Right of Reply: Secular conversion - an oxymoron

Let's not adulterate conversion because Israel can't figure out what to do with all the citizens who don't fit into the Muslim, Christian or Jewish box.

"Integration of mixed families," an op-ed that ran in The Jerusalem Post on December 10, has gotten me riled up. As a Modern Orthodox convert, I suppose that's to be expected. It proposes in not-so-coded terms that conversion must change in Israel because it's currently being held hostage by the haredi rabbinate. And whether or not that seems to be the case, I'm not sure I like the alternative that's being proposed. Members of the government seem to be pushing more and more for secular conversion. But what in the world is a secular conversion? What exactly does it look like? I'm sorry, but "secular conversion" sounds like an oxymoron. Stop me if I'm wrong, but conversion is a religious institution. It's a pledge to a religion. When people convert to Christianity, they're saying they believe in Jesus Christ as their personal savior, they're not just saying they believe in Christian peoplehood. THE MORE I read about conversion in Israel, the more I'm glad I live in America. God bless separation of church and state. In America, we don't ask our immigrants to convert to Americanism. We have civil channels that allow them to become true full-fledged citizens of the state. And once our immigrants become citizens, they can do whatever they please - but we don't call that process a conversion. Because it's not. There's no such thing as a civil conversion. I'll get on my soapbox for a moment and represent all sincere converts everywhere. And here is what I know: Whether Reform or Conservative or Orthodox, when we convert, we're doing it because of we are pledging our commitment to the Jewish faith. And yes, as a bonus, we become irrevocably tied to the Jewish people and the Jewish culture. But I sincerely doubt that anyone in America converts because he or she wants to "hang" with the Jews. And any sincere convert from any movement will talk your ear off about what they think about those converts who only go through the process because they want to marry a Jew. "They make us look bad," any sincere convert will tell you. So let's just say for the moment that the rabbinate turns over the keys to the conversion kingdom and people also have the option to convert Reform or Conservative in Israel in a way that is fully accepted by the state. What does that mean? Will it now be "easier" to convert to the Jewish faith? And what does that mean? Because surely, we do not believe for a second that all these thousands of people will suddenly be converting to the Jewish faith because of a spiritual conversion. Surely, we do not believe that they'll be going to temple or synagogue on Shabbat with fervor to be closer to the Jewish concept of God. NO, THEY will be doing having their secular or "easier" conversions because they want to be married as Jews and die as Jews in a Jewish state without making the commitment to the Jewish faith. They will be converting to Judaism because they live in a state that doesn't seem to accept their existence. And that they deserve to live and be buried with honor as true Israeli citizens, under Israeli law, without having to summon up the spiritual conversion necessary in their hearts to do live and die as Jews under Jewish law. Please, let's not adulterate conversion because Israel can't figure out what to do with all the citizens who don't fit into the Muslim, Christian or Jewish box on the census. Please, let's not do any more damage to the conversion issue than has already been done. It seems clear to the observant outsider, no pun intended, that the way must be paved for civil marriage and civil burial institutions in Israel that don't make people feel like outsiders. Because in the meantime, the current practice of religious marriages and religious burials excludes thousands of Israeli citizens. It ensures that these people feel that they are not full-fledged citizens. NOW, DON'T get me wrong. There is no question that the thousands of Israeli citizens of Jewish descent have a commitment to their Jewish relatives and their Jewish friends and family. There is no question that they have pledged their faith in the State of Israel. Many of them are out there risking their lives every day for the state. God bless them. But whether they have pledged themselves in the Jewish faith is another story altogether. Perhaps it's time that being an Israeli citizen stopped being synonymous with being a Jew. Because being an Israeli citizen should not arbitrarily make someone Jewish. The writer is a Latina Orthodox Jewish convert, freelance writer, educator and blogger. Currently working on a memoir about her conversion, she lives in New York with her husband, who is pursuing rabbinical ordination.