By Anthony Arnello
The day I decided to go forward with conversion after two previous tries, my sponsoring rabbi asked what had stopped me before: My answer was simple: I didn’t want to feel “not Jewish enough” after I became a Jew/ I wanted to do it right. I remember my rabbi telling me there’s no doing it right or wrong. It is a journey. If the journey is one you wish to take, then you will make it your own as you grow and evolve.
Navigating through imposter syndrome as a new Jew, especially during major holidays, means creating and claiming tradition for yourself. Even if you are at the beginning of your journey, tackling feelings of imposter syndrome is an essential part of your journey. Halachically, you are a Jew following the conversion process, but emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, the conversion begins when you allow yourself to feel more like a participant and less of an observer. If only it were so simple as it sounds.
In a practical sense, there are two things which can help stop these feelings. First, be involved! Find and cherish the supportive people who can meet you where you are at. You cannot go from a full Friday at work or other activities to spending Friday morning braiding Challah, cooking all day, and preparing a Shabbos table. Find people who share your lifestyle, passions, and goals of observance. You will understand, respect, and learn from one another. Moving beyond that, as you evolve, you can decide to kick it up a notch.
The second important tactic to tackle Imposter Syndrome is education. So often, we may feel out of place because as new or soon to be Jews, we don’t have the family history, traditions, and stories that others do. However, a lesson I learned early on was that many converts in the US have studied more about Jewish history and theology than most American Jews. If you can bring knowledge to the table, you will be both a good ambassador to non-Jews and an informed member of the tribe.
Being a new Jew is something exciting. We bring with us elements of understanding, culture, and traditions from our own backgrounds. We are ground zero for building tradition and community. Judaism is a living and breathing diaspora. That fact is what has kept Jews alive, what has fueled our principles, and what will give you solace as a new Jew that you belong, you are relevant, and most importantly, you are home.