A new organization called Ohev Ger has been established to assist Jewish converts in Israel and provide them with a framework of support as they fully enter Jewish life and seek to further integrate into Jewish and Israeli society.
The organization, who’s name means “Caring for converts,” has been set up by Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz, an educator and communal rabbi, and Rabbi Menachem Weinberg, a longtime educator with extensive experience teaching converts.
According to Kanterovitz, who was previously a communal rabbi in the UK and assisted people in the conversion process there, although converts receive support while going through the conversion process, once they have completed it and have formally converted, they are often left with very little support.
The rabbi said that loneliness is a particular problem for converts, noting that some suffer from a severe sense of isolation which can have serious consequences for their mental health and well-being.
“Some converts integrate very well, but some struggle trying to get a job, some struggle with shidduchim [seeking a spouse], finding an apartment, dealing with Israeli institutions, and similar issues,” Kanterovitz said.
“Being [born] Jewish is being part of a narrative – you are brought up with that narrative, you’re a link in the chain and you know it intuitively,” he said.
“Converts don’t have that narrative. They want to be a part of it but they don’t have it yet. So, for example, when they go to synagogue, the norms and conduct which many people take for granted are all strange and new.”
The rabbi noted that finding a spouse can be difficult for converts since some Jews are apprehensive about marrying someone not born Jewish.
“People can be reticent to marry a convert – and not rightfully so – instead of seeing conversion as an amazing act of self-sacrifice, commitment, and change.
“We are going to change that,” the rabbi said.
Kanterovitz said Ohev Ger would operate on several different levels.
The organization will employ case workers with a background in social work or similar disciplines to give direct assistance to converts for different needs.
Ohev Ger will also create a network of communal volunteers to serve as communal coordinators for assisting converts in a given community, possibly set them up with a family for close support, and provide other forms of assistance.
And Ohev Ger will also seek to educate communities as well as rabbis and communal leaders about the needs of converts and to be more sensitive about what they might require.
“As a community rabbi, there’s so much going on, so much in their heads with running the community, that sometimes they don’t think about the needs of converts,” Kanterovitz said. “We need to educate them to make converts feel part of us – which they are.”