple of children in her first b'nai mitzvah class two years ago who had non-Jewish mothers but had been raised in communities that accepted patrilineality.
Brous knew they would have to go to the mikvah before their b'nai mitzvah. To spare them the embarrassment of being singled out, she decided that all b'nai mitzvah candidates at IKAR would immerse.
Their classmates and parents stand behind a screen and offer blessings they have composed for the person standing in the ritual bath. If a conversion is needed, an extra prayer is said.
"For the halachic Jews it's spiritual preparation for the bar mitzvah," Brous said. "For the non-halachic Jews, it's the final step toward conversion. They're affirming in their b'nai mitzvah that they are responsible adults in the Jewish community."
The young teens use the ceremony to articulate their feelings about Judaism in front of their peers and parents.
"It's an incredible celebration," Brous said. "Even though we created this ritual for kids who need that affirmation halachically, it's turned out to be great for everybody."
Jenny Balmagia, 14, celebrated her bat mitzvah at IKAR last June. Her immersion was also her formal conversion, since her mother is not Jewish.
"My rabbi said we were all going to do it, so it didn't feel weird," she said. "It was a good experience because it put me in the right place for my bat mitzvah.
"But," she added, "I didn't feel any more 'Jewish.' I always was."
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