By Kylie Ora Lobell
My daughter is the only blonde-haired, fair-skinned child in her daycare at the local Sephardic synagogue. She got her blonde hair and pale skin from me. Though we look different than other Jews in our Orthodox community, we practice in the same way. Judaism is in our hearts and souls.
I converted to Judaism in 2015 with an Orthodox beit din after a five-year process. I started my journey at a local Chabad house with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, Daniel. He was off the derech and dating non-Jewish girls, and I’d mostly dated Jewish boys. Growing up, most of my friends were Jewish, too. We went to Chabad for a free Friday night dinner because we were so broke, but I came out of the experience feeling uplifted and wanted to keep going back. Though Daniel wasn’t initially interested in becoming observant again, he eventually changed his mind once he saw how dedicated I was. Now, we want nothing more than for our 15-month-old daughter, Tzofia Chana, to have a positive Jewish experience so she still wants to be observant as an adult.
It’s not always easy to be a convert and a mother. Aside from looking unlike the other parents in our community, there are cultural differences. I don’t understand much Hebrew, so when I’m around Israelis or people who speak it, I feel lost. When I would go to weddings (pre-COVID) and the DJ would play Israeli tunes and everyone was singing along, I certainly felt like an outsider. Unhappy Orthodox Jews as well as Holocaust survivors have pressed me as to why I’d want to convert when it’s just so hard to be Jewish. I tell them, “It’s not a choice. It’s in my soul.”
But these situations are few and far between. Overall, the Jewish community has been the extended family I always needed. My husband, our daughter, and I live 3,000 miles from our families, which is difficult. But our community has stepped in and taken care of us in unimaginable ways. Who knew that when I gave birth, someone would bring us dinner every single night for a month? Or that when we traveled, a sweet woman would offer us her credit card points so we could stay in a nice hotel? Or that when we needed assistance with our businesses, our rabbis were fully supportive, helping us out in any way they could? There were also sheva brachot and baby showers our friends threw for us, along with countless Shabbat invites.
Being a mom and wife and Jewish are the biggest blessings in my life. They have their challenges, but everything that’s worth it is hard work. And even though I, and my daughter, may stick out, I’ve learned that that’s a good thing. I hope we can inspire others to love their Judaism as much as we do.
Kylie Ora Lobell is the author of Jewish Just Like You, a book for kids in which she explains her conversion process to her future children. As the wife of a convert, I loved this book and recommend it highly!