Off the top of my head, here’s…
The stuff they don’t tell you in any intro-to-Judaism class about being a Jew:
1. No matter how accepting your family is of your religious choice, you are now different. And sometimes this difference might make you a little sad—it can be lonely when your family isn’t sitting at the Seder table, or breaking the fast with you. My advice so you don’t feel alienated from your family: include them in your traditions and life as much as possible, and return their acceptance by participating in their lives and religious practices as you are comfortable and able.
2. Nobody comes to a Saturday morning service on time. Except for maybe the b’nai mitzvah family. And it’s OK to get up and go to the bathroom—the whole room won’t turn around and watch you exit.
3. Nobody cares if you were born-Jewish or converted to Judaism. Either way, you are Jewish. (This comes with all sorts of footnotes—see your Rabbi for details.)
4. Jews love to discover that you are also Jewish. Especially when you have a non-Jewish last name. And don’t expect your last name to explain that you are a Jew by choice either. I’ve been asked if Flayhart was Polish, and when I responded it was Irish, the response was, “wow, I never knew an Irish Jew before.” (And this person was serious.)
5. Born-Jews are fascinated by your choice to become Jewish. Be prepared for a lot of questions—people are flattered that you thought so highly of Judaism that, despite the obvious, inherent challenges, you pursued your religious choice. But sometimes the questioning can make you a little uncomfortable or feel too probing. If this is ever the case, feel free to excuse yourself—it’s no-one’s business but yours, and there is no right or wrong reason why you chose to be Jewish, or how you practice your religion.
6. Jewish people love their dogs, Nordstrom, Costco (except Linda Haase), and Toyotas. If there is reincarnation, I’d like to come back as a Jewish-owned poodle. And Toyotas are good cars, recalls and all.
7. You will most likely gain 10 pounds the first year you have converted. Maybe it was just me, but all of those Shabbat dinners and holidays with endless amounts of food torpedoed my waistline.
8. It’s OK to miss celebrating Christmas. I’ll never have a tree in my home, and I don’t want to. But this doesn’t mean I don’t get nostalgic for my childhood, or stop me from celebrating Christmas with my family—important in keeping up the family relations. The moral: do whatever makes you happy. No one is going to strip you of your “Jewishness” if you watch Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer for the one millionth time.
9. There are a million little and big differences between the various streams of Judaism—and you will probably have to explain a little bit of this to your non-Jewish family. Some of my family seriously expected when they met my husband—a reform Jew—to meet a man with a full beard, black and white clothes with fringes, and payas, because this is what they saw on TV. I had to explain that as with Christianity, there is much diversity in Judaism.
10. The first time you experience anti-Semitism, you probably won’t realize it, and when you do, you will be probably be more pissed off than someone who was born-Jewish. I was in the middle of Ohio when a sales woman recoiled when I explained why the cross she showed me wasn’t of interest. It wasn’t until I left the store, that I realized her reaction to me, and I was mad. I’ve found that I get more upset than my born-Jewish husband and friends about this—maybe it’s because I was raised Christian and taught to be accepting of others, so I have zero tolerance. Or maybe it’s the Irish in me…
11. You don’t have to cram a whole lifetime of knowledge into your conversion process. Becoming Jewish is only the first step in your journey—you will learn more throughout your lifetime and probably want to practice Judaism in different ways along the journey. You don’t have to know everything right now—just enjoy it!