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Zera Israel/Patrilineal Question and Conversion

I guess this might be a bit of a ramble but I really feel like I need help. Also, I am extremely tired as I write this so please forgive me if anything comes off as written weird.

So, as many of these sorts of posts begin: my father is Jewish and my mother is a gentile. However, my mother is not religious and my brother and I were never raised as Christian. My family is from the Soviet Union where jews were heavily discriminated against. When my mother married my father, her antisemitic family told her that he was planning on selling her to slavery. She married him anyways, they moved to the United States. From reading online I understand that the experience of many soviet jews was typical of this: Intermarriage was common, and discrimination was based on ethnicity rather than halakhic standards.

I don’t consider my mother’s family as part of my family because they are all horrible abusive people (my grandmother on that side was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive, and while my grandfather who I never met was a good person, he died a couple years back). The only family I know of are my grandparents and aunt/cousin on my father’s side who are secular Jews, as it was common for Jews in the Soviet Union to be secular. Branching off of this — my father and my grandfather are atheists and don’t like religion very much. However, they are proud to be Jewish. I spend a lot of time with my grandparents and have been heavily influenced by them.

For these reasons, and despite the secular nature of my upbringing, my brother and I were raised as Jewish. Our father always pounded into us that we were capital J Jewish. My father always told us that we had obligations and we must act in a way that was X, Y, Z because we are Jews, but there was never any religious sentiment behind these sorts of criteria. I have a strong support for Israel and have always spent an enormous amount of time reading about Jewish issues. I always wanted to engage in Jewish rituals and customs, such as having a Bat Mitzvah, but my father said no.

But — I also know that I am not technically considered Jewish. Now that I am in college I have begun participating in Jewish holidays and attending services, but I feel like a fake and I struggle with reaching out because I don’t think I will be accepted. I contacted an orthodox Jewish organization (the conservative/reform organization on campus seemed very distant and kind of cold) and have been doing some work with them (where I learned the term zera israel) but I have to figure out whether this is the route I want to take…. certain stringent laws and the gender roles bother me (I have been dressing very modestly for shabbat but I don’t like skirts or dresses and can’t wear them every day!), and I still question my belief for God. I also don’t know any of the biblical stories. Conservative seems a better fit, but I also feel like unless I convert with orthodox, I won’t truly be considered Jewish. I have also heard that orthodox judaism is the only accepted form of judaism in israel, and I know that unless I convert to orthodox judaism, I would not be able to be buried or marry there. This troubles me because when I went to birthright, a different story was painted, and half the people on the trip were patrilineal jews!

TLDR: Patrilineal Jew, want to convert but can’t figure out how I want to do it, also feel a lot of shame for being a patrilineal jew

submitted by /u/weirdnessthrowaway
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