As a convert, I know what it feels like to be nervous walking into Jewish spaces. Now it’s my job to make sure no one feels like that.
“I didn’t come to college with the mindset of, ‘Oh, time to convert to Judaism.’ That wasn’t on my agenda. But, I do credit a lot of the Rutgers Hillel staff and the student board for the work they did to make Hillel such a pluralistic and accessible space for people like me.
“I don’t have any Jewish relatives. I was raised Catholic, and my exposure to Judaism was quite limited but varied throughout my childhood. My mom happened to have two close Chabad friends and one of my best friends in high school was a Reform Jew. In that way, I had a very varied and diverse exposure to Judaism. It was really cool to have those experiences and I was really interested.
“My sophomore year at Rutgers, I started attending Shabbat dinners with some Jewish friends, but I never felt ownership over the experience. Obviously, it wasn’t mine; I was going as a guest. But, I started to question whether I could find my place in that community because I really felt such a strong pull towards it. So, I started to be mindful of the way I was living and trying to make it compatible with a Jewish life.
“The summer of 2019, I studied abroad in China and while I was there, I started to really delve into reading about Judaism. I read, and I was overwhelmed by how much information there was. I realized that [being Jewish] was something that I wanted. So, I reached out to [Rabbi Victor Appell] from the Rutgers Hillel page and as soon as I got back to the United States, within two weeks we met and decided to go forward with studying.
“For me, pluralism isn’t an afterthought, it’s the default. As the social and holiday co-chair at Rutgers Hillel, I am responsible for serving every movement of students as well as the non-affiliated students. And because I came from a null-set, it’s very easy for me to default to what others need and make sure everyone feels comfortable. When I was converting, I always felt like I was asking silly questions. I feel like that’s a very common feeling for people who convert, but everyone at Hillel made a point to make me feel comfortable. Now, I feel like I can return the favor to a community that has given me so much.” — Grace Herdelin, Rutgers University
As told to Brianna Kovit, writer in the Hillel International Writers Program.