Celebrating and supporting people who choose to become Jewish. Sharing information, ideas, concerns of Jews by choice and those considering conversion. The page celebrates everyone who converts to Judaism through any of the streams of Judaism.
Let me point out that the editor of this article for the J weekly is NOT a Jew by choice and did not understand the article. Thus, the online title is not a good one.
The question asked by the writer is not about shul membership, but about personal Jewish identity.
Dear Dawn: I am single and converted to Judaism more than eight years ago. I worked with a wonderful Reform rabbi. Since my conversion with him I have continued to do a lot of studying at every opportunity. I’ve learned from rabbis from all the movements. Study has opened my eyes to the beauty of a more traditional practice and I have come to believe that the right Jewish practice for me involves behaviors that my fellow Reform Jews often put down, like kashrut and keeping Shabbat. I’m less and less comfortable with the limited knowledge of Jewish text that my fellow congregants have. I am considering having a Conservative conversion and becoming a member at my local Conservative shul where I’ve felt more at home. I want more friends who practice as I aspire to and to be involved in a community where observing Shabbat weekly and practicing all the holidays is a given. How do I do this without hurting the feelings of my dear rabbi and my many Reform friends? As a convert I feel a certain loyalty to my congregation. — Wanting to do this graciously
Dear Gracious: First, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your changing practices and beliefs. Humans change their faith beliefs and behaviors all the time. I suspect that your increased observance and learning has been noted by your friends and, quite possibly, your rabbi. I won’t deny that there are some rabbis who take the departure of a congregant personally and are unhappy. However, Jews are always moving between the various streams of Judaism and levels of practice and the rabbis see it every day. For your rabbi, instead of losing interest in what he has made his life’s work, you are increasing your interest and engagement. Your heightened learning and practice may actually please him. You are not the first Jew to disagree with him on how to be a Jew. I believe that, while he may be sad to lose you, he will take pride in knowing that he converted a person who is deeply committed to Judaism. I suggest you make an appointment with him and explain your deepening desire to integrate Jewish practice into your daily life. He may question you in order to fully understand how you came to your decision. He may want you to try to remain at his shul and adopt the practices you mention. This is certainly an option. However, as you mentioned, the way to have friends who consistently observe Shabbat and the Jewish holidays is to join a community where that is expected and commonplace. I think your rabbi will understand. Just as he is making the decision to be Reform observant for reasons that make sense to him, you are making the decision to adopt a Conservative practice for reasons that make sense to you. He may simply want to hear about your process. In regard to your Reform friends, it may be kinder to focus on your desire for a synagogue life that has more Hebrew, reads the entire Torah portion, uses the standard prayers, etc., than to talk in terms of individual practice level. There is no need to create a comparison in which they fall short of your mark. You still love them and want to be friends. If they are good friends they will learn to adapt to your changes. If you were to become vegan they would alter the menu when you come for dinner; they can do the same for kashrut. Anyone who would deprive you of your spiritual journey because it has not remained stagnant or does not match theirs is not much of a friend. I suggest that you start attending the Conservative synagogue regularly before you say anything. Notice what about the service and the community you particularly like and want in your life. That way you’ll be describing things that you are adding to your Jewish life, rather than telling your rabbi and friends that you are reducing their presence. If you can, give specific examples: I like the longer Shabbat service and Torah reading. I like being invited home for lunch by other congregants. I like having many fellow congregants who put up a Sukkah, attend Torah study, and are familiar with the Mishnaic texts. Ask yourself, one, what am I looking for, and two, am I getting it in this new synagogue? Being able to answer those questions will give you the language to articulate your journey to others. You can certainly become involved in the life of the Conservative shul and then meet with the rabbi to explain your desire for a second conversion. The rabbi may feel that you don’t need one. So it may be up to you: Do you feel the need for an act that transitions you from Reform to Conservative? If so, you can find a rabbi to accommodate you. Or call me and I'll help you find a rabbi.
Nadav replied this way in regard to choosing his own name.
Recently I have been going by my Hebrew name from school to work and when meeting others. The reason I picked out the name Nadav is that I wanted a name that was strongly contemporary in the Jewish world (in Israel it is somewhat modern) but yet it is a Hebrew name and defines my Judaism. I wanted to choose something "different" or not too common. I did not want to go by Moshe, Menachem, or Ya'akov. I considered those names since I thought they were "very Jewish". There is this artist in Israel that represented Israel in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest and his name is Nadav and I liked it so that is how I chose my Hebrew name. I have thought of changing it to my legal name but haven’t yet. I have been told modern Hebrew speakers that my name means “generous” and I think it fits me pretty well.
