Being a BT and a Ger

When you meet someone who has become observant, they are usually either a Ba’al Teshuva or a Ger. I am both.

I grew up, like much of the current generation, in a relatively assimilated family. It is said that the majority of the Jewish community, outside of orthodoxy, are marrying non-Jews. Some of the non-Jewish spouses convert to Judaism, but since those conversions are generally not done under halachic auspices, the non-Jewish spouses continue not to be considered Jewish. So what has become of the children of these marriages. Obviously, the children of those couples, where the husband is Jewish, are not halachicly Jewish, yet many of them were raised as Jews and believe that they are Jewish.

While doing “kiruv” work on college campuses, I developed several rules of thumb about how to tell whether a student was halachicly Jewish or not, through experience. One of them was by the student’s last name. If the student had a name like Goldberg or Rosenfeld, they were not Jewish. And if the student had a name like Diaz or O’Brian, they were probably Jewish. Intermarriage is so rampant out there that the likelihood is that almost every student has one non-Jewish parent. If they have a Jewish last name, then it is more likely that their father is the Jewish parent, and their mother is not Jewish. Whereas if the student had a non-Jewish last name, then in all likelihood the Jewish parent is probably their mother. Such are the ironies in a world of rampant assimilation.

Growing up, I was of the Goldberg/Rosenfeld variety. My father grew up in a reform Jewish household and my mother grew up belonging to the “Church of Christ” denomination. She married my father and converted to Judaism in their local reform temple. They brought me up Jewish in their reform temple. I was relatively involved in Jewish life as a reform Jew who was not halachicly Jewish. Later in life when I became interested in becoming observant, I learned that I was not considered Jewish according to the Orthodox standards I was learning about. I think that most other Jews, upon learning such news, would be turned off and reject that highly unpleasant message. However, my parents and community taught me to be open-minded towards others’ views, so I accepted that there were differing opinions about my Jewishness.

In addition to the normal hurdles faced by Ba’alei Teshuva, I also had to go through much of the same gauntlet that other Gerim go through because I had to go through a conversion to become Jewish, even though I had always considered myself Jewish until that point. There certainly were some interesting and amusing events that took place during that period when I was getting ready to be megayer, as I was living in all other ways as a frum teenager. One interesting fact, that I only found out about years later, was that there had been a meeting in NCSY’s national administration about whether to let this Shomer Shabbos/Negia/Kol Isha, tzitzis laiden kid who wasn’t Jewish on one of their trips to Israel.

Over the years, I have only met a handful of other Ba’alei Teshuva who had to go through Gerus because of the Jewish status of their mother. Most people are “regular” Ba’alei Teshuva who were always Jewish but became observant. It seems that it must be difficult for people in my situation to find their way back, which is a bit disappointing to me. If there are any of you out there, please comment! Hashem should help all of His children come back to him!

-Dixie Yid (
Originally Posted July 2007

60 comments on “Being a BT and a Ger

  1. I know this post is old, but I felt the need to bring up another point. A good friend of mine grew up in an orthodox community, went to orthodox schools, but her parents are from post-war Europe and didn’t know much else than orthodoxy. When she was 22 and engaged, she found out her mother was not born Jewish and had a non-orthodox conversion in Europe. She went to the mikva, and that was that. But her ketubah says “bat Avraham avinu”. She’s told me it’s a little strange, because on the one hand, she has always been Jewish in her mind, but halachically not so.

  2. It’s all fine and well to say we gerim should be proud of our title, but when you have kids in a charedi school system this isn’t quite the reality. I identify myself as a BT because that’s how I feel. Even though I grew up secular after my Jewish father and Conservative-converted mother divorced, I never identified myself as anything but a Jew. I admit it was pretty humiliating to have to convert (loved the person who asked me after my giyur was complete, “How does it feel to have a neshama?” or the other one who said a few years down the line, “You were an Evangelical, right?”). I tend to think it’s patronizing when people say they themselves would never have converted if they hadn’t been born Jewish. If you are a BT and you discovered Torah, and then you found out you were not halachically Jewish, you would have made the same choice I made because it isn’t really a choice–you have a Yiddishe neshoma and you would have done what you had to do.

    It’s a messy situation (my kids get to be confused both by their non-Jewish relatives and by their frei zeidy), and I do feel people who think I am just BT react more positively than those who know I am also a giyores (the tachlis reality is people tend to see this as “less than”). But it is what it is. Obviously Hashem could have sent me into a chashuve family of rabbeim, but He didn’t, so this is my pekel.

    On another note, I don’t feel like I really had to sacrifice for becoming frum (OK, there were and are some family difficulties but that can be the case for anyone, right?), but making aliyah demanded giving up almost everything. It’s rewarding but it ain’t easy.

    Hatzlacha to all in their journeys.

  3. Wow–just came across this article. I’m one of these “Goldberg/Rosenfeld” types, and finally underwent my Orthodox conversion a little over six months ago. Now I’m studying at a BT seminary in Israel and find that there’s no difference here in how the BT’s, the converts (there are one or two others), and even the non-Jewish pre-converts are treated.

    Honestly, I don’t even think of myself as any kind of “BT” even though I was brought up Reform and became religious later. We gerim should be proud of our title! :-)

  4. If I suddenly discovered that I was not Jewish, I would never become a ger.

    I would simply follow the Seven Noachide Coammandments, and to earn more merits, I would try to do things to help Jews.

  5. Sorry to drag up such an old topic, but… I find myself in the Goldman/Rosenberg category, and had a really hard time coming to terms with it. My dad’s family actually had quite a few observant branches to it, and they were all very inclusive and I never would have known that I wasn’t Jewish if I hadn’t become more observant first!

    Now I’m on the path of my conversion and it can be so frustrating. Seems like so many FFB and BT’s think I should have taken my ticket out, so to speak. I know this is typical for most gerim, but I feel much like they can’t comprehend that the circumstances don’t leave one feeling or thinking like your “typical” gerim. For all my life, I was Jewish. I thought I was BT. No one ever questioned me when they thought that was true.

    But even so, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hashem put me on this path for a reason, and I’ll figure that out in due time.

