Born: Montreal, Canada
Currently Living: Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York
My cultural background and identity is a big mess because my family’s Indian, people think I’m Spanish but now I’m a Modern Orthodox Jew. It’s crazy.”
I grew up not knowing anything about Judaism whatsoever. My family was non-denominational Christian. It was kind of like the cool hip Christians who listen to Jesus punk rock and go on Christian retreats [laughs]. I moved to New York and tried to reconnect with the cool Christian part of New York that hands out the granola bars and uses hash tags. I found it really fake. I had trouble with Christianity so I started looking at other religions.
I moved to New York for acting school and I acted in a Jewish rock musical. The company was run by Orthodox Jews and that’s where I first experienced what an Orthodox Jew was. I asked questions and I started getting interested. I went to a conversion class and the Rabbi said that if I wanted to really learn, I would have to live in a community with other Jews. I decided I was serious so I moved to Teaneck, New Jersey and I boarded in the attic of someone’s house for my conversion, which took about nine months.
I learned four days a week. I learned kashrus (Hebrew: Kosher dietary laws) and Shabbes (Hebrew: Sabbath) and Jewish history and culture and halachah (Hebrew: Jewish law) and Hebrew and davenning (Yiddish: praying). I found a rabbi who works with a lot of BTs—Ba’al Tshuvahs (Hebrew: converts)—and I studied with him for a year. I loved that community and their very spiritual and artistic way of looking at Judaism. Artistic in the sense of the world is beautiful. They see the art and beauty in creation in what Hashem does and how each moment fits together rather than, Oh my gosh you have to wash this spoon because by accident it was used with dairy. We learned all those things, but the information was presented in a spiritual and beautiful way.
There’s no structure, no lesson plan, no “requirements”, or list of things to know. It’s very disorganized. I think it’s on purpose because they’re supposed to discourage converts.”
There’s no structure, no lesson plan, no “requirements”, or list of things to know. It’s very disorganized. I think it’s on purpose because they’re supposed to discourage converts. They make it very difficult to meet with them. So you go to see the Beis Din (Hebrew: Jewish court) once a month, once every two months depending on their availability or when they get themselves together if they think you need more time or when they want to see you. It’s a stressful time. You’re waiting. I go into a meeting and they tell you to call and you can’t get ahold of them and then he says to call you again in a month and then he can’t meet with you for another two months. It seems disorganized because it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be something that if you really want to do this, you find every way possible to make it happen. I was persistent and they approved my conversion right before Rosh Hashanah and it was exciting. I was excited!
I was so excited to be a part of a Jewish community and it was discouraging when I first moved to the Heights. Not only am I a convert but it’s more obvious by looking at me. People ask if I’m Sephardic all the time. People think I’m Yemenite. The hardest part was being confident enough with my individuality to just be myself within the community rather than trying to skirt around certain answers to certain questions. I was wishing so much to–couldn’t I have looked just a little Jewish? Couldn’t I have just been White? I felt like a teenager. That’s hard. Is it hard now? It’s not as hard because now I’m part of a Jewish family.
Particularly in this neighborhood, everyone always assume I speak Spanish. If I go to the grocery store, they speak to me in Spanish. My cultural background and identity is a big mess because my family’s Indian, people think I’m Spanish but now I’m a Modern Orthodox Jew. It’s crazy. I wouldn’t want my children to not know about being Indian. I still identify strongly with being Indian.
I met a couple other people who are passionate about theater like my co-founder who grew up religious and is passionate about acting so we decided to create our own opportunities. Too many times I’ve been part of productions with theater companies where they’re too exclusive. I don’t want to be that. We wanted to be a place where everybody could come.
I remember there was a line in a play where I was supposed to be saying, “It’s not fair that I look so Jewish and you”–the other girl who grew up Jewish—“don’t look so Jewish.” I remember that bothering me in the beginning. I can’t play this role. I can’t say this. People are going to say I’m fake! It’s something that’s still really hard because now I‘m Jewish but don’t look Jewish, and I want to play Jewish roles! I feel conflicted about my acting self and feeling like I can play Jewish roles, and the reality that my type is young and Hispanic. I don’t resonate with being a young, Hispanic person. That’s not who I am but it’s who I look like. I have my foot in all these places and I’m not really one thing.