My Conversion Journey
I’m standing in front of the Jewish ritual bath, the mikvah, wearing only a white cotton robe and clear plastic sandals on my feet.
The mikvah attendant, a short woman wearing a brunette wig and a long black skirt, instructs me to take off my shoes and show her my palms and the bottom of my feet. She inspects them for dirt and nail polish, which would be considered obstructions between the water and me. After checking my back for stray hairs, she says, “OK” and signals for me to step onto the stairs and immerse myself in the water.
I hold the handrail walking in, and my robe immediately feels heavy when I dip in the water. Though men and women normally go into the mikvah unclothed– clothes are also considered an obstruction – an Orthodox rabbi is about to come into the room to question me, and I must be covered.
The mikvah attendant leaves and I float silently, smelling the fresh water and feeling the humidity in the air.
I check the clock. One minute goes by. Two minutes. Three minutes.
Where is the rabbi?
I look down at my pruney hands.
Back at the clock. Four minutes.
Then I hear the sound of a door opening.
“I’m so sorry, we’re really busy today,” he says, walking into the room. He’s a stout man in his 70s with a white beard and a black hat. He smiles as he stands over me.
“So let’s get started.”
“OK,” I say, taking a deep breath and holding the napkin on my head.
“Are you, Kylie Ora Lobell, dedicating yourself to a Jewish life?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Do you denounce all former religions and spiritual beliefs?”
“Will you follow the 613 commandments to the best of your ability and accept that there is only one true God?”
“Will you send your future children to Orthodox Jewish schools?”
“Fine. Very good. You can dip now.”
I lower myself into the water – all the way – holding my breath and spreading out my fingers and toes so the water reaches everywhere. I come up for air and see that the rabbi has turned around to face the wall.
“Thank you Kylie. She’ll take care of it from here.”
The mikvah attendant comes back, and I proceed to dip a few more times without my robe on to ensure that my conversion to Judaism is indeed kosher.
When I’m done, I come out of the mikvah and pat down my hair. Back in the bathroom, I look in the mirror.
I don’t look different. I don’t feel different. Perhaps I was just finding myself, and discovering who I was meant to be all along.
In the beginning, I was a nine-pound, bright blue-eyed baby with soft tufts of blonde hair, wrapped in a cozy yellow blanket, born just in time for the end of my parents’ marriage.
Around the time I turned four, my mother moved out of my father’s house and they divorced. They got split custody, so I was switching houses every few days. Both of them worked long hours, which meant I was a latchkey kid. Most days after school I’d crack open a bottle of Dr. Pepper and a bag of cheesy Chex Mix and sit on the couch for hours watching Nickelodeon.
We never had family dinners, save for Christmas, and I wasn’t friends with my neighbors. The only community I had was at school, but it wasn’t enough. I was depressed before I even knew what depression was, and I was jealous of the kids who had lots of siblings and parents who were still together. I have two sisters, but they are older than me and back then, they were busy teenagers with their own social lives.
The loneliness continued well into my adolescence and then through college. I always had just a few friends because I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I was socially awkward and different from those around me. While the other kids in my college were doing drugs and partying on the weekends, I preferred to stay at home and watch “Flight of the Conchords” or go to UCB in nearby New York City.
Then, at the end of college, I met my future husband, Daniel. When he suggested that we go to a free dinner that Friday at some Jewish organization, I enthusiastically agreed.
When we got to Chabad of North Brooklyn, I was stunned. There were about 30 Jews there from all different walks of life. The rabbi was Hasidic and so were his friends in those furry hats. There was a cool secular bald guy with orange-rimmed glasses and a young female artist with unkempt hair. There were little kids running around and grandmas saying prayers behind a divider in the middle of the room.
Everyone was so nice to me. They all sang together, said prayers, and listened to the rabbi talk. The food was incredible. The challah was warm and the potato stuff – I was told it was called kugel – was moist. I’d never tasted such delicious food. I felt a warmth in my chest that I hadn’t felt before and haven’t since then.
I kept wanting to go back and experience that warm feeling all over again. Daniel and I would switch off between the Chabad and his parents’ house for Friday night dinner. Daniel has three brothers and his family would laugh loudly and hug each other and sing at the table. This was what I was searching for. This is what I never knew I needed. Family. Community. Love.
I knew that I wanted this in my life. I was an atheist, but the more I learned about Judaism, the more I started to believe. Along with gaining a community, I hoped to learn truth, which I found in Judaism. I started to feel like I was becoming a better person. I gave to charity. I hosted people for Shabbat. I visited the sick. All of this made me feel good, too. The more faithful I became, the better my life got. I was able to see the bright side of things instead of focusing on the negative, like I used to.
I embarked on my conversion process by studying with my new rabbi. When Daniel and I moved to Los Angeles, I kept up my studies and ended up undergoing an Orthodox conversion.
I had our first child, our daughter Tzofia Chana, in 2019. I want to give Tzofia a meaningful family and community life.
Becoming a mother, I wrote a children’s book detailing the brief story of my conversion. It’s about how I wasn’t born a Jew but I met her father, he took me to Chabad, and I realized I wanted to be Jewish.
The book is called “Jewish Just Like You,” and I think that many families like mine will be able to relate. Ultimately, we all fall in love with Judaism. And as converts, we are very proud Jews, and we want our children to be too.
I want Tzofia to see just how Judaism transformed my life for the better. In the book, the pictures go from purple and white to full-on Technicolor when I dip in the mikvah. That’s what Judaism did for me: it made my world bright and happy.
With this book, I hope to spread that light to other families and instill Jewish pride in children. I hope that as they read my story, they can find the value and meaning in our beautiful religion, just like I did and continue to do every single day.