  6. Lovely post, Rishona. I thought of commenting on this old thread when I first read it a few days ago. We seem to have lived parallel experiences.

    I feel a lot of pain for those who discover years later that they are “Not-Really-Jews”, and I am appalled at the insensitive response of too many kiruv people and organizations.

    Having said that, the struggle of my giur and my life as a religious Jew, wife, and mother here in Israel (no family, little money) leads me to conclude that too many BTs are, well, a little whiny.

    We converts go through the religious equivalent of Marine training. (“The Few. The Proud. The Gerei Tzedek.”) As you point out, we go into Yahadut without expecting an easy path and a big hug. I will never forget the words of one of the rabbanim on my beit din, “For a Jew, NOTHING is difficult”. I will never forget breaking my teeth over mishnayot when my Hebrew was little more than aleph-bet, and being told that this was definitely worthwhile, and really very easy. After years of being a top student, I found myself one of the slow ones (especially in reading out loud) in my admittedly high-paced ulpan.

    It was really hard, but like most serious challenges, it brings a tremendous sense of acoplishment–I can learn any sefer I set my mind to, I read, write, and live my life in Hebrew, and have 5 children who can be described as “very Israeli”.

    I am not Superman and am clever and hard-working but not brilliant. I’m no hero; I slack off too much, but having seen that Judaism really is an “open book”, it’s hard to sympathize with those who got it all “al kapit shel kessef”.

    The most wonderful gift I have received is that I know in my heart of hearts that I could give my life “al kiddush Hashem” if I had to. I’ve done it already millions of times in little tiny bites.

  7. Well my apologies on posting on such an old topic. It was very enlightening to read both the original post and the comments. But something that I wanted to elaborate on…that was touched upon previously…is the duality and issues present in modern kiruv. It seems as if the “Goldberg” rule is a way to shift through those who kiruv should be focused on…and those who may be seen as “problematic”.

    No doubt I understand the halachiac sensitivities present; and halacha should never be brushed aside. However, you are usually dealing with young people who are at a critical junction of their lives and can be very impressionable and sensitive. That and they do not always understand that there is more to halacha than being “a bunch of old rules”. Understand that it is a tough move to be a secular, cultural, non-observant “Jew” and even take small steps to becoming frum.

    I myself am a non-Jew completely. I was born to two non-Jewish parents and had a Reform conversion (which at that time seemed like a big step) when I was 21. I knew from the beginning the issue that if I wanted to affiliate with the other strain of Judaism…I would need to convert again. “Half-Jewish” children hear almost the opposite; lots of reinforcement that they are “real Jews”. Also if the parent had a non-halachaic conversion, they can often times be very active and involved in the non-Orthodox Jewish community. No you have the child of the “Super Reform Jew” becoming involved with the kiruv group on campus; then they hear that they are not Jews at all. Couple that with the kiruv Rabbim who might withdraw a bit from such an individual. And you really have a sad situation.

    Kiruv organizations are wonderful; but they often times end up being much more than what their primary mission provides. They are often on the “front lines” when in comes to introducing non-Jews (including “half-Jews) to Torah observant Judaism. When you are outside of Orthodox Judaism, not only do you have to deal with learning and integrating with your new community…you have to get past your previous inhibitions and stereotypes and explain your new life to those who were involved in your old life. It is really, and truly, a monumental task.

    Although I can understand the aspect of the “lack of support” to gerim…I curiously do not envy BTs. I just cannot picture being born as a Jew…but somehow never being “good enough” (as a false perception…but is still perpetuated in some communities). I know gerim get the same sentiments…but at least there isn’t the tough pendulum swing where once upon a time their Jewishness was fine…and now they have a stigma…despite all of the growth they made…

    The Orthodox Jewish community needs to place more of an emphasis on the development of all Jewish neshamot…regardless of the label of the body carrying it. Each and every Jew who clings to the Torah is precious. Why can’t we express this more?

  8. There is a definite downside to being upfront about having a non-Jewish father (mine was not halachically Jewish and had had an invalid conversion). I find some people who know of my mixed background say that I must not be able to keep Xtian and Jewish theology straight. Gerim say they get the same reaction from people who try to set them straight on some aspect of belief and practice when it is actually their own religious education that is faulty. Someone I dated even told me that I share in the guilt for the Holocaust because of my father. As someone who was 3/8ths Jewish, my father would not have been welcomed into the Third Reich whether or not he was a practicing Xtian.

    I certainly don’t advocate denying the facts of your background when questioned. You don’t need to put up with abuse or condescension from people who have come to unwarranted conclusions about the validity of your Jewishness. I have at times gone to both the person as well as any mutual friends to discuss their attitudes. The only way to fight such attitudes is to not to suffer in silence.

  9. Hi! This is my 1st time here. I am a baalas teshuvah who went through NCSY, then Chabad. I’m sure it’s different nowadays, but in my time we were told what to do and what not to do without learning the reasons for why we do mitzvos in NCSY. For example I made my parents crazy to buy me new dresses with long sleeves, and couldn’t understand the negative reaction at the next Shabbaton — my long sleeved dresses were very short, with low necklines, and one even had fishnet sleeves!

    I have lived in more than one community, and have seen the various ways that baalei teshuvah, but moreso geirim are either accepted or not accepted.

    Yes, there are communities which are truly not open-armed. If you live in such a community, you might consider moving to another more accepting community. It seems that on this forum you could get suggestions as to such communities.

    Another suggestion though, and please don’t take this incorrectly. ALL of us need to look within. Is there something that we are doing or not doing, etc. that might cause people to be less than open-armed towards us? Maybe a little introspection, and a little growth, might (possibly slowly) change the attitude of others in our communities towards us. We all need to constantly grow anyway. Judaism isn’t about being static.

    I wish everyone hatzlocho on your spiritual journeys. Yasher koach to all of you! May we soon all meet in the Bais Hamikdosh Hashlishi!

  10. DixieYid, sounds like the possible future of the daughter of this family I wrote about some time ago: here. Hopefully, she’ll meet someone on campus who has the sensitivity you’ve demonstrated!