Note: Yes, Nadav does indeed mean “generous” or “noble” and is the name of the priest Aaron’s eldest son.
(photo taken by Sue Fishkoff, from the Jweekly coverage of bay area vigils for the victims of the Tree of Life killings.)
A woman who converted here in the Bay Area travels for work and lives for months at a time in Italy. She too replied to my question, "How are you doing after the Pittsburgh murders?"
From Binah: I woke up this morning and ventured into the courtyard. I smelled the signature crisp Fall air filled with lavender, the heavy rain since last night infused with such beautiful smell. A beautiful moment-- made with all the right elements to uplift any walking soul on earth. A beautiful moment-- resonating the smell of clean innocent love on this tranquil Sunday morning.
But I have this heaviness in my heart, and this uneasiness in my soul, from the tragic event at Tree of Life synagogue the day prior. I got a message from my dear friend here in Milano last night immediately when she heard about the tragedy on Italian news. A kind soul distraught by the hatred in this world, she is. I had already heard of the news by that point. But, for a moment I was still in loss of words. How do one response to the existence of such hatred? Does God exist, really exist?
The consolation I offered was to ask her to stay strong. As kindred souls we are here to radiate the hope and love we carry with the core of our souls into this world. We are the product of love & lust of the moment. We refuse to yield to adversity bestow upon us. Adonai li v’lo ira
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
It felt quite reasonable that some individuals who were working towards conversion to Judaism would, following the terrible murders at the synagogue, Tree of Life, have second thoughts. Why not walk away before you too are caught up in the murder of Jews? Frankly, I believe that is just fine. No one should be forced into a dangerous situation against their will. I emailed the folks on the Seekers list and the Jews by Choice list to see how everyone was holding up. I asked them to be honest. Here are some of their answers.
SF Seeker Thank you, Dawn, for this amazing message. Honestly - since starting the intro to Judaism class I have never felt SO connected and so RIGHT about anything in my life. After last week's horrific events, I only felt stronger in my decision to move forward. Though it is scary, I really do feel like continuing down this path towards conversion is the right decision for me. Yes, it's been a really difficult few days :( It was great to take the 3rd Intro to Judaism class yesterday because the sense of community was amazing. Unfortunately, though, I felt the heightened security at the gate and it was pretty jarring.
Non-white Jew by choice in Oakland To answer your question, I’m a mess!! I chose this community because we are just that, A COMMUNITY. When I was struggling to find my way, spiritually, the Jews took me in and made me feel valued, a part of something larger. I felt it at temple on Sunday, a sense of community, family, and belonging as we sang songs and prayed. Am I afraid? You bet! Am I angry, absolutely! Do I feel I made a good spiritual decision? Everyday. I am motivated more then ever to Tikkun olam, healing the world. I was in London recently and on monument quote said it all. “Patriotism is not enough I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone” It starts with me.
Seeker outside CA Thank you for reaching out. I was viscerally affected by the Pittsburgh massacre. I couldn’t cry in front of kids because I didn’t want to explain that innocent people were killed because the light Shabbat candles like us. I was nervous at first but showed up to my Judaism class on Sunday. I was glad to see the police on site. Yesterday, I attended a Vigil and was moved to tears hearing El Male Rachamim being sung. I already feel Jewish and come from Jewish people so this has not dissuaded me.
Jew by choice couple outside CA Thank you for this email. We are all shocked and deeply wounded by the murders of our people at Temple Or L'Simchat. Our community here is small but, very tightly knit. We will attend a Vigil on Saturday evening, here to honor and mourn our brothers and sisters in Pittsburg. We will continue to be very involved with our temple and do our best to be among B'nei Or. So, in answer to your question, we are doing well, studying and growing.
Jew by Choice in CA I am doing just OK. It's been an intense week and I really appreciate you reaching out as I feel like I need to vent. When you wrote "VERY HONEST" in capital letters, I felt compelled to reply. :) I am struggling as many others are. I worked for an airline on 9/11 and the same feelings of tremendous anxiety, sadness and fear are resurfacing again. It's a double-whammy because I feel deep sadness for the entire city of Pittsburgh, especially the Tree of Life community, and it's also the reality that "this could have easily been me." I'm not just a Jew now, I am the spouse of a rabbi and I spend several hours a week in a synagogue. And it's so horrible that what's become my happy place, the temple, has now lost its sense of safety and security. I'm sure you are getting a lot of e-mails from people sharing the same fears and sadness. I'm certainly not the only one. Over 400 people showed up for a vigil at my shul this week. I am totally distracted this week and I feel like it's even taking a toll on my physical state. I have felt "off" all week (feeling like I am coming down with something) and I had a massive headache this morning. I think it's all connected to the events on Saturday.
