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Becoming Jewish: England, Baby Steps, And Being An Outsider

Recently, I traveled around the United Kingdom with my boyfriend, who was doing comedy there for two months. We went to places like London, Belfast, Cambridge, Glasgow, and the ever-popular Fishguard, Wales. Yes, Fishguard, the number one popular destination for tourists to visit. Whenever we told people we were going there they’d say, “Fishguard, eh mate? Isn’t that where you go to catch the boat to Ireland?”

All of these places reminded me of the one fact that makes it so difficult for Jews: We are greatly outnumbered (can I say “we” yet? Is that acceptable if I’m just Jewish by belief right now? Correct me if that’s offensive). In Belfast, there was a huge lighted sign on their city hall that said “Happy Christmas!” In Cambridge, people live on Jesus Lane. Churches are everywhere. There is no kosher food. Since I live in Brooklyn, I am much less exposed to reminders of Christianity here. But over there, it was hugely apparent.

I gave up non-kosher meat after Yom Kippur, and didn’t slip up once, until I got chicken four times in the UK. Since I got back two weeks ago, I’ve been on track again. But eating fish all day every day or vegetables isn’t my idea of fun. I also sort of kind of lie to people, telling them I’m vegetarian or pescetarian when in fact, I eat meat. It just evolves into a long, detailed conversation about being kosher and Judaism that I don’t want to get into… especially on vacation.

These days, my favorite activity is going to nearby Orthodox neighborhood and going food shopping. It’s paradise for me. Everywhere else, especially restaurants, just make me feel out of place in a way and so limited. After getting back from the UK, where I only saw about 10 visibly Jewish people, it was such a wonderful change to get back to one of the most Jewish places on Earth.

Another thing I’ve been struggling with in this journey is the fact that I don’t live in a very Jewish neighborhood currently. I love my neighborhood, but it is mainly WASPy, Italian, and Hispanic. On Saturdays, everyone is out and eating brunch and shopping. On Friday nights, the bars are packed. I only have one Jewish friend over here aside from my boyfriend, and she doesn’t observe Shabbat. It’s lonely when no one else around you is going through what you are, or observing the same thing. I’m already an outsider, and adapting to my Orthodox life will definitely contribute to that.

Finding a balance between staying in mainstream culture and being immersed in Orthodox Judaism is going to be one of my biggest challenges. Giving up bacon, shellfish, and non-kosher meat wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be. I just took gradual steps, which is how I’m learning to deal with such big changes. Converting to Judaism is like trying to lose weight: First you give up soda, then desserts, then carbs, and the rest follows. First I celebrated the holidays, attended Chabad Friday night dinners, started attending shul regularly, and went kosher. Eventually, you’ll shed a few pounds or gain a new religion. But don’t try to do both simultaneously, because Judaism is full of really good food.

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