    Personally, I’d tend to feel that the same resources that are available to Jewish born BT’s should be appropriate to converts as well – albeit that there are often cultural differences – but there are between Chassidim and Litvaks, Ashkenaz and Sefard, etc. as well. Isn’t it learned that those who seek to convert to Judaism were present when the Torah was given, and wanted to accept it then? It just may have taken a little longer, and who is to say that far enough back, they don’t have Jewish ancestors (as one commenter mentioned above) that may have dropped off the tree till the present time when the neshama had the opportunity to reconnect.

  11. Kalanit,

    Interestingly, when my Mom underwent her reform conversion about 35 years ago, the reform rabbi actually did warn her that her conversion would not be considered valid by orthodoxy. At the time, she reasoned that it made no difference to her. What did she case what the orthodox thought of her conversion? As she pointed out when I was going through my Gerus, this turned out to be bitterly ironic, as it ended up making a very big difference with her son!

    It would be great, I suppose, if non-orthodox converts were warned of this fact beforehand, but, as in the case of my mother, I don’t think it will make much of a difference in anyone’s choices.

    Interestingly, after I’d become orthodox, this same orthodox rabbi who conducted my mom’s reform conversion called me to come speak to him. Apparantly, he wanted to take a shot at talking me out of being orthodox. I enjoyed the discussions, but after the second session, I think he found that he “just couldn’t reason with me.” :-) Oh well.

    -Dixie Yid

  12. F, truly dizzying! You’re right that it’s not a rule, but a rule of thumb and it’s not true in all circumstances. It’s just a quick hint that is probably right more than 50% of the time, but not much more. And I don’t rely on that one without more information!

    -Dixie Yid

  13. Well, this rule of thumb about Goldberg/O’Brian might not work for second-generation intermarried Jews like me:
    My mother is Jewish, but my father is Italian by background–I also married someone is not halachically Jewish, but has a Jewish-sounding last name: so my Children are halachically Jewish, but my while my maiden name is Italian, my married surname (and so, kids’ surname) is Jewish-sounding. Just a note…

  14. Kalanit,
    I can identify so well with your experience. I am a Goldberg. I also felt profoundly Jewish though because I am from an ‘older’ generation I knew I would not be accepted by the greater Jewish community. It took me 20+ years to finally take all the necessary steps to convert. My daughter goes to a Jewish dayschool and many of the children are living the situation you described and I must say I look somewhat askance at their parents and what they are leading them into down the road.

    As far as support many years ago there was a national support group but then it dispanded. I read about it in a Jewish monthly magazine. I felt quite alone in my circumstances. Most of the children I knew from intermarried parents saw their Jewishness as a small piece of their overall heritage.

  15. I’m a “Goldberg” and didn’t know of my non-Jewish status until I was in college. My strong Reform upbringing did a very good job of “hiding” this fact (yes, my knowing about it is still new enough to feel resentment). Of course, I have a very strong Jewish identity and this causes a lot of internal conflict and almost an identity crisis: I feel so Jewish yet I’m not. Thankfully, in my opinion, this knowledge has resulted in my becoming more observant and drawn to Torah Judaism, rather than pushed me away. I haven’t converted yet but I can’t see myself not going through with it. It’s been an interesting journey so far. Does anyone know of a specific support network for people like us “Goldbergs”? As many have pointed out, we lie smack in the middle of Ger and BT with some extra unique issues all our own.

    What do you all think about efforts to make the Jewish community more aware of this predicament faced by so many of its members? My parents did not foresee what would happen 20+ years down the road but if someone had pointed it out, maybe things would be different. Also, even if it’s already “too late”, I’m sure people would appreciate knowing before they try to marry a Jew or another embarrassing situation arises. Like I said, the Reform movement doesn’t make a point of letting people know that matrilineal descent is the halacha.

  16. Chana,

    Great point from the Rav you spoke to. Whenever there’s an opening for Keduaha, the Saton tries especially hard to stop you by placing obstacles in the way. I personally didn’t have that experience of a particularly difficult first year though. I had my high school friends that I hung out with there. I had my Shul friends I hung out with mostly outside of school, and I had my NCSY friends I wrote to and saw at Shabbatonim that year. B”H, I was blessed with great parents, as well as a supportive Shul and friends.


    Thank G-d, that your family stayed close enough to Judaism through all those generations that you are, like you said, still Jewish. And not only that, you are connected to Shabbos, Kashrus, Tefilah, and so many other mitzvos. That’s great.

    As to your point about the prevelance of intermarriage, you’re familiar with the 50% intermarriage rate from 1990, I assume. That’s including the orthodox, which are about 10% of the population. If you take them out of the mix, the non-orthodox intermarriage rate is going to be well over 60% at least, statistically speaking, and things have probably continued to get worse in the last 17 years since that study was done. My statement was more from personal experience though. I went to a reform temple growing up and I figured when I was in 10th grade, that well over half of the kids in my confirmation class were not halachically Jewish. Also when I was doing college outreach, the vast majority of kids out there had intermarried parents. It was just a fact of life out there. You should also understand that I am naturally speaking from an orthodox perspective, and so when I’m trying to know if someone is halachically Jewish, I must consider not only reform conversions, but also conservative conversions invalid, as not conforming to halacha, so I’m including that in my the calculation as well.

    B”H, you may have different experiences with this because you belong belong to a particularly observant subset of the conservative community. In many smaller communities there is virtually no difference in observance between the reform and conservative congregants, except for a couple of exceptional individuals. That has also definitely been my experience in my hometown and in the city I lived in when I was doing the aforementioned outreach work.

    It’s great to hear that whether orthodox or conservative, we Ba’alei Teshuva can share in some of these common experiences!


    I’m sorry you feel so conflicted about having intermarried parents. You can’t be too harsh on your Jewish parent though. In recent times, people simply aren’t given enough connection to Yiddishkeit to understand why it’s important. Who can blame them? I don’t think it’s a nasty secret. It should be something you’re proud of. I also don’t go around sharing my background all of the time, but it is not because I’m ashamed of my parents or my past. Rather, it is because I don’t want to sound like I”m showing off! If people see who you are now and what background that you came from, it usually amazes people. That has been my experience. Ashreinu u’matov chelkeinu. Fortunate are we and how great is our portion!


