some notes on exploring Judaism

tree branches sky

Sometimes people tell me they want to explore the possibility of conversion to Judaism, ask what their first steps should be.

Some of this advice also work, in my opinion, for Jews who seek to connect, or reconnect with their tradition, since I get asked about that a lot, too.

If you're exploring the question of conversion–

definitely start by learning more, to see if your feelings/hunches/sense of being drawn to it gets stronger as you go deeper, or—you know, not so much.

You’re allowed to investigate something and discover that it’s a place you enjoyed visiting, even if it’s not where you ultimately want to live! Or maybe the deeper you go, the more it feels like home. Only one way to find out.

Also, to make explicit something I hope has been clear this whole time: Learning is good! Expanding in all the ways is good! It's totally possible, even advisable, to learn and read and explore and become more knowledgeable generally, including about religious traditions not your own. Speaking personally, my own study of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and other traditions have only enriched my own experience of being a human being, being a person in the world interacting with other people, and, in some ways, a Jew. (1)

So it's perfectly fine if you're not Jewish and just go after more learning because you want some.

And if you're investigating conversion and decide we've got a great vacation spot even if you don't want to set up permanent residence– that's also totally OK. Be where feels Correct for you with all of this.

If you're Jewish and trying to reconnect and/or connect for the first time, that might be a pretty good place to start, too.

This button below links to a list of books and podcasts and websites and stuff. There are some good overview/Judaism 101 books in there, and things on various aspects of Jewish life, theology, ritual, whatever. Start anywhere.

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Learning about one thing might open a door into curiosity about another thing and another one after that, as it sometimes does. Start somewhere, see where things lead you.

Then there's the thing about finding community.

Ideally, you live someplace where there are other Jews, and Jewish community/communities around.

I'm going to start by talking about shul (synagogue) shopping, on the assumption that there are some local options by you. And then I'll talk about what to do if there's only one, or no local options in your area.

If you're investigating conversion, you're going to want to talk to a rabbi at some point. If you're a Jew trying to find a home, it may be that a rabbi-led community is just right, may be that something more of the grassroots/lay-led/indie minyan/havurah thing is your flavor, dunno.

But whatever the case, you should find out what's happening locally– google? Ask a knowledgable friend? Call one Jewish resource and ask the person on the phone what else they know about, and then ask the next people at the next place what else they might know about? (Not everything is equally obvious from an SEO perspective. Once upon a time there were a handful of centralized databases of, eg, independent Jewish communities that I could point you to, but I don't think those exist anymore, unfortunately.)

And then at a certain point you have to summon your bravery– and possibly a friend, or possibly just show up solo (as I did, back in the day), and... go to something. Services are the usual likely suspect, but Torah study, or a social event, or a meeting of the social justice group, or whatever, is also fair game. Some places are more hopping on Friday nights, some on Shabbat mornings. It's hard to know sometimes from website calendars– there may need to be a bit of trial and error and asking people when you get there. (Also: there are places to study Torah and/or do social justice work that don't revolve around services primarily. More at the bottom of this page.)

If there are greeters as you come in to the service, tell them that you're exploring Judaism. They’ll answer your questions, explain the siddur (prayer book), possibly ask if they can sit you near a regular attendee, tell you about the oneg (snax after the service), introduce you to the rabbi if there is one. People want you to feel welcome!!

And maybe you walk out of the first place thinking, "That was awesome, when can I go back??" Then you know you've found your place.

But sometimes it takes a few tries to find your place.

If you walked out of this first place going, "Ehhh" or "I'm not sure," or etc, go to another place! And another! (Assuming you have these options!) Let it be OK to have a few months of investigating places! (Also: If you get somewhere and people say "Oh, we're usually a lot more hopping on Friday nights," maybe check them out then! But if their vibe is extremely not your vibe, you know, you don't have to! Obviously.)

If you're feeling a bit crispy, let yourself have a break. And then get back into it when you're ready. But really, there are a lot of amazing communities out there, and a lot of things that can be or become home.

Obviously if you're in a major metropolitan area with a lot of Jews, you have a lot of options, but that can also feel overwhelming.

If you're in a smaller community that has fewer synagogues and fewer options, sometimes you can choose to make a place home even if you didn't feel ✨fireworks✨ right away.

Both feeling that "click" with a community and intentionally creating your space over time are possible. I've lived both in my own life.

Anyway, give yourself time and space to have a process. Becoming part of a community doesn't happen overnight, and if you're on the possible conversion side of things, it can feel even more fraught. Trust yourself. It's all process.

A note on political alignment:

Sometimes people ask me what to do if their community isn't aligned with them politically. And, you know, that can mean a few different things.

First of all, know that there are tons of Jewish communities that are amazing and celebratory and affirming and preach and work for the liberation of all people. All over the place. And there are lots of places where one rabbi might be more– uh, vanilla in the kinds of things they preach, and another might be more interested in both speech and action re: social justice work. I know great people doing amazing work all over the country. So again– don't go in making assumptions.

Also! You can check to see if a rabbi is a T'ruah chaver. T'ruah is the org that works on human rights issues. A rabbi's absence from this list isn't proof that they don't care about human rights and social justice, but their presence on this list is probably a good sign that they do. (Obviously there's going to be a range of thinking among the 2,300 folks on this list!)


Obviously first and foremost a community has to be safe for you. Your existence, safety, humanity should never be in question.

Second of all, what "alignment" means can be a lot of different things– I'm here to smash a little binary thinking.

One thing to remember is that sometimes a rabbi, who is a person, might be in process working through some stuff around whatever's happening in the news. (2) Which doesn't mean that every rabbi is going to be actually in alignment with you– and everyone's got their own red lines about what feels like, "Eh, that was not my cup of tea but I could live with it" or "Didn't love their take on that topic but I'll give the person /community another shot" vs. "Absolutely not, no."

