My Conversion to Judaism

Making my Declaration of Faith (photo by Peter Halmagyi)

In many ways, food brought me to Judaism. My fiancé was born in Israel; several years ago, he took me to visit his homeland for the first time. I was exposed to the incredible Israeli food culture, and I quickly fell in love with Jewish cuisine. I came back from that trip with a mission—to recreate the amazing flavors I’d tasted in our home kitchen. As I immersed myself in traditional Jewish cooking, learning to make dishes that are centuries old (and in some cases even older), I finally felt at home… like I was returning to a place that made my spirit happy.

Last Thursday, I completed that journey home by converting to Judaism. Surrounded by family, under the guidance of my rabbi, I embraced the Jewish faith. It was a powerful, beautiful day—one I will never forget.

This journey started back in college, long before I met my fiancé. I was not raised in a religion; my parents gave me the gift of choice when it came to spirituality. I’ve always known on a deep level that God exists, but the context for understanding my Creator was unclear. For many years I felt adrift, doing my best to find peace in the midst of chaos. Then I took a college writing course called “The Holocaust,” in which I was asked to examine this most heinous event in human history. Signing up for this class proved to be a life-altering choice. I was consumed by memoirs like “Night,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and “All but My Life.” I yearned to know the Jewish people better — to understand their faith, optimism and hope, even in the darkest of times. I left the class full of curiosity, my heart open and ready to learn more. It was the beginning of my spiritual awakening, a journey that finally came full circle last week.

For me, becoming Jewish is about joining a larger family and community. What drew me to the Jewish faith was the focus on family, tradition, and reaching out to help others in need. A big part of being Jewish is acknowledging a responsibility to your fellow humans by spreading positive energy in this increasingly complex world. I have accepted that responsibility, and it makes my heart very happy.

I’m sharing this experience with all of you, my Shiksa in the Kitchen community, because I feel that food is more than just sustenance. Food is a way of communicating; the energy we pass on through our cooking feeds the body as well as the soul. By writing this blog, and taking a journey into the history of food, I hope to spread positive energy. In the same way a good meal makes people happy, I hope that this blog… and the recipes and stories you find here… make you happy.

And guess what? I am learning right beside you. I am not a trained chef or a food critic or a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. I started this blog to learn more about Jewish food and food history. Consider this our shared virtual culinary classroom– a place where we learn not only how to cook delicious food, but how that food came to be in the first place. Every kitchen has a heritage; every recipe has a writer. Knowing the story behind the food– the ancient history, or the family history, or even the history of one particular ingredient– can infuse a dish with meaning. And then a meal becomes more than just food, something that fills you up physically. Food takes on a spiritual significance, and ultimately becomes more nourishing.

If you read my blog, you are probably somebody who loves food. That’s something we all share. A good meal can bring warmth and joy to anybody, no matter who you are or where you come from. I welcome all faiths and backgrounds to join me on my journey into the heart of food history. Our diversity makes us stronger!

As many of you know, the word shiksa means a non-Jewish woman. Some of you may be wondering, “Is she still going to be called The Shiksa In The Kitchen?” I answer that question with an enthusiastic yes! Historically, the word shiksa has been used in a derogatory way — meant to convey that the “shiksa” is somehow “less than” somebody born into Judaism. Rather than shy away from the word, I choose to let my background empower me. I have no shame that I was born a shiksa; I am exploring Judaism through the eyes of somebody newly reborn and thrilled to be part of the Tribe. I am happy that I was born a shiksa, it made me who I am today. Judaism is now my spiritual path, but I will never forget where I came from. Plus, “The Convert In The Kitchen” doesn’t sound quite as cute, does it?  😉

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be blogging about Passover. Our family celebrates the Seder meal on Erev Pesach, the Eve of Passover. This year, it falls on March 29. In preparation for the Seder, I’ll be posting many new recipes and articles about the Passover experience. I look forward to sharing some amazing food ideas with you, and hearing your own Seder traditions as well. Please join me!

Comments (67)Post a Comment

  1. Congrats. I converted almost two years ago. I did it for many of the same reasons. The traditions and my synagogue just felt like an extension of my family. Mazel tov to you!

  2. Congratulations! We all have to be comfortable in our own skin… and embrace the spirituality that draws our heart… even if that draw comes from a different direction as we grow older.