    That’s so cool. You could be like a secret agent, telling the rabbis when any anti-semetic plots are being hatched!

    Kidding aside, my father in law is from north Africa. He’s dark skinned and speaking Italian and Arabic, among other languages. He’s also been in your situation where Arabs or others have made anti-Israel or anti-semetic comments to him, assuming he is a Catholic and would be sympathetic to their position. Unfortunately, they were sorely mistaken!

    -Dixie Yid

  17. I’m the “O’Brian” variety. Well, actually my dad’s family is English, so they would be seriously annoyed that I was putting myself in a category with an Irish surname. But, oh well. ;-)

    I guess I’ve been lucky, I’ve never encountered any problems within the Jewish community because of my last name or because of who my father is. It is pretty common in my area for Jews to have non-Jewish last names (either because the family “Americanized” their name or because of intermarriage). The only bad thing about having a non-Jewish last name and WASP facial features that I have encountered is that gentiles assume you’re one of them. There have been a few times in my life where I have been “privileged” to be privy to a gentile’s opinion about Jews because they thought they were talking to a fellow Christian.

  18. Dixie Yid– That is great that NCSY was so accepting of you! Its wonderful to have that type of support when a teenager in “limbo” if you will. I started doing more religiously when I was a young teen 14-15 (I even signed up to get NCSY mailings:)), but at that time was unable/unsure as to how to go about getting the support I needed to become truely frum. I’m just glad everything is working out now:)
    I’m definately really excited to get to Israel. itll be the best place for me in terms of learning, growing, spending time with observant families etc. As of now, although it is difficult, I have managed to get away pretty much every other shabbos to spend time in religious communities. During the school year, I was able to go every shabbat to families, so for the past 9-10 months, being shomer shabbos has not been a problem for me.
    I am actually converting here in the USA. I managed to work something out with my Rabbi and the Beis Din to keep in touch while I am in Israel.When I come back from Israel next summer (if all goes well) I will finally undergo my conversion!
    I’ve enjoyed reading everybody’s commments. Shabbat shalom!

  19. Still a very interesting post. I think the journey of someone who is half and half is made up of a constant struggle with belonging and identity. As well, because one parent chose to marry outside his/her own (which is still not all that accepted without conversion) one can spend a lifetime questioning that parent’s motives, affiliation to Judaism. I think there is also the issue of ‘passing’ which can be a burden when one is a child that passes unconsciously. When I spoke the first time with my rabbi about conversion he couldn’t believe I wasn’t Jewish and still he forgets so certain things don’t apply to me that would to a born Jew. I have moved around the world a fair bit in my adult life so I have often felt like I am carrying a nasty secret within me. On a positive note, I have supportive, warm relations with my Jewish relatives both in North America and Israel.

  20. I have seen this a number of times in my Conservative synagogue (I know, most of you wouldn’t consider me a BT since I am Conservative, but I face many of the same issues with shabbos, kashrut, etc. with my family as you do). A young couple become more observant, and then they mention to the rabbi that his mother never actually converted, and is this an issue…and he winds up going through a Conservative conversion.

    Incidentally, I think DixieYid paints too broad a brush in talking about the ubiquity of intermarriage among non-Orthodox Jews. Yes, it is much more common than among the Orthodox, but it is absurd to assume that any non-Orthodox Jew must by now have at least one non-Jewish grandparent!

    (As for me, my great-great-great-grandparents were Reform Jews in Germany….yes, some of their grandchildren did stay Jewish!)

  21. I converted about five and a half years ago. The six months to a year after the conversion was extremely challenging, and I remember seeing the same thing happen with other converts that I knew. It seemed that the more authentic the conversion, the more testing took place. I remember discussing the issue with a visiting rebbe.

    “Why,” I asked, “is it so difficult for a convert in the year after the conversion?”

    “Because there are two yetzer haras at work,” he said without hesitation. “There’s the individual yetzer hara that every Jew has, and there is also a communal yetzer hara because of the great potential impact for good that the convert can have on the community.”

    I’m surprised that several of the posts have referred to the lack of support for converts post-conversion. Of course you need a rav and good friends, but Judaism is not the sort of religion that offers constant hand-holding. Anyone who has had the gift of being brought under the wings of the shechina needs to be looking for ways to be supportive of others. That’s what it really means to integrate into the Jewish people — to be a giver rather than a taker.

  22. Me too. My mother converted conservative and my siblings and I were raised quite traditionally. My Jewish husband and I, B”H became shomer mitzvot together. The most difficult challenge occurred when my non Jewish nephew, raised in a conservative synagogue, with a bris and bar mitzvah, married a goy-I could not attend the wedding. Because he identified as a Jew, even though he is not, my presence would have condoned what appeared to be an intermarriage. Ironic, isn’t it?

  23. Michal,

    Mazel tov on the upcoming Bar Mitzva! Based on what you’ve said about the Bar Mitzvah it sounds like the Gerus would just be a Gerus l’Chumra. In which case, you probably don’t have to be machmir on your daughter that she be considered a Giyores and unnecessrily constrict her marriage choices later on. It’s so hard for many women, especially, to find their Bashert, that it would be a shame to withhold a decent number of men from the pool if it was not really required to do so. Obviiously though, you must ask your Posek that very important question. It is great that you are prepared to accept that result though if it turns out that that is, in fact, the halahca. Kol Hakavod.

    -Dixie Yid

  24. Yes, I am somewhat confused as to whether my children’s halachic status will change (one is a girl) and am prepared that this may be the case. They will be taking on “kabbalos ol.” The Rabbis involved are Chabad and Aish HaTorah. Probably 5 rabbis are involved and I don’t think they have come across this before. My son will have his bar mitzvah in several months (charedi) and none of the rabbis think this is a problem. They just want to prevent marriage issues. So you’re right…how could he have a bar mitzvah if he wasn’t Jewish, especially in these circles?

