Single, Non-Jewish, and Eager To Convert

You Don't Need a Jewish Guy To Take the Leap

Cool New MOTB: Kelly always loved ‘Jewy’ things — and then she just decided to become Jewish.
Bunny Shapiro
Cool New MOTB: Kelly always loved ‘Jewy’ things — and then she just decided to become Jewish.

By Shayna Estulin

Published February 18, 2014, issue of February 14, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Kelly was one of those non-Jewish girls I’d always envied — the ones who seemed to know where every cool party was and dressed with an urban flair. So it took me by surprise when, one day last year, she excitedly told me that she was converting to Judaism.

I knew she loved “Jewy” things. She even had a blog, “Bunny Shapiro,” where she posted pictures of old Jews eating at delis, mezuzas she found pretty and, because she worked in the fashion business, photos of Jewish fashionistas. But I figured the whole Jewish thing was just part of her eccentric persona, not something a non-Jewish, 30-year-old downtown New Yorker would seriously consider taking on. And she told me she wasn’t doing it for a Jewish guy; she was taking the big step on her own.

I was really puzzled. I am from a Hasidic background and have struggled with my own Judaism, sometimes feeling that it was a burden to be so different. Never mind the nightmares I had as a child about the Holocaust. So why did this cool New York woman want to become Jewish?

Because I’m a journalism student, I naturally decided to do some research. I ended up writing my master’s thesis on singles converting to Judaism. I found that some did it because they felt Christianity didn’t give them the answers and Judaism did, or because a parent or relative was Jewish and they wanted to reconnect to their heritage, like the one man I interviewed who converted after he discovered his ancestor was a Marrano. One of the best reasons I heard was from a rabbi who told me the story of how, years ago, a single woman came to him to convert “because of Paul Newman in the movie ‘Exodus.’”

But each reason had the same underlying theme: All these people experienced a deep connection to Judaism and to Jews. “Have you ever been with a group of people and just felt you belonged?” one single convert I spoke with explained.

I met Kelly often as I was writing my thesis, and our friendship grew stronger. She told me that she had wanted to be Jewish since she was a little girl growing up in Canada. The homes of her Jewish friends (“There was Rachel Mendelsohn, Talia Klienplat”) seemed like warm, loving places, where everyone got along, holidays were always being celebrated and the mothers were glamorous and “over the top.” Her home was very different. Birthdays and holidays were rarely celebrated, and the house felt cold, her parents distant.

That feeling of coldness followed her into the neighborhood church that the family would attend occasionally. “I was always freaked out by Jesus on the cross. Aesthetically it’s just dark and scary, worshipping a dead man on a cross,” Kelly said. Not surprisingly, her family isn’t that supportive of her conversion. But Kelly is nonplussed. She doesn’t expect them to understand her feelings for Judaism.

A few months ago I went with her to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. At one exhibition, Hebrew letters flashed on a large screen, followed by pictures of children studying Torah, images of Israel and of smiling families. The screen went dark for a few moments, and then hundreds of candles lit up the room, their flames flickering across the walls.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.