Another thing to remember is that even if the rabbi of a synagogue is preaching stuff that does not align with your political beliefs–that does not necessarily mean that every single person in that community is similarly aligned. There may be other folks who are much more kindred spirits than you might think at first blush — and it might take a second or two to find them, but that does not mean that they are not there or impossible to find. Synagogues are often comprised of communities within communities, and it may be possible for you to find yours. How? Well, first you have to start showing up to things where you might be able to meet people– the social events, the smaller learning sessions, the social justice committee, etc.

Another time I'll talk about how to build Jewish community of your own– but that's probably not for this stage in the exploration game.

If you're on possible conversion track, your next step once you've found a place that you're into is to call the synagogue office during working hours and ask to make an appointment with the rabbi. Go talk to the nice rabbi, tell them where you're at, what questions you're holding, and things should flow from there.

It may be that you eventually wind up in an Intro to Judaism class, which is a great space for learning more, and also for developing community with folks who are in a similar space. Win-win-win. And, again, even then there's time for process and discernment. Plenty of people have started on the conversion track and eventually decided that, actually, it was a great experience for dating but they don't want to take Judaism all the way to the altar (well, mikveh) and that's OK.

If you're Jewish, you, too, can make an appointment to talk to the rabbi if you want, if you're connecting with a rabbi-led community. They'll be glad to talk to you about whatever questions you're holding. And you, too, are allowed to take the intro to Judaism class if you want!

If you're not in a place where there are any Jewish communities at all– well, don't stress! There are distance conversion programs these days, and people who can help guide you. Resources below.


🌳 Take responsibility for continuing to learn.

🌳 Be brave and show up.

🌳 Do a thing and trust that the next thing will reveal itself.

🌳 Don't be dissuaded by a few imperfect experiences.

🌳 Keep going. 💗


These are really just a handful of resources; it is wildly non-comprehensive. I didn't include your fave probably because I forgot, not because I don't love it, too. There are so many more things out there, but I don't want to overwhelm you. Show up to a thing and you'll start hearing about other things. Get on a mailing list and you'll hear about other things. Just get into the loop. Start somewhere, anywhere.

Jewish Learning, Virtually:

Misc Other Community Things:

Community Resources Specifically for JOCISM (Jews of Color, Indigenous, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews).

Jewish Social Justice Orgs:

One stop shopping! I mean, this isn't everybody, but this is a lot of everybody. And a lot of these orgs have local chapters, or ways to get involved virtually, if you're in an area without a lot of Jewish community. Don't assume that if an org isn't listed in your city, there's no way to be involved with them–that's often not the case. Look at websites, dig around, etc:

A Handful of Places to Livestream Services:

If you're somewhere where there's no local community, or if you're not able to get out due to disability, being immunocompromised or for some other reason. (Also, they're cool places to check out if you're in these areas!)

Intro to Judaism Classes:

These are all classes that "count" for people interested in conversion to Judaism, but they're also great for Jews who want to learn more about their tradition and heritage! If you have a community rabbi in your area, start by talking to them. But if you don't, then reaching out to these folks for more information about process is a reasonable step. (Remember: Taking the class does not require you going through with the ritual of conversion.)

Some stuff about the conversion process:

A 101 article

Choosing a Jewish Life, Anita Diamant

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[1] Learning is good!
[2] Rabbis working out their... stuff.

  1. I am unreservedly in favor of non-Jews learning about Judaism from reputable sources. The question of practice and appropriation gets trickier--because I am not down with Christian seders or the Kabbalah Centre (which isn't actually Kabbalah, don't get me started on what they're doing over there.) In a nutshell, here are some-- but not the sum total -- of my thoughts on the matter? 1) If you're not Jewish, it's always OK to attend services, Passover seder, holiday observances, etc. as the invited guest of a Jew. 2) If you are considering the possibility that Judaism might actually be your spiritual practice, that you might actually at some point want to ever possibly maybe you're not sure but potentially??? maybe? become Jewish, then trying out things like Jewish prayer, Shabbat, keeping kosher, holy day observance, etc. is part of that discernment process. This is the kind of thing that is likely best done in the framework of a supportive community, aka part of what's happening in this post. 3) If you're not Jewish but eg you've got a Jewish partner, spouse, eg, needless to say, this is covered under #1, especially but not only if you're raising kids, etc. I know a lot of folks who are Jew-ish, who never formally converted but they still have an active and ongoing relationship with Judaism and the Jewish community, whatever form that might take. (See also: the concept of the ger toshav.) 4) Other things that are in this general neighborhood of connected- community - engaged. Not going to run every scenario in the comments. Just trying to contrast this kind of thing from, say--non-Jews who who dip into Judaism for funsies (especialy if they're actively eg also worshipping Jesus?) or Kabbalistic thrills or cred, or etc. No Jewy cosplay, got it? Totally OK to be an invited guest or to try something out to see if Judaism is sincerely for you. It's less cool to just take something because it seems nice to add to your existing repertoire or it's yours now because Jews will accept Jesus as Messiah at some point soon or [eff] the Jews this stuff is yours or whatever. Is what I'm trying, very clumsily, to communicate. ↩︎

  2. It's not unusual for clergy to be forced to work out their feelings in real time when serious things are going down, when major community or even world events-- especially unprecedented ones-- are unfolding. Even the most skillful clergy can be caught off-guard as they find themselves forced to reevaluate long-held assumptions while in the process of trying to hold their community, and sometimes the results can be a bit messy in the middle, there. The good ones don't do this often and are able to right themselves fairly quickly. But there's something to be said for extending a reasonable amount of benefit of the doubt when possible. ↩︎

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