Identity and conversion can be complicated topics for a grown adult to understand, much less a young Jewish boy or girl who has a parent from a different background.
In a new children’s book, “Jewish Just Like You,” Baltimore native Kylie Ora Lobell provides an abridged retelling of her conversion experience while helping children feel proud of where they come from.
Released in October, the book revolves around a woman telling her daughter the story of her conversion to Judaism and why she chose to convert. It covers what conversion entails, the girl’s Jewish and non-Jewish grandparents and that the grandparents all love the girl no matter what. The book reinforces how the girl should be proud of her Jewish heritage and that she should always respect people of different backgrounds, Lobell said.
Though there are memoirs from converts to Judaism, Lobell said there is a lack of resources on the subject for young children.
“I wanted to write a book that touched on the topic of conversion for the children of converts, because it didn’t exist,” Lobell said.
Lobell kept the book simple for the benefit of a younger audience. For instance, while her real life conversion took five years to complete, the book condenses that down to a single page.
Though converts and their children are the primary audience for the book, Lobell said the book is for any Jewish family who wants to understand the issue better.
She explained that there is a stigma around conversion along with a number of misconceptions, such as the idea that people only convert to Judaism for love.
After her own conversion, Lobell noted, there were many who assumed her reasons for doing so revolved around her husband, a Jewish man who had been religious in his youth, though he “kind of went off the derech for a while when he became a comedian,” she explained. He later returned to practicing Orthodox Judaism.
In response to those assumptions, Lobell explains that though her husband introduced her to Judaism by bringing her to a Friday night dinner at Chabad, “it was me who actually fell in love with it, and either way I would have done it, because once I learned about it, I couldn’t stop. It was kind of awakening my soul.”
Though currently a resident of Los Angeles, Lobell grew up in Carney and Mt. Washington.
“I always had Jewish friends and boyfriends and connected with Jews,” Lobell said of her upbringing.
Lobell hopes that her book will help to dispel the stigma around conversion in the community, she said. She added she wants children with non-Jewish grandparents “to know that they love you, no matter what you are, and that they also have good values and to respect them and to honor them as well.
“We need to increase our understanding of converts in the Jewish community,” Lobell said. “Moshiach, the messiah, is going to come from a convert, Ruth, so that’s a pretty big deal, and we should do our best to welcome converts into the community and love them just as if they were born Jews.”