  25. Rabbi Avi Shafran has an interesting article today that readers of this post might find interesting. Read the whole story here:

    But’s here’s an excerpt that mirrors some of the previous comments on this post:

    “She knew, too, that her parents – somewhat atypically for their circle – would not hesitate to consider an otherwise qualified baal teshuva as a potential marriage-partner for one of their children. Dovid’s dedication, reputation and middos were what had mattered. To be sure, research into his Jewish genealogy, as in any such proposed match, would have to be done. Sadly, the proliferation of intermarriage and substandard conversions over recent decades have served to call into question the halachic Jewish status of non-Orthodox families. Once upon a time, observant Jews could take for granted that a family, by simple virtue of its affiliation with a Jewish congregation, was halachically Jewish. But those days, tragically, are gone.”

    -Dixie Yid

  26. Michal,

    That is really an amazing story to become religous and even convert with older children and even have your husband come along with you. Now even if not everyone accept that MO rabbi’s conversion that you mentioned preceeding the birth of your 2nd and 3rd children, the fact that they will go through a Gerus l’chumra (a conversion just to be stringent) doesn’t necessarily make them now Gerim. If all of the halachos were followed in your conversion before they were born, then you were fully halachically jewish then and they would be too. Going through a Gerus can’t turn a born-Jew into a Ger. Can it? It is something you should clarify I guess because if either one of those children is a girl, then calling her a Giyores might unnecessarily limit her ability to marry a Kohen later on, which is a serious matter. It’s something to think about at least.

    That really is an amazing story. Kol hakavod to you and to the Chabad rabbi who reached out to you.


    You’re right that your situation and mine is quite different from a regular Ger with two non-Jewish parents. It makes it hard for us to relate to the challenges faced by full-Gerim. And it makes it hard for regular BTs and FFBs to relate to the Jewish/non-Jewish mix that formed our lives growing up.

    I must say that the comments I’ve seen here and some private e-mails I’ve received in these situations as well is quite overwhelming. There really seems to be quite a lot of people out there in these situations. It really is heartening that we can contact each other in this venue.

    -Dixie Yid

  27. Hello,
    Very interesting topic: I think I was waiting for this discussion since finding Beyond BT inadvertently last year or so. I am a Goldberg-type of non-Jew (though now converted orthodox) I even have Goldbergs in my family! I grew up in the generation where intermarriage was considered shameful. I am surprised now how accepted it is in Reform/Conservative circles to have one partner Jewish and the other remains not converted but active in Jewish circles. The children to me are in limbo, even though they identify themselves as Jewish. In general I don’t think full Jews understand the complex nature of growing up ‘mixed’. Also I feel full Jews have the tendency to tell you how it was for you growing up in this way. By continuing to refer to these circumstances as identifical as someone who grows up as Jenny McIntosh, to me, is a case of not willing to acknowledge how growing up with even one Jewish parent of either side, transmits a deep connection to Judaism. When my conversion went through I wondered how my Jewish relatives would react. (My mother died when I was young and I do not have contact with any Gentile relatives.) I was overjoyed that they could support my decision and celebrate with me after coming to the end of this ‘long and winding road’.

  28. Dixie Yid,

    I’m just like you too. My story is pretty bizarre. My father is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who married a non-Jewish German girl after WWII. She “converted” by Reform. I grew up ashamed of being Jewish as I only knew of the Shoah horrors and we were extremely assimilated, so I knew none of the joys. I even had a nose job in high school to get rid of the Jewish nose (how’s that for irony?).

    Not until I was 35 (17 years ago) and ran into Chabad, which I loved, did I find out I wasn’t Jewish. So, for the first time in my life I’m excited about Yiddishkeit and I’m not even Jewish (although I understand Yiddish). By this time I’m married with a son who is bar mitzvah age. It was excruciatingly painful and almost caused a divorce. B”H, we eventually had an orthodox conversion and had two more children. Even though we are accepted in the frum community, we want our youngest children (now 12 and 9) to undergo yet one more conversion so they will not have shidduch problems as the rabbi who converted us was very MO, which we are no longer. This will change their halachic status to that of gerim, but it is necessary, so they and their kinderlach will not have to deal with this any more.

    B”H, I can now say that although it has been difficult, it has all been for the best. I am now proud to be a geres and am so much stronger in my emunah because of it.

  29. It is so great to see so many people in situations like mine coming out of the woodwork here.


    That story is amazing chizuk! Listen, is Rebbe Akiva ben Gerim, Onkolus, and Shemaya v’Avtaliyon can do what they did, then any of us can great great heights in our own potential as well.


    I very much remember being in your situation. There was an unusual period of limbo there for me too where I was becoming and then pretty much already religious (moreso in certain areas than many other orthodox teenagers I knew) when I was like a BT in that sense, but I couldn’t be counted in a minyan. I even got half-jokingly yelled at by one of the people in Shul one morning asking me, “Why don’t you convert already? We need a minyan!” :-)

    B”H, I think many places where I was at that stage were more accomodating than maybe even I would have been in the same situation. Don’t tell the people at NCSY this lest it set a precident, but I was even elected to regional NCSY board 6 months before I became halachically Jewish!!! Totally a case-by-case basis thing, I’m sure, but they were unusually accomodating to me.

    As to your situation, I just simplified it for most people by saying I became religious, which is true. I went from being a reform “Jew” to an observant one. I have never felt the need to make a major issue out of it. I am who I am and if is every specifically came up in conversation with someone somehow, they were usually pretty supportive and amazed at someone who finds out they’re not halachically Jewish, becoming Jewish.

    Perhaps it’s best not to focus on labeling one’s self as either a BT or Ger or both, as the title of my post suggests. I’m a Jew and that’s it. If either the fact that I became observant or the fact that I’m a Ger comes up, then so be it.

    Are you converting during your year in Israel? With the Israeli Beis Din?


    That’s awesome to hear that someone in that situation inspired you. It is good for us to hear so please don’t be shy about sharing that fact with any other Gerim or Rosenberg types that you meet!

