Abraham Isaac Carmel was a Catholic priest who converted to Judaism. Prior to his death in 1982, he came to the US for medical treatment and taught English literature in Yeshiva of Flatbush high school. Excerpts from an unfinished book about his frustrations as a convert were published as “My Chosen People” in Tradition (23:2, Winter 1988 – link) and reprinted in The Conversion Crisis: An Ongoing Discussion. I highlight here an issue that I think is applicable well beyond a convert’s experience and speaks to the dilemma facing anyone trying to contribute professionally to the Jewish community.
Teaching is a rewarding task, but in America a teacher is a long way down the community ladder. He has no prestige or vital influence. American Jews in particular find it difficult to respect a person who is without financial backing. You are not quite kosher. If I were planning my life again, I would give more attention to material things and, above all, security. Idealism should be linked to a sense of financial adequacy.
I believe religious officials — rebbes, rabbis and influential religious teachers — attain the respect Mr. Carmel lamented he lacked. However, his comment about financial adequacy still seems applicable.