One of the difficulties that a Jew by choice may face AFTER conversion is not feeling truly connected to Judaism. Working with your rabbi, meeting regularly, having meaningful conversations, ends eventually. If you convert as a single person without any Jewish family you may feel bereft.
After the 2018 High Holy Days I was thrilled to receive an email from a single Jew by Choice, Miri, who shared this with me:
I really enjoyed singing in the choir this year for the High Holy Days and am still riding on the high of that. And Yom Kippur has become my FAVORITE Jewish Holiday. I love the self searching introspection and deep personal connections that I've come to experience on YK each year. While it's great that this holiday is a big-deal-once-a-year thing, I would like to have the same depth of experience on the other holidays.
To that end - the connection part - I've volunteered to chant Torah at the upcoming Nishma service. This will be the first time that I've chanted since my B'nai Mitzvah so I'm really looking forward to doing it.
My getting involved with my temple is a direct result of your guidance and coaching. Having grown up in Christianity where you are "saved" by someone else, I hadn't fully come to the realization that I and I alone am responsible for my connection with others. I had somehow expected people to do it for me, but that's not how we do it in Judaism. We need to reach out and when we do, we find support. This was the BEST piece of advice anyone ever gave me along my conversion path.
While I applaud this woman's spirit I believe that those of us who are already connected to a synagogue community need to make the effort to bring in the new people who appear in our midst. Don't hesitate to say hello to a new face at the oneg.
Growing up in a relatively non-religious household, I never seriously considered why spirituality and religion are so important to people. Growing up in a predominantly Christian town, I had always been more attracted to non-Christian religions. For a while, I fancied myself Buddhist and chanted Sanskrit mantras. (This phase took place from middle school into high school.) But my interest was more intellectual than personal and spiritual. At no point did I seriously explore Judaism though I had thought about it as an option. The only other time I delved into religion was when I went to a Church of Latter-Day Saints in my hometown. My sister and I were around six to eight-years-old when we attended Sunday school and services at the church. We went primarily because my dad’s side of the family were Mormons from Utah and I suppose my parents wanted my sister and me to have some exposure to religion to find out what we felt most connected to. Alas, Mormonism didn’t stick, partially because we were being pressured to get baptized when we had no desire to and felt we weren’t committed enough to do so. I remember my mother especially resenting this pressure because she wanted us to make the choice ourselves. I am beyond grateful to have been exposed to Mormonism, yet also glad I got out of it so that I didn’t feel obligated to do something I didn’t have to. I’d say religion didn’t come up again until my freshman and sophomore years of university because I had a couple of close Christian friends. One in particular being my friend Will with whom I had many conversations about faith. We once had a conversation in which he said, “I know you don’t believe, but….” That statement triggered a sincere reflection on what I do believe. At the time I was a struggling agnostic, rebelling against organized religion…mostly Christianity. The truth is I have never felt a connection to Christ as savior, nor have I ever enjoyed the preaching of Elders constantly at my door. I openly dislike the Christian emphasis on Hell and its use to inspire fear and motivate good deeds. But I have never strongly disparaged Christians for their beliefs. Just not for me. I asked myself whether I could go through life without spirituality. Is that what I was missing? One night, I visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum with Will where a Stanley Kubrick exhibit was going on. This was October of 2016. This was the first time that I had been in a Jewish space, so I thought of Judaism and Jewish culture. After the visit, I became very quiet and felt meditative. I then said, “I think I want to convert to Judaism.” It was so sudden, but I think I was finally voicing what had been going on in my subconscious. Subsequently, I did research on Jewish beliefs, the conversion process, and the different denominations. I then researched Reform synagogues in San Francisco because I identified with the liberalism of the Reform movement. My first time in a synagogue was daunting since it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I started out going