    Rachel 17:31,

    The distance thing does present quite a challenge and I think that going to E”Y is a great eitza (idea) for that problem. I’ve worked with people working to be megayer in that situation and the only time I’ve really seen it being successful (aside from the person totally moving to a major Jewish community or Israel) is when the person is willing to basically spend every single Shabbos with the Shomer Shabbos community, which is a veyr difficult thing to do. It involves setting up host families for one’s self every single week. And depending on one’s personality that can be very difficult but it’s hard to see any way around that. I believe very strongly in taking a looong time pre-conversion getting a lot of practice to ensure the person is totally committed to taking on the halachic life. I’ve seen way too many cases of people converting and then dissappearing not to be cautious.

    Any thoughts?


    just like Jacob, it’s great to hear chizuk from people like you. The committed Gerim I know and have known are indeed inspiring people. It’s just like the story of Yisro, who, the Midrash says, learned all of the religions in the world, and in the end was Megayer. What a kiddush Hashem.

    -Dixie Yid

  30. Like Jacob H., one of the people most responsible for me looking into Judaism was my best friend at the time, a non-Jew in the process of converting. I didn’t fully understand why she was doing it (amusingly, I would have arguments with her, passionately proclaiming that Judaism is not only a religion, it’s a culture, and she answering that without Torah it’s empty!), but I respected her tremendously (for a variety of reasons) and after we graduated from law school (and after her conversion) I went to Israel to pursue some questions, which led eventually to my becoming frum.

    Also, a close friend of mine in seminary there was a “Goldberg” variety giores. Only her close friends and the school hanhala knew. So, over the years I have had only the best of relationships with converts, and I am truly grateful for their influence on me.

  31. Thanks Jacob for your comment. I can honestly say that in the past year I have had so many positive experiences (and truely- the good experiences have outnumbered the bad– I did not mean to suggest otherwise in my above post). I have come into contact with so many wonderful people who appreciate what I am doing and who have helped me so much. In as little over a year ago, I was very unsure of what to do. I had contacted various rabbis a few times over the years when I had found out I wasnt halachically Jewish (and decided this was the path I wanted to take), but I thought the fact that I live in a very rural place (no religious Jewish community) I would have a harder time converting. so I have had to be very creative in seeking out opportunities.
    Now, for instance, I am leaving for Israel in a little over a week to spend my last year of university. I will also even study at a seminary parttime (I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to study at seminary) ..I still have a ways to go but overall, so far my path back to Torah Judaism has been wonderful and I am just trying to enjoy it.

    an unrelated question:
    1. How have BT/Gerim related/discussed their return to Judaism to siblings who regard themselves as Jewish when only the father is Jewish?

  32. At the risk of sounding patronizing…here goes.

    When I started taking a deeper interest in Torah but prior to crossing that “BT Rubicon” (not sure how to define it outside of my own personal experience) I happened to meet and befriend a Ger Tzedek.

    When I finally had the courage to ask him what prompted this radical change the answers inspired me to revisit with a deeper perspective the meanings of Torah ideals that I had up to that point always taken for granted or at a superficial level.

    Could I have learned them from another (ie a born-Jewish) source? Maybe, but the reality is I didn’t, or maybe I happened to but it didn’t make an impression.

    Despite some unfortunate or unpleasant experiences don’t underestimate the likelihood that you’ve also inspired some or many along the way.

  33. Hi all,
    Just wanted to say I really appreciate this article. Dixie Yid, you expressed many of the same sentiments that I feel now. I am 21, was “raised” Jewish (Jewish father/non-Jewish mother); I found out in my teenage years that I was not halachically Jewish. I am just now going through an Orthodox conversion. I am committed to living a frum lifestyle. However, I feel as if I am between 2 worlds; dont know how to identify myself (ger or bt?). I am at lost as to how to explain my situation when people ask.It also hurts when I have been totally honest about my situation; as a result, in a couple instances– have been told I couldnt attend programs geared toward BT’s.I also have a couple close friends in the same situation who are undergoing conversions. We’ve developed a nice supportive network. So sadly, it’s becoming common– but some of us products of intermarriages are finding/navigating our way back. :)

  34. Not that a single anecdote or data point proves how prevalent it might be statistically, but…

    Since it seems to provide chizuk to Dixie Yid and other “Goldberg/Rosenfelds” out there, I will add, FWIW, that when I was in yeshiva many years ago I had a chavrusa who used to sell his chometz before Pesach to his mother. Today he is a rosh kollel in EY.

  35. My mother’s cousin was in an even more complicated situation:

    she was adopted, converted reform, grew up, became a ba’alat teshuvah in college, went to israel and hooked up w/ beis yaakov, found out she wasn’t halachically jewish and then underwent conversion. she had a really rough time, but thank HaShem is now happily married :)

    Also, just so you know it so happens that there are two other teenagers one ba’al teshuvah who lived by my parents’ house (amongst all the other people who ended up living with us @ one point or another) while growing up because they came from backgrounds like the one you described, either the father wasn’t Jewish, or the parents and children converted, etc.

    There are a very wide range of permutations of Jews out there, and thank God every year more of them are coming closer to HaShem and Torah :)

  36. YM, I’m also very sorry that you had bad experiences. It’s disturbing to hear of maltreatment by rabbayim or other Jews. B”H, there are amazing people out there who are understanding and loving. IY”H, you will find some of them as I did.

    I guess there is a feeling of less support, of everything being directed to the BT. Just look at BeyondBT, they discuss things that have nothing to do with whether you know the halachas of Shabbos and kashrus. These are very important topics to those becoming frum and very important to always learn and relearn, but there is more to a life than this. I know many sources that can help gerim learn the baaic halachas but when it came to finding your place after you have finished your gerus process and want to keep learning, it can be a lot tougher. Yes, we can go to Aish or BeyondBT or any yeshiva/seminary, but you are still the odd one out when it comes to your status. It’s meant for a BT, you just have no where else to go.

