On Sunday, April 22, the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc) and Kehilat Chovevei Tzion hosted a program, entitled Ahavat HaGer, featuring Rabbi Yona Reiss, the cRc Av Beth Din, and Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, a clinical psychologist who is known for his work with conversion candidates and for developing and publishing the Conversion Readiness Assessment.
The cRc, founded in 1932, is comprised of approximately 140 member rabbis from across the United States, Canada and Israel, and strives to convene a unified voice for the Orthodox Rabbinate of greater Chicago. It provides a wide array of Jewish services including kosher certification, an internationally recognized Beth Din (Rabbinical court), along with community education, programming, and services.
Rabbi Shaanan Gelman, Rabbi of KCT, and Vice President of the cRc, explained that he saw the need for the program as he “recognized that we don’t do enough to assist in the integration of the ger into the community.”
“The cRc works with shul rabbis in serving their congregations,” said Rabbi Levi Mostofsky, Executive Director of the cRc. “Our Beth Din is a national leader in Orthodox conversion, and this program is a natural continuation of that work, partnering with community rabbis to better welcome converts.”
Rabbi Fox works closely with Rabbi Reiss, who is the chairman of GPS, the RCA affiliated network of regional conversion courts, to evaluate candidates’ potential for transitioning into the community.
Sunday’s programs began with Rabbi Fox having breakfast at the cRc office with cRc members, discussing opportunities they may develop to help their communities better welcome converts.
Rabbi Fox met with a small group of geirim in the afternoon at KCT to see how they were adjusting to their new lifestyle. He wanted to see what were the challenges they face and in what way others could assist them to make their transition.
On Sunday evening Rabbi Reiss and Rabbi Fox addressed the community at KCT. Rabbi Gelman introduced the program by pointing out that the mitzvah to love a convert is mentioned in the Torah 46 times, as many times as the prohibition of idolatry.
Rabbi Reiss began by explaining that while we have a mitzvah to love every Jew, we need to show extra affection to a ger. Rabbi Reiss quoted the Sefer HaChinuch that says that this mitzvah applies to every person and community according to what is proper and according to one’s abilities. We need to assess the needs of a convert and help him in areas that we take for granted. He might need guidance, for example, making Shabbos, or integrating into the community.
Rabbi Reiss gave examples of how we need to be attuned to converts’ sensitivities in the way we speak with them and ask questions. While we need to treat the ger with an extra dose of love and sensitivity, we should be careful to not make them uncomfortable that they are receiving special treatment.
Rabbi Fox began by sharing that in earlier times a ger would be adopted by whichever tribe in which he settled. This shows that the ger is halachically bound to adopt the customs of that tribe, and that it is the community’s responsibility to embrace him. He discussed the importance of mentoring a ger through life cycle events, such as raising children, and the importance of modeling proper behavior, in our speech and actions.
The evening concluded with a lively question -and – answer session. One of the evening’s participants, Mrs. Chaya Sarah Miretzky, said she came to gain a deeper awareness of the different issues involved in this mitzvah and looks forward to further shiurim about this topic.“It’s wonderful that we are starting to talk about this more as a community,” she said.
Rabbi Gelman was pleased that “such a large and broad- based group of people attended the program.” He suggested that a practical application of the program was that the mitzvah of loving a ger could be incorporated into the responsibilities of a community’s hospitality and education committees.
“We are discussing the next steps, and would like to implement our findings into the geirus process,” said Rabbi Gelman.
Rabbi Fox was impressed with the three facets of the program — speaking with rabbis, perspective and recent converts, and addressing the community. “I have suggested to other communities and rabbinic organizations that they offer the same program,” he said.