By Danny Stauffer
One day as I was studying the Torah I noticed that the commandment to love the stranger was repeated several times. I’m sure as good Jews we’ve all read the Torah and noticed the same thing. In fact, I think anybody, regardless of your level of observance, has come across that commandment several times during their studies.
Why is it repeated so many times? One could assume that a commandment repeated is probably pretty important. So the reason? Because we were once strangers in Egypt. It’s all about not sympathy, but empathy. We have been there before. In fact, we’re there now. If you live anywhere outside of Israel, you’re not in a Jewish nation. So, you could say that we are strangers once again in another’s land.
None of that is news to any of you, I’m sure. What might be news to you is that this commandment seems to be quite often forgotten. If not forgotten then outright ignored! I, believe it or not, am a stranger. I did not come to Judaism through the womb but instead through conversion (which I’m still in that process). And oddly enough, some of the most discouraging people have been Jews. I have been told by Jews that because I’m a homosexual, even with an Orthodox conversion, I’d never be a real Jew. And I’m not the only one.
During my time as a “Jew Under Construction” I’ve developed a network of other converts and people who are converting. And would you believe it? I’m not the only one who faces these issues. A very good friend of mine was so immersed in her Jewish community that even the men (it was a Frum community) were astonished by her knowledge. Yet many refused to call her a Jew. She eventually gave up. No community wanted her to be a part of it so she became a Muslim in order to have a community to pray with (there is nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s just unfortunate that she had to seek elsewhere for a religious community.). After her conversion to Islam her rabbi encouraged her room mates to move out of the apartment.
Where is the kindness to strangers there? Perhaps the more frum will say that we need to segregate ourselves to keep us free from outside influences. But what will that accomplish? I find more segregated Jews leaving their faith than integrated Jews. I can understand being against intermarriage, but let’s face it; we live in a world of non-Jews. We can’t just ignore the rest of the population. I always thought the whole idea behind Judaism and Tikkun Olam was to lead by example. Therefore, when somebody wishes to follow our example, even if not in our exact idea, should we not encourage it? Should we not assist in it?
I have accepted the fact that no matter what route I take for my conversion there will always be large portions of the Jewish community who don’t see me as Jewish. For the most part, I am fine with just ignoring them. With or without a conversion I consider myself Jewish and bound by Jewish law. And part of that law tells me that I have to treat the stranger with kindness and respect. And some day, when the stranger approaches me and asks me how he, too, can become a Jew, I wouldn’t dare tell him to think twice. I wouldn’t tell him he can’t be Jewish because he’s different. I won’t judge him. I will instead give him a hug and call him brother.