I’m not sure when the discussion shifted from the cost of adding HBO and Showtime to the spiritual meaning of Shabbat and kashrus. But it came toward the end of my discussion with the cable guy who came to my house today. I know it was after I told him that next week would be rough for scheduling an installation date because of Rosh HaShanah. But somewhere in the course of my switching from FiOS, the cable guy expressed interest in switching from Christianity.
The salesman (I’ll protect his privacy by leaving out his name and employer) was the kind of guy that, when you’re going to buy something anyway, you’re glad you were able to help along the way. But until then I was happy only to be helping him win a commission, not spiritual salvation. His inquiry about how to become a Jew came after I’d already signed the authorization letter, so I know it wasn’t a matter of flattery to close the deal. This affable gentleman, raised in an agnostic Christian home in the south, said he and his similarly raised wife were looking for a new faith in which to raise their young daughter. They’re also dealing with the terminal illness of a close relative.
The Jewish people he has met, mostly coworkers, seem to be pretty settled and happy in their lives. In describing the life he was seeking, he used the words “more profitable,” but before I could be offended by stereotype he quickly backtracked, saying that wasn’t what he meant, and I believe him. What he’s seeking goes beyond a livelihood, but sometimes the words to describe it can be hard to come by. The timing seemed fascinating; just last week I had written extensively about a Jamaican convert driven to Orthodox Judaism by his quest for more meaning and stability.
I’m nothing close to a rabbi or anyone’s definition of an emissary of the Jewish people, and so I was presented with a moral and logistical dilemma when asked if it was hard to become Jewish. How could I encourage him knowing how I feel about Christians who entice Jews to leave our faith? Then again, he is already not a practicing Christian, and I had done nothing to seek him out other than ordering the family package and DVR. It was he who came to my door and left his card.
I told the cable guy that of all the religions of the world, Judaism probably proselytizes the least, though it is certainly welcoming of newcomers who find their own way. My gut told me this very decent person would be an asset to any Jewish community. But beyond explaining what observing Shabbat meant to me and my family in an increasingly 24/7 plugged-in world, it wasn’t my place to encourage or discourage. And there was no way I was getting into the bris talk. The best I could commit to was to seek out a source close to where he lives, a Chabad rabbi perhaps. Hopefully, he’ll be far better equipped than I am to counsel an outsider on whether Judaism is the right choice.
If nothing else comes out of it, maybe the rabbi will get a better deal on cable, phone and Internet, and cable guy will get another commission, if not the salvation he’s looking for.
UPDATE: On his second visit, the cable guy said he had spoken again with a Jewish coworker who explained more of the conversion process, and he seemed to be backing off his desire to be a Jew. "I didn't realize there was that much involved," he said.
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