Last week when I went to the Israeli consulate to get a visa for my upcoming trip to Israel, the security guard, after taking in my kipa and tzitzit, asked me “Atah yehudi?” Are you Jewish? On my replying “bevadai,” of course, he persisted in asking “Atah yehudi mimakor?” “Were you born Jewish?”
With my Indian passport and a name most uncommon among Jews, he clearly had me pegged for a convert. And that aroused his interest. Most Jews are like that Israeli guard; they know that Judaism is not a proselytizing religion, and hence a convert is an object of curiosity to them, something unusual. The very word in Hebrew for a convert is ger — an alien, indicating an outsider. Nevertheless, I would argue that converts and the experience of being a ger are crucial to the essence of the Jewish people.