    Thank you for the great website! :)

    Sincerely~ Andrea (a “Shiksa” who was born into the Catholic faith, wandered around a bit, & come full circle back again, during my 53 years on this earth) :-)

  3. Mazel Tov! I converted too, 16 years ago, for exactly the same reasons you did. My mother-in-law to be, at the time said, “are you sure you’re not Jewish? You love chopped liver, kugel, my brisket, latkes, and lox!”

    I love having one religion for our son and am looking forward to his Bar Mitzvah in May 2011!!!

    Love your recipes!!

  4. Thank you for the amazing comments! It warms my heart knowing that you are all joining me on this journey. Peace and blessings to you and your families! xoxo

  5. I am just browsing through your site for the first time…I love it! I am so happy I came upon it. Judaism is very close to my heart and I am in the process of beginning my conversion. So to find this site just makes me smile.

  6. I’m converting next month. I took one look at your photos and thought — Yikes! Do I need to dress up for the occasion? Please advise! PS. Your dress is lovely.

  7. Hi Una! I dressed up because it felt right– I consider it one of the most important days of my life. So dressing up felt natural to me. Glad you liked the dress! (I got it at the Gap a few years ago.) 😉

  8. Originally I am from an Orthodox home. Went to hebrew school and Yeshiva. My wife Ardys passed away in 1994 . She was Catholic.She had Ovarian Cancer. She was the best happening of my entire life. She came to my Synnogoge and I came to her Church. God Bless you and Have a happy Life.

  9. I’m another Shiksa converting to Judaism…the community and the faith felt so right to me when I first discovered it, and I find that I just can’t leave! :) Mazel tov on your conversion.

  10. Congrats on your conversion….I am also a Shiksa, who never converted but was married for 14 glorious years to my beloved Alan. Alan passed away in February of 2010 and I find myself craving matzos and chicken soup.

  11. I came across your site looking for a newspaper article. What a wonderful find. I am a Jew by birth, but my mother didn’t Tradition! Plus we were not allowed in the kitchen to cook. Finding your recipes warms a part of my heart that was needing warming. Thank you, for taking the time and humor.

    Warm regards,


    1. Rebecca, welcome! Hope you’re enjoying the blog. Let us know how your conversion is going!

      Aline, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss… very happy you’re here with us.

      Thank you for reading Merle! xo

  12. It’s so nice to hear of people coming in when so many seem to be leaving. Welcome to all of you. It is a pleasure to have you. Judaism is a joy. Enjoy it.

  13. I’m really enjoying your blog and trying your recipes. I too am a shiksa married to a Jew — have been now for over 31 years, and we still really happy. Neither of us are religious so there was no issue of conversion either way. But we both are strongly connected to family, culture, tradition, and being part of a bigger world. So we celebrate both families’ holidays with as much respect and authenticity as we can muster. And since our children are Chinese, we’re learning some of those customs and holiday celebrations too. So our house is a fun place to visit on Passover, Christmas, Chinese New Year, etc. Thanks for the care you take to do things right and to explain the connection to the bigger Jewish picture. We are really all members of this bigger world and it does us all good to stay connected to it.

  14. Hi, I found out about seven years ago that I do have a natural Jewish heritage. My great-grandfather was a Jew, however no one in the family would ever admit nor acknowledge it. But due to his name, I am 100% confident (Solomon Zelner). I am loving “exploring” my heritage, even though I was not raised in it at all. I am enjoying your site, and am going to be trying some of your recipes.

  15. Don’t know why, but reading this is bringing tears to my eyes. I’m an emotional basket case. Welcome to the tribe! I can see you have a Jewish sense of humour :-)

  16. I’m sure your conversion made your fiance’s family happy. I am a shiksa engaged to a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, whose family is NOT at all happy about this situation. But I am a hard-core atheist, so I see no point in converting from one superstition I don’t believe in to another.

    However, the kugel his mother makes is wonderful, and I did get the recipe. 😉 & I am looking forward to making your pumpkin challah.

  17. I made a Conservative conversion 11 year ago (time flies!). I love my people, love our food. I am so glad you have found the right path for yourself.

  18. Cheryl, Rolly, Diane, Risa, Barb, Rowena, Christie– sorry it took me a while to respond to your comments, I haven’t checked back with this post in a while. Thank you so much for all your supportive words! This journey has been the most fulfilling of my life so far, I am truly enjoying being part of the Tribe. :)

    Rowena, even though you don’t connect with the spiritual side of Judaism, I do hope you have a chance to explore some of the cultural traditions. Cooking is one part of it, so it sounds like you’ve already started with your MIL’s kugel! Judaism is a cultural heritage in addition to being a spiritual belief system. Like Diane’s comment above illustrates, we can embrace certain parts of that historical heritage whether or not we are religious. I have found celebrating those cultural traditions (like Shabbat dinner) to be a wonderful way of enriching our family life and celebrating our diversity.