to Kabbalat Shabbat services every Friday and sat in the rear-most pews due to my shyness. I didn’t want to be noticed fumbling over Hebrew. I didn’t want to make friends, really. It took me many months before I felt comfortable moving up the pews and bowing and talking to people at the oneg. I credit kind clergy and my mentor with my increasing comfort in the community. Books were also a source of comfort. Jewish history and life has inspired many a novel, and I wanted to read a lot of them. I learned about the openness of Judaism, how intellectual and academic Jewish religious life is, and how varied Jewish philosophy is. Each book brought me closer to why I wanted Judaism. I discovered that my sensibilities aligned with Jewish life. I enjoy study, I’m a skeptic, etc. Moreover, I began to view the Bible differently. What once had seemed like an inaccessible fable/self-help book became a literary adventure and spiritual guidebook…and still a fable. I appreciated the Reform view of the Bible as written by man with divine inspiration because it allows for freedom in study of the text. You can study it for morality lessons one day, then focus on literary interpretation the next, or even both at once. During the initial stages of my spiritual discovery, my sister showed interest. She constantly asked me questions, some which I couldn’t answer. Then we started studying Torah together weekly, and her interest inspired me. Sharing my journey with her made me happy and accepted. Nonetheless, I occasionally had difficulty when going home to visit my family for a weekend or during breaks from university. My mother has asked me more than once to run an errand for her on a Saturday and I have had to politely refuse due to my commitment to Shabbat rest. At first, she didn’t understand and thought Shabbat was just an excuse for me to sleep all day. Granted, I did occasionally take the opportunity to nap, but I mostly read books and prayed when I wanted to. My dad, on the other hand, a man who had sworn off Mormonism in his teen years and has since turned to Norse paganism as a faith, has teased me about my chosen monotheism. Initially, this made me uncomfortable, but now I enjoy having banter. We also have a sort of joke that whenever we drink alcohol together and I say “L’chaim”, he deliberately mispronounces the toast or says, “Skaal” in response. (Skaal is Norwegian for “Cheers”.) Generally, he and my mother are supportive of my decision to convert. However, I don’t envision my parents ever joining me at synagogue. Although my sister has attended services in Davis with me. I realize I have yet to mention God. When I was younger, I fantasized about an old white dude with a booming voice like in The Prince of Egypt giving me advice and granting me wishes. Now I wrestle with God because God is no longer some fantasy in my mind. God is not a man in the sky. God doesn’t get angry when I swear. Exploring Judaism has helped me gain confidence in questioning God and discovering what I do believe God to be. I’ve found I connect most to the concept of the Shechinah, the maternal Presence of God. I think I felt it after attending the Second Night Seder during Pesach. I felt transcendent once I left the space. I was overcome with the joy of being with community. Was all of this truly the Shechinah? Perhaps. It’s what I attributed my feelings to. God being a comforting Presence gives me peace, especially during Shabbat after a busy week operating in the “tyranny of space” as Heschel puts it. I like the idea of God as a unifying energy or force that gives meaning to the universe and purpose to our human lives. I am comforted by God as eternity. I also look forward to endlessly contemplating God as I age. Judaism has granted me a gift in that respect. On the other hand, I am also comforted by the fact that one doesn’t have to believe in God to be Jewish, which allows for diversity of thought in the community and very interesting Torah study contributions. Being a part of the Tribe, as it were, and now having a partner who is Jewish imbues me with a strong sense of pride and optimism for my (Jewish) life. Conversion is the most transformative decision I have made so far. I feel welcomed and loved.
Responses to the question: Do you observe Halloween? What are your thoughts about this holiday? It's roots are both pagan and Christian. Yet in modern America it feels so non-religious. Opinions?
I'm really enjoying your open ended questions! It’s interesting to think about some of these issues.
I only recognize Halloween because I like scary movies, and giving out candy to big and little kids. I might partake of the candy a bit also. Its definitely one of the excuses I use to leave treats in our office.
I don't think I've ever observed the religious aspects of the day in my personal life.
