“who are you?”

Everything depends on you; the decision is yours.
-Maimonides

You were not put on this earth just to get in touch with God.
That sort of thing could sap all the strength and the goodness out of a chelloveck.
-A Clockwork Orange

I’m 22. I like comics, writing, and music.

I’m a victim of patrilineal descent.

“I am a marginal Jew.” -Feliks Levitansky

Basic summary: Decide to convert at age nineteen during community college in suburban Virginia, go to W&M as a Jewish Studies major, move to Brooklyn at 21 to convert, fail, return to Virginia. That is my life. Love! Deceit! Lies!

Also, attention: Jews for Jesus, stop following me. I hate you. Like, I literally hate you.

I’ve also written for:
Frum Satire
Jewschool
New Voices

Gmail: lmcooper90

18 thoughts on ““who are you?”

  1. You’re a “victim” of patrilineal descent? I might say that I’m a product of patrilineal descent, but not a victim.

    That’s a strong word–and I say that without trying to judge your experience of your own parentage. And I think that people who want to be Jews and don’t believe themselves to be Jews should convert, with whichever denomination you want.

    But yeah.

  2. I’m actually really glad that I’m at least a halfie, as opposed to coming from a long line of Scotch-Irish Protestants (which, by the way, is 99% of the South)…but it’s just annoying being half-Jewish-sort-of-kind-of when you know that if it were just the other parent, you would be 100% good to go—no matter how secular you were or your family was. But in this case, suddenly I am 0% nothing, even though for some reason my grandmother thinks I can still be Reform, even though I’m pretty sure I can’t.

    There are also technical logistics. Maimonides says you can’t say blessings over things in which you’re not obligated, others say that non-Jews shouldn’t go around observing Shabbat or wearing tzitzit, and I don’t know who to listen to. There’s a guy at my synagogue who I suspect is converting too, so lately I just do what he does.

    PS Wait a second! Did you have to convert? As far as Reform is concerned, I think I missed the boat on doing those “timely acts of identification” that “makes” patrilineal kids Jewish. (Their ruling is strange.)

  3. The M. in David A.M. Wilensky is McKinney, so I’m right there with you on the Scottish front. My mother converted, but after I was born.

    I don’t know who to listen to.

    You have two choices:

    1. You can either live in the la-la land that Orthodox Jews still pretend they live in where people accept a particular authority above all others. In this option, you find a single rabbi and accept that rabbi’s rulings only. Just do whatever that rabbi says.

    2. You can consult a variety of authorities, different texts, different rabbis–and then make up your own mind about which makes the most sense. Given what I’m reading on this blog, this sounds more like something you’d do.

    The third option you’ve found–“There’s a guy at my synagogue who I suspect is converting too, so lately I just do what he does”–is a shitty option and you’re too smart for that.

    Did you have to convert?

    I don’t have to do anything. I grew up in a Jewish home with Jewish parents and I’m a religious Jew today, as I always have been.

    The Reform ruling, BTW, makes perfect sense: A person raised as a Jew is a Jew. A person not raised as a Jew needs to convert to be a Jew. That’s what you get if you strip away the complicated wording.

  4. 1. You know, after reading all that ArtScroll fiasco, it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t exactly what was happening in the Orthodox world. I also read somewhere that Orthodoxy is “easier” because you don’t have to worry about your own take on this or that, because the laws are already all laid out for you. That’s why I like Conservative best. It always has to defend itself, being forever the middle child.

    2. I would do that, but then, knowing me, I’d just *have* to go argue about it with the opposing rabbis until somebody won.

    3. The Reform ruling is confusing for someone in my situation, inasmuch as I was raised Jewish until I was about nine…and even then, we still had Christmas (and Hanukkah, of course). After I was nine, we started going to this ridiculous Baptist church even though no one in my family has ever been Protestant, ever! And even now my grandmother and my mom both tell me I “don’t have to convert because I’m already Jewish”. Anyway, it’s strange to me that apparently, I was Jewish until the day my twelfth birthday passed without a Bat Mitzvah. I was raised as someone who had parents who couldn’t make up their minds!

  5. 1. Yeah, everyone is convinced that it’s “dead”. I’m not sure why…I’m not sure why it should be. I hate these interdenominational tensions. (I’ve noticed it mostly comes from Orthodoxy, saying things like Conservative is “dead”…and they really love to say that the reason men are dropping out from non-Orthodoxy is because it’s allowed the worst thing ever—women’s participation, naturally—and men aren’t “needed” anymore. It’s so annoying. So annoying…)

    3. Hmm….interesting…seriously, I might do that if I can’t convert at the Conservative synagogue before I’m twenty-freaking-one. They might wonder why I never show up at the temple though…hehe.

  6. 3. I’ve never ran into any reform rabbis who ask converts to have a b’nei mitzvah. I’m curious about that.

    My experience has included multiple (at least 4 Reform and 1 Reconstructionist ) rabbis saying something along the lines of “oh, it’s a beautiful ceremony to have, IF YOUR INTERESTED our group for Adult B’nei Mitvah meets on such-and-such day…”, but always emphasizing that if youre converting, your mikveh date essentially gives you the status of Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

    The emphasis seems to be on the ceremony’s personal cathartic experience, as opposed to the non-negotiables, like Hatafat Dam Brit, Bet Din, and Mikveh.

