Anna Pudder, 27, loves the Orthodox Jewish community of downtown Baltimore.
After growing up in Virginia, Pudder received a bachelor’s degree in linguistics with a minor in French and a master’s degree in elementary education from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada.
In October of 2019, Pudder moved to downtown Baltimore and immediately found the closest Orthodox shul, B’nai Israel. Now, she works as the young adult connector for B’nai Israel, in addition to her full-time job as a research project coordinator for the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Pudder lives in Upper Fells Point with her cat Winnie.
How would you describe your relationship with Judaism?
I would say I’m religious and not spiritual. I’m traditionally observant. I’m very community-oriented, so the social aspect of it is very big for me as well. I went to the mikvah last year [to convert].
Why did you decide to convert to Judaism?
I just thought that it suited me, and I didn’t think that I was ever going to be truly content with my life if I wasn’t Jewish.
I always had an interest in Judaism since I was a kid. When I was young, I lived in Lakewood, [N.J.]. So, I was very aware that Jews existed. Then I moved to a rural part of Virginia where there were 90 Jews. But I always had more of an academic interest, and I didn’t think of conversion as a possibility. It wasn’t in my head that I wanted to be Jewish myself, but I always read about Jews and Judaism. It took me coming back to Virginia and then rejecting a Peace Corps offer to go to Ukraine.
So, I was stuck in Virginia with nothing to do and I thought, well, now is a good time to start. I did a Reform conversion, and I finished that in May of 2019. That took a year, and then around the time I was finishing the Reform conversion, I just wanted to be a bit more traditionally observant. So I started looking around and applying for jobs in places that had Modern Orthodox communities. I got a job with Jewish Community Services here in Baltimore, and then I moved.
It worked out that B’nai Israel sponsored my conversion. I did it through the Chicago Rabbinical Council. It’s an extremely arduous process for anyone. It also feels like you’re living your life under a microscope. I converted while working full time and doing a master’s full time. But the hardest part is the emotional aspects. I didn’t find the learning or the observance difficult because those were things that I wanted to be doing. It’s very tough when you’re reading a book on death and funeral practices in Judaism and then you realize that you don’t have to say Kaddish for your parents when they die. It’s tough to hear things like that when you’re in the process. I was very lucky that the community downtown is so kind and welcoming. I don’t think they ever saw me as not Jewish, even though the majority of the time they knew me was before I went to the mikvah. It’s so funny because I had to do so much learning, so I have friends ask me questions.
How did you become a research project coordinator for the University of Maryland School of Medicine?
I was looking for work. At the time I wasn’t so picky, so I thought I was going to be in a very typical admin role. It seemed like I was going to be helping medical school students make sure they had all their forms together and things like that. That’s not at all what I do, but I lucked out because I get to work with students. I’m working with Baltimore City high school students for a pilot program this summer to help them build research and lab skills to adequately prepare them for internships and labs the following summer. Hopefully long term we will get students from West Baltimore into research as a career in a way that will then ultimately benefit the West Baltimore community as a whole. I thought I was going to be in a really simple admin position, and I love this job. It’s so much more complex and challenging than what I thought I was getting myself into. But it worked out because now I think I want to stay in research as a career. So, just a happy accident.
What do you do as the young adult coordinator for B’nai Israel?
I organize events for young adults in the B’nai Israel community or just downtown in general. So we have learning events every other week generally that are hosted in someone’s home. We’ll have around 15 people there for dinner and learning on different topics. We recently had one on marijuana. … We also had a big Chanukah party at Max’s Taphouse in Fells Point. We had like 75 people there. We had a climate justice Tu B’Shevat seder that had like 50 people.
What’s your favorite part of that job?
I love meeting new people, and I love seeing singles meet at events. That’s always nice to have kind of had a hand in that in a way.
Shira Kramer is a freelance writer.