    Either way, I’m happy you’ve found the site and hope you are enjoying the recipes! :)

  19. This is a MOST interesting blog. Wow ! I wish you all well and loved the personal stories of conversion and the love of the Jewish foods. Great job Tori !

  20. I like this site, I am also JBC. I have a very picky eater for a boyfriend. I grew up Italian and he won’t eat what I am used to cooking. Hopefully, I will find something more like what he is used to on here. Is there any way to make corned beef more palatable? Other than making it into a reuben sandwich?

    1. Esther, this week is perfect for you– lots of Med/Italian influence in the recipes I’ll be posting. As far as your boyfriend is concerned, it’s hard to imagine turning down home cooked Italian food! What is his background– I’m assuming he’s Jewish? I can point you to some recipes he might like if you let me know where his family is from. Corned beef is one of those things that you either love or hate. There isn’t much you can do to change it, the flavor is very distinct.

  21. Such a lovely website! I don’t know anything about Jewish cooking. I found your website when I googled bubeleh, curious if it meant ‘sweet little boy’, cause that is what ‘bubili’ would mean. And here I am, discovering Jewish cooking.
    Since I’m not Jewish and I don’t have many Jewish people in my life (I have only one Jewish friend), this never really came up, but…. I really don’t like the word Shiksa. My mom’s German, and in German “Schickse” means something like ‘stupid, mean girl’. I know that German and Yiddish have about 700 years of language change and different influences between them, but I can’t help but feel uncomfortable with it.
    That doesn’t make the website any less lovely. Mazel tov for finding and spreading your happiness. (And before you think I have anything against Yiddish/Hebrew words…. ‘mazel’ made it into Dutch as ‘mazzel’, which means ‘getting lucky’. People in Holland – Jews and gentiles alike – sometimes say ‘de mazzel’ as an informal way of saying ‘goodbye’. I don’t think many people know they are wishing the person they’re leaving happiness, but I like it all the same.)

    1. Yiddish is a language based on 2,000 years of persecution. It takes words from other languages and make fun of them. Once in Bern I was in a department store and froze when I saw a department called “kinder shmuck” Shmuck means garden in German. In Yiddish it means prick. As in “That person is a shmuck.” There is a great logic to the word. I love Yiddish and wish I had been exposed to it more as a child!

  22. beautiful story. i converted in 2005 for many of the reasons you listed. mazel tov on your journey and blog! (wish i took a picture when i did my conversion) doh! :)

  23. so inspiring! i especially love how you write back to every comment, its very personal! (don’t worry you don’t have to write back to this one 😉

  24. Welcome to Am Yisrael!
    I too was a Shiksa in my former life. I stumbled upon your site today and was so happy! I can not wait to make your cheese latkes for Chanukah. I was moved how many people have also converted, for many of the same reasons, I sincerely had no idea there are so many of us. (at least in admittance of!) Thank you so much for food, fun and history. You have a regular added to your list. Best to you Tori

  25. I enjoyed your writing. My mother is a shiksa (and my father a self-denying Jewish athiest). I haven’t quite made my peace with it, but hopefully soon. I love Jewish people and Jewish culture and Jewish history and Jewish religion, but I think I would rather embrace the contradiction of being half-Jewish than convert just so that everything fits neatly into a nice pre-defined category.

  26. Hello – love the blog, am definitely going to try the charoset truffles for Seder. I converted too – just a few weeks ago, and I’m still blissfully happy and want to tell everyone. My journey was similar to yours in many ways although I do now keep strictly kosher. Mazel tov and keep blogging!

  27. Mazel tov on your conversion. I was born Jewish but my family was not religious and I am now a baal teshuvah.
    Your recipes are great and your pictures nearly as delicious!

    Perhaps this is a person question so feel free not to answer but did you have an orthodox conversion?

  28. I’m kinda with Yelena. I went through all of the comments to look for 1 like that. I see you have quite a following among the intermarried crowd… Did you ever look into an Orthodox conversion, which would be universally accepted? Feel free to communicate with me privately via email if you desire… Good luck!