  7. 1. I always understood the “Conservative is Dead” thing to be from it’s growing internal division, where one wing seems to be drifting towards Reform/Reconstructionist/Renewal direction, and the other towards a more Conservadox path, where it’s pretty much Orthodoxy with an exception made for driving to shul on Shabbat. That’s a gross oversimplification, of course, but I think it’s symbolic of the divide. The liberal denominations have their own internal divisions naturally, but since Conservativism seemed to self-consciously position itself as being “between” Orthodoxy and Reformism, to have different shuls slowly transforming themselves INTO either Orthodoxy or Reform seems to miss the point.

    Of course, this may all stem from institutional change being the unit of measurement. Some JTS-affiliated Shuls may not have ever accepted the Driving Teshuvah–in which case, by not changing, were shifted by the changes of others to the right.

  8. Well, that’s true too. I occasionally wish I was blind to all the internal divisions. There’s also, along with this, a kind of movement toward many people being “unaffiliated” (for example, even though technically you are allowed to drive, the regulars at my shul pretty much don’t). Maybe you could avoid all this by attributing differences within Conservativism to minhag. (I saw some differences just between the three minyanim I’ve been to; two in New York and the one here where I live.)

  9. Oh, I only saw this part of your blog now. I think David gave you excellent advice.
    I also hate these denominational divides. And they don’t mean much. I know Reform and Conservative Jews who are much more observant than some Jews who attend an Orthodox shul. The only difference is the ones that go to the Orthodox shul have to pretend they walked there, so they must park their car on a side street.
    I think what matters is your personal observance, not what group you are officially affiliated with.
    May I ask a personal question? You mentioned the Baptist church. Did your dad go to this church too? Do your parents still go? What do your parents believe now?

  10. You know, now that you mention it, that is very true. Being affiliated with Orthodoxy doesn’t magically make you observant. I suspect that this is why some people are threatened by converts—being confronted by someone who consciously chooses an observant lifestyle makes them have to actually, you know, notice what they’re not doing.

    (I totally park my car on side streets, but I also feel bad because I know people think I walk. But I do it because I also wish I didn’t have to drive, and I like to pretend that I actually do walk there.)

    Well, my dad passed away a few months ago, and I’m not really sure if he actually converted to Christianity or not. All I know is that when we moved to Virginia when I was eight, we started going to this rural Baptist church just because our neighbors did. It’s weird, too, because no one in my family was ever Baptist (or Protestant, for that matter…) He was buried in a Jewish cemetery anyway, which I personally made sure of. And I thought, Ha! Take that Christian missionaries!

    My mom just hates all religion, which she’s passed on to my sister. She used to be Catholic, but she told me she had bad experiences so she doesn’t like “organized religion” in general anymore. So, she’s glad I’m not a flaming anarchist atheist rebel anymore, but she doesn’t understand why I want to convert and do mitzvot and so on. (“Rules? You have to follow rules? How great could this religion be, anyway?”)

  11. Oh, I see. Well, as a former Catholic, I can understand your mom. She’s definitely not the only Catholic who’s developed a hate for all organized religions – I know plenty in my own family and circle of friends.
    I could have almost gone down that road, if it wasn’t for the fact that I wanted to be part of a religion. But definitely not the Catholic one. I mean when you’re Catholic, first you have to deal with the Church’s bloody past, then you have to deal with its embarrassing and perverted present, and then you think, okay, why do I want to be associated with this again? And finally you realize there is actually no sane reason to be part of that disgusting millenary organization, especially since they’re no longer allowed to burn you at the stake for abandoning them.
    I am very sorry to hear about your dad.
    Maybe your parents just started going to the church to meet people. It’s often what people do when they move somewhere new (although I agree it’s weird under the circumstances…)

  12. I wonder exactly what happened, because I know that she tends to have high expectations. She told me once, for example, that she didn’t like a rabbi she knew anymore, once she saw that he had a big house. Anyway, that’s interesting, because I found Judaism from a perspective of someone whose only friends were vocal atheists…and who liked it because (at first at least) it wasn’t very organized! I guess it’s a good thing that there is such a variety of backgrounds.

    Eh, if they wanted to meet people, there is a temple down the street. I don’t have good thoughts about intermarriage (although I admit that without it, I wouldn’t be here), because how can you keep from confusing your kids? I guess the idea was that my sister and I could decide when we were old enough, and now that I’m old enough, it’s much harder to pick Judaism than it might have been. (And my sister isn’t into it at all, probably because, being younger, she has even less of a background than I do.)

    I would kind of like to learn more about Catholicism, though. I’m glad you didn’t end up growing to hate all religions!

  13. Oh man. If I’d started blogging all this when I started converting at the same age as you, my blog would look like this instead, LOL… Good luck, kid.

  14. The idea of needing to do “Jewish identification” things for the Reform movement to consider you Jewish is a bit of a joke. That’s in there so that people like Moammar Qaddafi aren’t counted as Jews. They don’t really require it. They just want to keep their temple memberships up.

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