I have staff members of Latino descent who observe the Day of the Dead. I've been a little hesitant about that kind of observance in the past, particularly at work, but the way they framed it as remembering lost loved ones or lost experiences feels more in line with my own values so I can appreciate the sentiment of the day. Since we're therapists, we also support clients in finding new meanings related to their losses so they can heal from grief. Lastly, although I don't engage in any specific rituals for the fall (outside of sharing and consuming candy), I do appreciate the slowing down and quietude of the season. However, it can be hard to enter this part of the year because it sometimes leads to reflection and even sadness about things that didn't happen during the busy and creative spring and summer time of the year. It ushers in the winter and associated holidays, which bring excitement and a bit of anxiety for some, myself included, about connecting or being disconnected from others. My favorite winter holiday is New Year's so I keep my sights set on that day, and just take the ones before it as a necessary ride up to my one I look forward to the most! Raiza Orli Sarit
I always loved Halloween before I was Jewish. But its origins are so clearly pagan that once Jewish I considered it avodah zarah* and stopped celebrating it and don’t let my kids celebrate it. Though I now let them carve pumpkins at friends houses with their non-Jewish relatives. Shifra Chayah *foreign worship or idolatry
Yes, I observe Halloween... To me, it is just a time to have some fun with my friends' kids -- and it doesn't hurt to be a big kid myself once a year ;) Binah Rut
Yes, I observe Halloween... To me, it is just a time to have some fun with my friends' kids -- and it doesn't hurt to be a big kid myself once a year ;) Binah Rut
When I was young enough to trick or treat, the nuns who taught us told us that Halloween is a pagan celebration. They would not let us do anything about it while in school. They didn't even like us to bring our Halloween candy to school after it was over.
As an adult I stocked a small amount of candy to give to neighborhood kids who came to my door. In my 40's I adopted my daughter and moved to the suburbs. All of a sudden Halloween loomed much larger in my life. All of the kids participate. In my city, there is at least one entire neighborhood which was dominated by kids walking door to door under the watchful eye of parents who stood back and made sure that cars drove slowly and the kids stayed safe.
The elementary schools in my area make a big deal out of Halloween. Since there is little Christmas, no Columbus Day nor any other sort of celebratory event that the kids can participate in.
I became tired of the whole thing and I was glad that my daughter outgrew the entire things. I do think that Halloween is a pagan leftover in out culture brought to our country from the British Isles (English?, Irish?, Scots-Irish?). I just got tired of the enthusiasm that surrounded Halloween among the kids and in the schools. If we need to play dress up, I like Purim better. Mikhael ben Avraham
I have a friend who is an Orthodox Jew and her favorite non-Jewish holiday is Halloween. She loves the colors, the decorations, the candy, the spiders, etc. She could choose to be Reform and go with the whole, “It is just an American holiday. No big deal. It’s just letting kids have fun and eat candy.” But that doesn’t express her beliefs. Because she is traditionally observant she does not take her children trick or treating, but she, like her rabbi, leaves candy out in a bowl for those children to arrive at her house seeking a treat.
What do you do when you like something, a lot, that doesn’t fit into your idea of who you are and how you live? First, she acknowledges the truth: Halloween isn’t Jewish. It’s a mix of pagan and Christian elements. And I love it. In my mind it is like someone saying, “I love chocolate, but I prefer not to eat candy so I won’t have any, thank you.” Have you noticed that people don’t like for others to make decisions that they themselves wouldn’t? It as if someone else NOT eating chocolate or NOT observing Halloween is a personal affront.
My friend can still enjoy looking at decorations, reading ghost stories, and she can even wear orange. But she chooses to draw a line. Is that allowed? In America, especially in the liberal bay area, we tend to act as though, “We are totally accepting of everyone… except people who don’t make our same choices.”
If you are among those who make your kids an awesome costume, take them trick or treating, or hand out candy in a costume, enjoy! Honestly, I’ve sown many a costume, dressed up, made graveyard cakes, and handed out candy to loads of cute kids. But I understand my friend’s decision and I respect her right to see life through her own lens. In turn, she accepts the way I live.
Have fun; be true to yourself and patient with those who differ from you.
(Image: A view from the balcony by photographer Joel Bischoff.)
A friend of mine longed to be Jewish, but everyone communicated that that was impossible. So she and her husband, who also wanted to be Jewish, gave up that dream. Then one day in a public library she came upon a book ABOUT conversion to Judaism! She was thrilled. She went home, told her husband and phoned the local synagogue. Soon they were in the rabbi's office. As they worked with the rabbi on their conversions their children were enrolled in Hebrew school so that they could know enough about Judaism to determine for themselves whether they wanted to be Jewish. In the end, two of her three children converted with their parents. Their oldest says, she's fine as a non-Jew and loves practicing Judaism with her Jewish family.
Too many people get the idea that there is no such thing as conversion to Judaism. What about YOU? When did you know that conversion was possible? What did you believe the barriers to be? What barriers did you encounter? Who helped you along the way?
Tell us in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to share your story anonymously if you would prefer.
A lovely woman sent me her "Pre-Conversion Adventure". It contains so many common challenges, misunderstandings and mis-direction from Jews that I asked her if I could share it and comment on it. She graciously agreed. This is Liaz bat Lois' story.
