Vered’s Story: Chapter 11| January 17, 2023
“I don’t like it when people decide to do their ‘chesed for the day’ by being nice to a giyores”
friend Hadassah’s wide eyes were looking straight at me, and I could tell she was afraid. “What’s going on?” she whispered fearfully.
I took a gulp of air and said, “I am a convert.”
Hadassah blinked. Then she let out a breath. “Cool,” she said. “So... so you weren’t born Jewish?”
“Right,” I said, and I let out a breath too. “I converted to Judaism when I was eight years old.”
“That’s so interesting,” Hadassah said. “What were you before that? Where did you live? And how did you decide to convert?”
As I answered Hadassah’s questions, I felt myself becoming emotional. Then I started crying.
“Vered,” Hadassah whispered, putting her hand on my shoulder, “What happened? Why are you crying?”
I didn’t even know how to put my feelings into words. I was so relieved that I couldn’t contain the tears. I’d been so afraid, so nervous, so worried about this conversation and here was Hadassah being so nice, normal, and positive about it all. About me. I’d built it up so much in my mind, turned it into such a thing, and… and Hadassah was okay with it.
“Are you sure you don’t see me differently?” I asked tearfully. “You don’t think I’m weird?”
“No.” Hadassah squinted at me in the dark. “Why would I think you’re weird?”
I started crying again, and Hadassah leaned over and gave me a squeeze.
“You’re not going to put me on some pedestal, now, right?” I finally asked. “You know, some people do that. They don’t treat converts like normal people, they go around like, you’re so holy, you’re so special.”
“Are you?” Hadassah asked, eyes dancing, giving me a sidelong glance. We both cracked up, trying to stifle our giggles so we wouldn’t wake anyone up.
When we caught our breath, I turned to Hadassah and said seriously, “I want people to be normal, you know? I don’t like it when people decide to do their ‘chesed for the day’ by being nice to a giyores. Being nice is being normal, accepting me as a regular friend. I think that when the halachah tells us to be nice to geirim, that’s what it means, because it’s not fun to feel like I’m getting special treatment. It feels weird. Also, I don’t always want to be wondering if girls are being nice to me because the Torah says to or because they’re genuinely my friends. Do you know what I mean?”
“Totally,” Hadassah said, and I could tell that she meant it.
Eventually we decided to go to sleep. I lay my head on the lumpy pillow and felt a deep, content feeling come over me. I’d done it — I’d shared my secret, and Hadassah had surpassed my expectations. I was so grateful. We’re still good friends today.
Camp came to an end, and when I came home, I found out that I had to switch schools for the coming year. There were technical reasons for the change, but that didn’t change my frustration at having to start over. And just one year before starting high school, an entirely new frontier! On the other hand, I realized that now I could start over, like I had in camp. I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was a convert. That way, I’d also get to see how girls spoke about geirim in general — with respect, or with derision? It was going to be experiment #2, and that thought gave me the courage I needed to start again.
The transfer was smoother than I’d expected. I made friends and did well scholastically. Around Shavuos time, I got a call from Hadassah, asking me if I would come talk to her class about being a giyores. It felt nice, in a way, but it also felt a little invasive. I’m a pretty private person, and I turned her down. Luckily, Hadassah understood and didn’t hold it against me.
Eighth grade wound to a close, and high school loomed ahead.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 945)
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