    B”H, I had a great experience and have found ways to keep learning and growing, but I have had many discussions of people wanting more support for gerim post-conversion. We have sometimes have truly different problems thatn the average BT. For instance, I have a friend who was a BT who thought she had no frum family at all related to her and then B”H found distant relatives in her area. As gerim, we (well most) never have that. Our family just isn’t Jewish – we can’t eat by them, we can’t sit shiva for them, we can’t find frum relatives, we just can’t. I wouldn’t take back my status for the world, but those are a set of issues that a lot of BTs don’t have to face. And there is very little support for that. I know all kinds of ways to be able to eat in my parent’s home, if they were Jewish, since most of the places I have learned is geared to BTs.

    Does this make any sense?

  37. I think the truth is that there are a lot of people in your situation, but since their last names are jewish (“Rosenfeld”) you wouldn’t know it and would never dream of asking. They also don’t publicize it, because they feel ashamed to one or another degree. And many have moms who converted (reform or conservative) and who consider themselves jewish, have jewish last names (their married names), etc etc….how WOULD you know?
    I know several myself.

  38. YM,

    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such bad experiences. B”H, my experiences have been better, but maybe that is due, to a large extent, to the fact that my father is Jewish. When we’re together he comes to Shul with me and sometimes gets an aliya like any other parent. I’m also saddened to hear you or other gerim you know have been “abused” in some way by rabbis. That is very disturbing.


    Why do you think there is less support for Gerim post-Gerus than there is for Ba’alei Teshuva once they’re fully orthodox?


    Yasher koach to you on the journey that you are taking. I have known a number of people in your situation as well and I commend you and especially your wife for being megayer your children and raising them religiously. I know it’s a difficult change and I commend you! And thank you very much for your extremely kind-hearted comments!

    -Dixie Yid

  39. David and Boruch, I am also of the ‘O’brien’ type. So there’s one more for your count.

    I can’t say that I am aware that others I know fall into this category, but I have found that for those who are already very ‘integrated’ (for instance raising FFB children) they don’t speak about their background so much to get to this detail.

    Personally, I consider myself pretty much like many other BT’s from reform backgrounds. However, I do realize that many of my BT friends with two Jewish parents had more ‘Jewish culture’ in their homes growing up. Now, I have friends who are BT’s, gers, and FFB’s, and I do think that my background helps me to relate to all of them. Further, I think it helps me appreciate that people are born into unique situations that are suited to them, and we all can try to grow from there.

    I have run into one individual who explicitly stated a respect for my growth given the challenge of having come from this situation.

    I have also run into one individual who professed being able to relate to BT’s but could not understand how my family had gone so far wrong as to inter-marry.

    My question for DixieYid is how his family reacted. I have a friend who is a BT and a ger, but the situation came about because her parents were drawing closer to Torah as their children grew up. Her mom converted more than once, and the last time, the children all converted with her. But it sounds like you might be BT either ‘more than’ or ‘faster than’ your parents.

  40. As a ger, I have to agree with NE. There aren’t many resources for gerim and most frum people don’t seem to really understand why someone would convert to Judaism and in my experience think of gerim as ‘odd’.

    Gerim also seem to be ‘abused’ more by rabbonim with questionable morals.

    I’ve just gotten into the habit of telling people I’m a BT with a non-Jewish father.

  41. Dixie Yid,

    Yasher Koach on your journey! First let me inform you that I am a Jew with two kids in the Goldberg/Rosenfeld position. However, I connected to Torah way before their Bar & Bat Mitzvah and will avoid the situation of them not being halachachly Jewish, as they will be undergoing official frum gerus by that time.

    You are an inspiration, as well as one of the first of thousands that will be following behind you over the next few decades, if Moshiach tarries.

    According to the most recent Jewish demographic studies, Orthodox Jewry will make up the vast majority of Jewry within this time.

    Sadly, most non-Orthodox will assimilate and disappear. However, a huge number of those of the Goldberg/Rosenfeld mixed marriages who wish to remain connected to their Jewish heritage will be doing exactly what you did, my friend.

    As Torah Judaism grows & is strengthened, those not a part of it will realize the mistakes the other “streams” made when they decided to change halacha for convenient or practical reasons.

    So Dixie Yid, prepare yourself to be a role model to the thousands of frum Yidden that will be crossing over as you have.

    Hashem has blessed you with a most important mission.

  42. opps I meant to say most of their families were NOT frum, or anywhere close..

    sorry about that

  43. Yeah, I can think of about 5 people offhand that are in that situation. It’s a really interesting situation. Most of their families were frum, or anywhere close, beforehand though. I just met a few in Eretz Yisrael who had moms or grandmothers that converted Reform or Conservative.

    I think I had a lot of support pre-conversion. Well, in the sense that I went to a lot of kiruv events directed at BTs. B”H, I had a rabbi who is amazing and I had people lined up to learn with me by his request. But after I was done, the well dried up. You are now a Jew and people say go and be frum. B”H I got to go to Neve for a little while but many scholarships for learning are for BTs, most support groups or websites (like this) are for BTs, most help with shidduchim for older singles is aimed at BTs…the list could go on.

    However, I do understand that there are a lot less gerim and that we are a much less vocal group. I actually just brought this up with an online support group for gerim, but that group is mostly for people trying navigate the gerus process.

    It’s something I’m looking into starting or getting more people involved with. IY”H, one day, I’ll get something started…

  44. Boruch,

    You’re so right that this is the legacy of intermarriage. Isn’t that amazing that after all that time, you only met two other people with a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father… Wow.


    That’s great to hear that you know so many people who’s converted, who have a Jewish father. I don’t know of any aside from a few in my hometown.

    Have you felt like you didn’t have the support you needed as a Giores? How so?

    -Dixie Yid

  45. But you are also lucky being both. There are definitely a lot more BT support organizations than ones for gerim.

  46. As a giyores, I actually know a lot of gerim who converted after having a Jewish father and nonJewish mother, including one of my best friends. Sadly, it’s getting more and more common.

    When I went to Neve Yerushalayim, they now have to ask all sorts of questions to make sure the girls coming are halachically Jewish.

    I even heard a story of a yeshiva bochur who was learning and then one day asked a question and found out his mother wasn’t halachically Jewish. He dropped everything then and there.

