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A Jew by Choice

I am proud to say that I am a Jew by choice, not by birth. 
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August 3, 2023
Andrey Zhuravlev / Getty Images

I am proud to say that I am a Jew by choice, not by birth. 

When my husband and I were dating, he told me he needed to marry someone Jewish. I didn’t think he was serious; I’d never seen him show any real interest in Judaism. But I learned that he – and many family members and descendants of Holocaust survivors – wanted to continue his Jewish line because his ancestors could not. It was very powerful for me, and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, so after we were engaged, I started my conversion process. He attended every session with me, and this time with the rabbi became our first steps together as a Jewish couple.

My core take-aways of Judaism were “ask a lot of questions” and “be a good person.” I hadn’t known that a religion could look like that – welcoming, hospitable, open to all. It felt comforting and freeing; it felt like a space where I belonged.

I had no knowledge of Judaism prior to converting. I was raised Lutheran, but I never felt connected to Christianity. It always felt very black-and-white to me: “Here are the rules, here’s what you do.” Judaism, on the other hand, felt very gray. My core take-aways of Judaism were “ask a lot of questions” and “be a good person.” I hadn’t known that a religion could look like that – welcoming, hospitable, open to all. It felt comforting and freeing; it felt like a space where I belonged.

When our first child was born, my husband and I began to create our own family traditions. It was challenging at times as I did not have my own Jewish family history to fall back on. One of my best friends introduced me to PJ Library, an organization that sends free books to families raising Jewish children. The books depict how different families and communities celebrate Judaism, and they helped me feel more comfortable creating our own family dynamic. They helped me find a voice to say, ‘Our family is different than your family was when you were growing up, and I’d like to celebrate this way for our family.’

One way I started exploring Judaism and my new Jewish identity was through cooking. I bought some Jewish cookbooks and started to learn culinary history. There are so many different and varied dishes from Jewish communities all over the world. I learned to make bagels, blintzes, and delicious Sephardi leek patties. My very first challah recipe came from a PJ Library book, “This is the Challah.” The books are a huge resource for me personally because I don’t have a childhood full of Jewish memories but want to create those special childhood memories for my children – like baking the challah. 

I joined UJA when we moved from New York City to Westchester. I wanted to meet more Jewish women in our community and continue to explore my Jewish identity – and ours as a family. A friend told me about the Parent Connector Program in Westchester. Parent Connectors create local gatherings for Jewish families with young children. My friend knew I had spent 10 years in the events industry before I had children, and was now a stay-at-home mom, and she thought that it would be a great fit for me. 

Becoming a Parent Connector helped me further my own Jewish education, get more acclimated with my community, and make new friends. When I started planning these events, I worried only a few people would attend, but my supervisor shared a valuable insight: “You don’t have to move masses; you can make big impacts with a small number of people.” I met so many amazing people with different Jewish identities. For anyone who is new to an area, or wants to make more connections with Jewish families in your area, it is a great place to start. You meet one person, they introduce you to someone else, and it creates a ripple effect.

As our children continue to grow, our Jewish journey as a family is ever-changing. We still receive PJ Library books each month, teaching different ways to celebrate and express my own Jewish identity. They are one of the main reasons I feel comfortable enough as a new Jewish mother to go out and create our own Jewish family narrative. It is exciting to be able to create our own Jewish story filled with unique memories for our children.


Lindsey Alter is a parent who lives in Briarcliff Manor, NY with her husband and their children.

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