September 19, 2018

She followed her heart to her true faith

I’m sitting in a plush rocking chair underneath a large painting of Jesus in my grandma’s living room. My grandma is across from me, smiling, her hands linked. Danny Lobell, my fiancé, is next to me.

“So, what’s your background?” she asks Danny.

“I’m Scottish and Jewish,” he answers her.

“Oh, that’s nice. You know, we had some Jewish in our family,” she says, clutching the cross she’s wearing around her neck.

“What was that?” 

“There is some Jewish in our family tree,” she says. 

“Really?”

“Yes. My mom’s family was from Germany.” 

“Back to the Jewish thing. Do you know who was Jewish?”

“I’m not sure,” she says, trailing off. “Kylie, have you been going to church lately? It’s really important to go to church.”

“Um, yeah,” I say.

I try not to feel too guilty. Church could be considered a colloquial term for “place of worship,” right? And I do go to “church.” Every Saturday morning.

I’m four years into my conversion process when I learn that perhaps my maternal family line could actually be Jewish. It’s a little validating — after all, it would explain a lot of things.

My grandma, a devout Catholic, “baptized” my older sisters in her kitchen sink when they were babies. She told me, however, that my baptism “didn’t work.” How does a baptism not work? 

If my soul were actually Jewish, it would also explain why I always hung around the Jewish kids in school and dated only Jews. On more than a few occasions in college, I would feel a wave of depression sweep over me after the sun set on Saturdays. I’d also have recurring nightmares that I was running from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Although it didn’t make any sense at the time, as I look back on my life, more and more eerie examples pop up that indicate I was a Jew.


My grandma, a devout Catholic, “baptized” my older sisters in her kitchen sink when they were babies. She told me, however, that my baptism “didn’t work.” How does a baptism not work?

Like most conversion stories, mine begins with love. My senior year of college, in 2010, I met Danny, a stand-up comedian living in Brooklyn. He had an Orthodox background, but had started to drift away from traditional practice. 

Then he met me. 

One Friday night, he took me to a Chabad outpost that was surrounded by tattoo shops, dive bars and vintage T-shirt stores in the hipster mecca that is Williamsburg, Brooklyn. During dinner, as I was eating a noodle kugel and listening to the rabbi speak, I felt warmth that I had never before experienced. 

In that moment, I knew: There is a higher power. This is the proof. I was no longer an atheist, as I had been since I was 12.

The first step toward becoming a Jew was to give up bacon. Danny said he didn’t want to kiss me after I ate it, so that convinced me pretty quickly to stop eating it. From there, I stopped eating shellfish, then meat and milk together, and then non-kosher meat altogether. We made our kitchen kosher, too.

Although our initial decision was to do a Conservative conversion, I learned that if I wanted universal acceptance, I would have to convert as an Orthodox Jew. I also wanted to make sure I received a good Jewish education, learning as much as possible from the most stringent observers and then deciding how I wanted to live my life. 

It just so happened that we found an Orthodox synagogue, Greenpoint Shul, that was in our neighborhood and led by Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum, a warm and friendly rabbi who worked with converts. We took weekly classes there and worked toward an Orthodox conversion.

This continued for nearly a year when, one day, we decided to pack up and head to sunny Los Angeles to pursue Danny’s career. This meant starting all over again with a new rabbi and a new beit din

Thanks to the Journal, I was able to write the stories of many local converts. It inspired me to get back into my learning and nail down a mikveh date. When a rabbi approached us and invited us to his shul and we finally felt like we had a spiritual home in L.A, it seemed like the perfect time to find a beit din.

I started again with classes early last year. Twelve months later, I was at an Orthodox seminary in Jerusalem, studying halachah and living with Jewish girls from all around the world. It was my first time in Israel, and for four weeks, I learned, explored Jerusalem, and accepted Danny’s marriage proposal, which happened at the Western Wall. 

Over the past five years, I’ve come to see Judaism as a brilliant system of living. The halachah makes so much sense — from the kind way we slaughter animals, to the holidays that unite us, to the laws of family purity, to the focus on life instead of death. 

I now see HaShem everywhere. During the time that I was an atheist, I didn’t believe in a higher power because I never saw miracles. Now everything is a miracle, from the fact that I wake up every day to how I manage to find a parking spot in downtown L.A. with money left on the meter. 

These past few years have been hard, too. There are a lot of politics in conversion, and people do inevitably judge you and how observant you are. As a convert, you are under a microscope much more than people who were born Jewish. It’s a difficult standard to live up to, but so is Torah observance. I’ve learned that nothing good in life is easy. The best stuff is hard, from marriages to raising children to eating healthfully to living in great cities such as New York and L.A. 

Come this July, after my conversion becomes official, I will stand, as a Jew, under the chuppah with the love of my life. So I guess my conversion story ends with love, too. Or maybe it’s just beginning.