  29. Hi Tori:
    I found your site looking for Rosh Hashanah recipes and found it much more than a cooking blog. As a husband of a jewish lady I was wondering if there is the equivalent word for Shiksa in masculine. Will try your Braid Challah and will let you know how it goes. I also loved the experience to visit Israel (during honeymoon).

    Regards from Spain!

    1. Hi Angel —

      I believe the masculine equivalent of “shiksa” might be “shaigetz”. Could be wrong, but that’s what I recall…


  30. Hi Tori —

    I stumbled on your website this morning as I was looking for a new, delicious recipe for real Jewish chicken soup. Yours looks wonderful. I plan to try it tomorrow, to take to a friend who’s sick and has been complaining about how boring the canned chicken soups are! (Yech… haven’t used those in years.)

    My (Orthodox) conversion to Judaism occurred 53 years ago, at Harvard Hillel, in my senior year of college. I had been engaged to a Jewish Boy who turned out not to be so Nice after all. I broke it off, but continued to study with my rabbi for a year, although he was reluctant to allow me to convert as a “single girl”! Fortunately, another Really Nice Jewish Boy appeared on the scene, and we were married at Hillel House a couple of months after my conversion. His family was anything but Orthodox, though. I used to joke that I taught him everything he knew about Judaism, and I was only half kidding.

    Our three kids (now ranging from 52 down to 42, with families of their own) all had Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. As they were growing up, we kept the holidays and Shabbat; they all remember lovingly those Friday nights when I lit candles and their father read aloud about “a woman of valor”. Rather oddly, none of them married a Jewish spouse. One son became a Methodist. The other son and his “shiksa” wife (a fabulous person, my daughter-in-law) joined a Reform temple with many intermarried couples; their now mid-teenaged children both had Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and both taught Sunday school at the temple. My daughter and her husband don’t identify themselves as adherents to either Christianity or Judaism; but she keeps her menorah lovingly displayed.

    My husband and I divorced, amicably, after 25 years. I remarried ten years later, to an Episcopalian I had known back in college days. For 17 years I’ve lived with a churchgoing spouse, no longer overtly observant of the Jewish holidays, but missing the sense of community in my heart. Although at the beginning he encouraged me to light Shabbat candles, I demurred. I said ours was not a Jewish home, and I didn’t feel like putting on “the Jew show” for him — but thanks for the offer, anyway.

    My beloved Episcopalian husband died two months ago. Along with the stresses of caregiving through a horrendous year of health problems for him, and along with the grief and numbness that seem to have taken me over since he died, I am feeling increasingly that I might seek out a Reform congregation one of these days, and take up more or less where I left off. I was never able to attach myself to his church community, although they have been wonderful to me since I became a widow. His memorial service will take place at his church, and his ashes will be interred there. (Southern California has no problem with winter burials or interments, unlike the Northeastern area, where my first husband couldn’t be buried in January, but had to wait a couple of months till the ground thawed!)

    So that’s my circular story. I’ve been inspired by reading not only your blog, but the thoughtful and encouraging comments as well. So many of them come from young women who have also converted to Judaism! I had no idea there were so many of us out there… their comments and your blog have made me feel proud and happy, all over again and decades later, of having had the courage to take that step in my youth.

    Mazel tov to all of you, and thank you.

  31. Found your blog today (Jan 2013) looking for recipes and was interested by your story of conversion. I became interested in Judaism in the mid50s (at age eight!) and converted in 1970, more for the beliefs that matched mine than the culture. Congratulations on the change, which I hope lasts your whole life.

  32. i found your site a few weeks ago and keep coming back, not just because there are not kashrut issues, but because they are just plain amazing!

    next time you come to israel i’d love to meet you!

  33. Mazal Tov! We are always happy to ad somebody who loves Judaism to the tribe!
    I hope that you had the chance to eat a good falafel and shawarma meal in Israel.

  34. Dear Tori,
    Eating tsimmes from your recipe right now (my wife substituted dried apricots for the apples). Delicious! Great Blog. Looking forward to eating our way through all of your recipes.

  35. I found your blog about a year ago and find you a fascinating cook with wonderful stories . I have three grandchildren living in Ateret, Israel which is a yeshuv in the West Bank. The eldest is ten and the youngest is six. My ten year old granddaughter knows how to make and braid challah. I was told also that little girls also learn to crochet so that they can make keepa’s for their husbands. Sorry my son is not married to their mom anymore but I feel she’s another daughter.

  36. couldn’t put your story down – very moving and very emotional – you are so fortunate to have found your way in life when most others just ramble and find their way by accident. I salute you for your bravery, insight and compassion.

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