When your soul is crying out so loudly it seems people nearby might actually hear it, it’s hard to be patient. But I knew the process of becoming a Jew required the help of a rabbi, so I patiently set about to find one to help me convert. The cities where my pre-conversion adventure took place are not overflowing with Jewish congregations, so I’ll leave the locations blank. But it was in the middle of the US, and south. I approached one rabbi on the phone, and that was not successful. He did not agree to help me, and told me to keep looking. So, I learned not to approach rabbis on the phone. A friend invited me to Chabad, and I went to High Holy Day and Passover services there. Everyone was very kind and welcoming, until the rabbi took me aside and explained that his wife was uncomfortable. She thought I was only there to snag a Jewish husband. I apologized for making her uncomfortable and said I wanted to convert. He told me to pursue that in another town. So, I did. I Googled it and found a rabbi who offers an online conversion course. It was very expensive and requires an in-person visit for the final mikveh and completion. In the meantime, I found a congregation that welcomed visitors of all faiths. It was a great blessing to me. During a break in services there, I explained to a visiting, retired rabbi how I was setting up my online conversion. He cautioned me to find a real, live rabbi instead. He had decades of experience and a wonderful, welcoming demeanor. He said, essentially, “The point of being a Jew is having a community. Jews need a community, and you need a community to be a Jew.” He helped me understand I wasn’t going to get what I needed online because it wasn’t only about finding a rabbi to help me convert. It was about finding my people, my community. The president of the congregation told me it’s not easy for older people to convert because most rabbis want to invest their time and energy in young adults who will be raising Jewish children. I could see his point. Undaunted, I kept studying and praying for a rabbi who would agree to help me. That same congregation eventually hired a young rabbi, a recent graduate, to conduct their monthly services. She agreed to help me convert. It was private and personal, perfect for me. Looking back, I feel very grateful for the way it worked out. Most of all, I feel tremendous gratitude to Hashem for organizing my conversion process for me.
Here are my thoughts on her Adventure.
Each person has a different experience and no one’s story defines conversion. Finding a rabbi by phone is difficult. Sometimes it works, but many times it does not. You have no idea how busy a rabbi is and their primary focus is their own congregants. They have no theological imperative to make Jews. A single phone call will not suffice in most cases. A call asking for an appointment may get you in the door. Then with a face-to-face meeting not only will the rabbi get to know you, you will get to know them. The relationship needs to be a “match” for the seeker.
It’s surprising that the Chabad experience was not good as Chabad staff is typically very good at welcoming everyone. However, Chabad does not do conversions. Chabad rabbis refer seekers to other Orthodox rabbis in the community. I wish more people knew this as it can make Chabad seem rejecting when, in most cases, you are asking a gas station to fix your broken axle; that’s just not part of their job.
Online conversions are intended to bring income to the teacher/rabbi who offers them. Think of it like a musician or a science tutor or a craftsperson. They have a website to advance their business. It can be quite expensive. Since you still have to go to the mikvah with the rabbi, you also have to pay to travel to where the rabbi is, or can meet you, to complete your conversion. More expenses.
Most conversions are done by congregational rabbis and don’t cost anything. If you take a class, yes, you will pay for the class like everyone else. But your meetings with your sponsoring rabbi are free. The expectation is that you will enter into the life of your rabbi’s congregation. You will attend services, make friends, come for holidays, volunteer, etc. The rabbi AND the congregation are building a relationship with you and you with them.
As you say, location does matter. It is important that you shared this in order to put your story in perspective. Living in a place with very few Jewish options made the process of locating a sponsoring rabbi very hard. In the general community this is made harder because most people don’t even know they need a sponsoring rabbi. They also don’t know that that rabbi has to be connected to a synagogue to be taken seriously by most Jews and Jewish organizations.
I am stunned that the president of the congregation said that rabbis prefer to convert young people. I will point out that that is one person’s opinion and a very damaging one at that. In one sentence he or she has blighted the reputations of thousands of rabbis he/she has never met. I don’t know of any rabbi who shares that opinion. Perhaps this person’s previous rabbi felt that way, in which case, I’m glad they left.
Finally, you say that the most important thing to you is that HaShem guided you. That is a fine thing to believe. Some of us Jews agree that there is a Guide in our lives. Many other Jews do not. Luckily Judaism teaches both perspectives. I am delighted that more than one person can be right at the same time.