I believe with every fiber in my being that one does not need a conversion certificate in order to be considered a “Jew by choice.” One need not convert from the Bible Belt or a Hindu ashram in order to make the choice that each one of us makes on a daily basis. Yes– each and every day we are each faced with perhaps the most challenging decision that can impact every aspect of our lives– to be Jewish today, or not.
While I endorse conversion and all who choose to enter the life-long journey that is Judaism, I believe that each and every one of us, in some way, convert eventually. Each and every one of us must undergo the process of stepping outside and inside our ever-evolving faith in order to find our own paths in. Converts who discovered Judaism as their own from a seemingly polarized lifestyle need not be placed on any higher pedestal than every other person of faith; on the contrary, we must stand on leveled ground and help carve and sharpen the paths for one another in this life-long walk.
According to Halakha in its most traditional of forms, a person is considered Jewish if his mother is Jewish. All people outside of this category must then formally convert to Judaism through a rigid and demanding process. By this model, however, we learn that there are thousands of people who meet this maternally Jewish standard, could immediately become citizens of Israel if they choose, yet remain unaffiliated from all aspects of Jewish life. There are growing statistics of people who are deemed Jewish according to Halackha but have no awareness of their faith or a desire to ever learn about it. The progressive, non-Orthodox Judaism we see and experience today is an endless cycle of people converting into and out of a faith that needs nothing more than our commitment.
In my opinion, one does not need to formally convert to a different religion in order to live outside the global Jewish community. One simply needs to abstain from a pursuing a meaningful Jewish life. In this generation, Judaism no longer needs to require Halakhic titles but rather commitment from its people. It is no longer enough to be the child of a Jewish parent. Today, tomorrow, and every day following we must commit to the faith that has upheld our ancestors through times of great havoc and despair. Every Jew, birthed or converted, must make the choice to call Judaism our own, no matter what form or practice that may be. The choice is ours every single day: to uphold the faith that has upheld our parents or leave it for others to “deal with?”
Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan in Judaism as a Civilization has shaped what the future of Judaism should look in a world where people are free to make unlimited choices. “No single Jewish activity or interest can serve for the whole of Judaism…A program of Jewish life must enable Jews to see and live Judaism steadily, organically, and completely.” The founder of Reconstructionist Judaism emphasized that Judaism is not truly about the laws and limits but rather the choices we make to rejuvenate them. “Time and again, Jews become convinced that their tradition abounds in laws, customs and beliefs which have outlived their usefulness, and which today only obstruct Jewish life and menace its survival.”
How we become Jewish is irrelevant; it is how we make Judaism relevant that will define its future that lies in our hands.