Why I Hate the Phrase “Jew by Choice”

“You aren’t really a convert, though.” 

I have heard these words numerous times. Usually from friends trying to exclude me from whatever comment they are about to make about converts. Instead of making me uncomfortable, these moments remind me of the varied ways there are to be Jewish.

My Jewish journey isn’t typical—but whose is? My Dad began his conversion to Judaism when I was thirteen, and my Mom followed shortly after, saying she felt like she had discovered that she had always been Jewish late in life. Dad was of Jewish descent on his father’s side, and conversion was like coming home for him.

I spent my adolescent years rebelling against Judaism. Mom forced me to come downstairs on Friday night for our new family tradition—my parents saying Shabbat prayers while I pointedly remained silent. For me, religion was a disingenuous way to make the world easier.

When I started college, Dad persuaded me to go to Hillel for the free food. “Do you really think I’d sell out my principles for free food?” I asked when he first suggested the idea. “Your principles are free food,” he countered. 

Feeling like he had a point, I went.

2 comments on “Why I Hate the Phrase “Jew by Choice”

  1. Helen Plotkin on

    This is beautifully said. I’ve always been uncomfortable applying that phrase to converts, because there is some way in which every Jew I know is a “Jew by Choice.” I certainly am, despite having 4 Jewish grandparents. You have shown that the opposite is also true: None of us are really just “Jews by Choice.” Thank you, Amelia.

  2. Cynthia Fein-Wallace on

    This article so describes my feelings regarding the term “Jew by Choice”. My story is different than the author. Unknowingly, my Jewish journey began in seventh grade when I rejected the Christian theologies I was being taught and made up my own (turns out to a letter my invented theologies are very Jewish). The fact that later in my adult life I studied with a Rabbi, was examined by a Beit Din, experienced the Mikvah, even became a Bat Mitzvah only confirms what I already deeply knew to be true about myself. Rather than “choosing” or “converting” I felt that I had found my way home – a place that was already deeply familiar to me. I had been wandering in a dessert for 40+ years and I finally found my people. Thank you for articulating this!

Comments are closed.