Conversion Questions? They’ve Got Answers

This article was first published in JWeekly.'s Dawn Kepler (left) and Linda Burnett’s Dawn Kepler (left) and Linda Burnett

April Oldenburg grew up in Berkeley with an agnostic father and a “pagan witch mother.” She occasionally accompanied her grandmother to a Methodist church, but found the Christian denomination too regimented for her. “My family was always intellectually interested in world religions, but we had no real ritual practice while I was growing up,” Oldenburg said.

Omar Sedky of Pacifica was born and raised in a nominally Muslim family in Cairo, Egypt. His mother’s family had emigrated from Greece, and his ancestors on his father’s side were originally Hungarian Jews who had converted to Islam upon settling in Egypt centuries ago. “We were Muslims on paper only,” Sedky explained. “I remember my parents being upset by the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hatred that was part of radical Islam in our country.”

Now, after embarking on spiritual journeys as adults, both Oldenburg and Sedky have converted to Judaism. Along the way, they availed themselves of various resources, but one was particularly useful one — and its name mirrored the process they were undertaking. It was a website called Becoming Jewish (

BecomingJewish was created four years ago by Linda Burnett, a relatively recent convert to Judaism, together with Dawn Kepler, the director of Building Jewish Bridges, a Berkeley-based program out of Lehrhaus Judaica offering support and education to interfaith families.

“When I was converting to Judaism and was looking for resources on the web, I wasn’t sure which ones I could trust,” recalled Burnett, a retired SFO customs inspector. “I knew Dawn and that she was providing good information via her Building Jewish Bridges email list, so I suggested that we work together to permanently locate all the information in one place on the internet,” Burnett said in explaining the genesis of BecomingJewish.

“We felt that the stuff out there was either too general, or it was just personal stories,” Kepler said. “Our goal was to provide relevant and useful conversion-related information for all streams of Judaism that was focused on the Bay Area, and that included recommendations and testimonials from people who had gone through the process.”

Their website offers a variety of resources, including recommended readings, a list of Bay Area rabbis who do conversions, links to local Jewish organizations and Jewish education classes and programs, and a “What’s New?” section with updates. Recent additions to the site include an FAQ section and a blog.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


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