Whenever I hear someone describe people who convert to Judaism as “Jews by choice,” I get a little bit bothered. In spite of the Holocaust, or maybe because of The Holocaust, all Jews are “Jews by choice.” We all have a right to act “Jewishly inspired” lives (or choose not to).
Einstein once wrote, “I wish I wasn’t born Jewish, so I could choose for myself this magnificent religion.” I only heard this quote once, so it could be “bubbeh maisah” (grandmother’s story, a fairy tale), but it does give Einstein a more “Jewishy” position, as Einstein wasn’t much of a believer. But I digress.
One of the things I love about Judaism, is a from in our prayer book, “I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands no abdication of my mind.” You, too, can be Jewish and disagree with the rabbinical code, or other Jews, or even The Torah. So I retain my complete free will — to choose to do good or to do evil. I can light the Shabbat candles on Friday nights and go to shul (synagogue), or I can gorge on bacon and sleep in Saturday morning. Those are the choices and I sometimes make them as a Jew and sometimes as a very hungry atheist (when it comes to bacon).
My husband was a gentile — growing up in a Christian family — who converted to Judaism about 8 years ago (after 18 of being married to a Jew) — someone now known as a “righteous proselyte.” He’s actually more Jewish than I am, and always has been — and this admission comes from a person with 99.8 percent Ashkenazi ancestry (according to 23 & Me). He’s the one who usually reminds me to light the candles, goes to shul more often and knows much, much more Hebrew. (I don’t know any. I read the prayers in English alliteration. I actually don’t even have a desire to learn Hebrew.) For most of his life, he considered himself a Deist (look up our American Founding Fathers who also believed in a more objective, hands-off creator who set things in motion, but does not micromanage). He chose to be a Jew.
With all the horrible things happening in the world: the rise of anti-Semitism, open bigotry, human trafficking, child abuse; we, as Jews, have the right to choose. Every day.