  47. P.S. The fact that one can’t be sure of one’s Jewishness without futher inquiry was the reason for my O’Brian/Goldberg last name “rule of thumb” to help determine who’s Jewish. When doing outreach, in order to allocate time and resources it’s important to know who is Jewish and who is not. Another method I used to find out pretty definitively is asking the following two questions in the course of conversations I would have with students as I was getting to know them: 1) So tell me about how you were brought up? reform, conservative, or orthodox? 2) Did both of your parents grow up that way as well?

    This was very useful because I am a friendly person who is interested in learning about people, so it’s natural to be curious about people’s denominational background. And if there are any conversions or lack thereof with people’s parents, that usually comes out with question 2. And as “I’m Jewish” pointed out, most people aren’t aware of the halachic implications of patrilinial vs. matrilinial descent anyway.

    -Dixie Yid

  48. Bob,

    To clarify, My point was that if one is halachically Jewish, the fact that he is reform does not take away his Jewish status, as my chaplain friend believed.

    I was not attempting to make a halachic statement that reform Jews in general have a chazakah of being halachically Jewish for the purposes of marriage, aliyah l’Torah, etc., no-questions-asked.

    -Dixie Yid

  49. And those born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother prior to 1983 get the same free pass from Reform as those born since.

  50. Dixie Yid said above, “Reform Jews are just as Jewish as the biggest rabbi.”

    Given these Reform-related problems—

    1. Invalid conversions
    2. Designation of patrilineal descent as enough to be Jewish
    3. Generations have gone by since invalid conversions began and patrilineal descent was first considered enough

    —what statistical basis is there today for the quoted statement? What does it matter today if it once was true? Can we assume anything at all about a Reform’s Jew’s personal or family status today without investigating thoroughly?

  51. Thanks for sharing your background, Dixie Yid. Like David, I’m also of the “O’Brien” variety. In my years traveling the Orthodox world, I have encountered a grand total of two other BTs who share my demographics (Jewish mom, non-Jewish dad). Now three, including David. Sometimes I feel like I’m part of a subculture with no members. Even before I became frum, when I was involved in the liberal branches of Judaism, I encountered very few adult children of intermarriage who were active in Jewish life. I guess that’s the legacy of intermarriage.

    On the flipside, my perspective has helped me relate to many different kinds of people — people from completely Jewish homes, children of intermarriage, gerim, etc. I have something in common with just about everyone.

  52. Alice,

    I’m glad to hear that there are many others out there. It could be that I have just not met them (or rather, not that many of them). You’re right when a path is right, the Saton places any obstacle in your path that he can to make it seem as if it’s not worth it.


    Sorry to hear that your situation may be harder. I actually had one college student which typified the “O’Brian” situation. Her father is Puerto Rican and her mother is Jewish. She therefore has a clearly Hispanic last name. B”H, when she graduated college, she spent 2 years in Israel, even as a seminary madricha, and is now happily married and living in E”Y with a relatively new child. Like Alice said, everyone has different obstacles to Teshuva and it is perhaps Hashem’s way of making our closeness with Him more meaningful when it is attained through hardships.

    Cosmic X,

    Beautiful story. My wife was very close with two women throughout their conversion process, and even went with them for the final conversion for moral support. One was married to a Jewish man and they had two elementary school aged children and the whole familiy had to convert. The other woman came from a Xian background. Neither was the Jewish-father situation though.

    I’m Jewish,

    I think that except for the very Jewishly interested reform people, most are not aware of that or any other major Jewish issues. It’s amazing what misconceptions exist out there. I was once interning at a major hosptial as a chaplain and I worked with a 2nd year reform rabbinical seminary student. He was very open-minded in our conversations, but he told me that he believed that orthodox Jews believe that reform Jews are plain-out non-Jews. And that was why their conversions are not valid. I did tell him that this was not true. Reform Jews are just as Jewish as the biggest rabbi. The reason why reform conversions are not valid is that they do not conform to the halacha in the shulchan aruch, and are therefore per se invalid. The ignorance about these issues is staggering.

    It’s actually interesting but I remember being suprised the first time I learned that orthodoxy did not consider me Jewish. But being the open-minded person that I was, I didn’t judge it. It’s hard for me to remember what exactly precipitated my acceptance of the fact that I was not halachically considered Jewish. I think that I just made that acceptance dependant on my decision about whether or not to take on the orthodox life. If I did take it on, conversion would just be a necessary step for me. If I did not, I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I could just go on as before.

    -Dixie Yid

  53. Great post. IYO, what percent of those Jews raised in Reform households are even aware of the matrilineal vs patrilineal descent issue? It has been my experience that very few are, but I am curious as to others’ experiences.

    It also appears to be a huge sticking point, in my opinion. It’s very hard for someone to all of a sudden wrap his head around the idea that his father counts for less than his mother, halachically speaking. It’s also not uncommon to find families with three Jewish grandparents and one non-Jewish grandparent (maternal grandmother).

  54. Shalom Dixie Yid,

    Here in Israel, mainly of those who have immigrated from the FSU have only one Jewish parent. I was privileged to personally involved in the conversion of two young women from the Goldberg/Rosenfeld variety. My family served as their “adopted family” where they spent Shabbatot and Chagim. I truly admire such gerei tzedek.

  55. I am of the “O’Brien” variety. My father is not Jewish and my mother is. My becoming observant seems to baffle people, both Jews and non Jews. One shadchan told me that I would have a hard time as people wouldn’t no what to make of me; a convert people can understand, they used to not be Jewish, but now were, but someone with a non-Jewish father are contaminated in some way. I feel that those few frum people with a non-Jewish father are viewed a little differently from “regular BT’s. I don’t have any hard evidence, but I’m led to believe there are a greater number of frum people like you than like me.
    -David Delaney

  56. There are tons of people like you. (I am not one.) It seems like it’s hard in some way for everyone who returns to/finds their way to Torah. As my favorite Rabbi once told me, the last thing the yetzer hora wants anyone to do is to learn Torah, so be prepared for a battle. So the more junk I must wade through to learn and to practice my religion the more determined I feel.

    Your excellent essay higlights how sensitive we all need to be to the fact that there are so many different circumstances out there. And to the fact that many Jewish people are related to Gentiles who are wonderful people.

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