The Battle of an Ex-Orthodox Jew and a Hopeful WASPy Convert

I didn’t get the top IDF training. I haven’t jumped out of planes, steered wartime ships or detonated drones. But, I feel like I’ve been through a battle of my own, and I’ve lived to tell the heroic tale.

I fought in the battle for Danny and Kylie, a jaded ex-Orthodox Jew and a hopeful WASPy convert. And I won. In fact, both sides won.

I’m talking about my relationship with my husband, Danny Lobell. Danny and I met in January of 2010 at a comedy show in a dingy Brooklyn bar. A mutual friend introduced us, and we liked each other instantly. A few months later, we began dating. A few months after that, he was taking me to free Friday night dinners at the local Chabad, where he was going mostly for the food. He was a recovering Orthodox Jew on a 10-year anti-religion kick, and I was a blond-haired, blue-eyed atheist gentile.

I liked going to the Chabad initially because the challah was good. Then, I began to enjoy the people, and the speeches, and the prayers, and soon enough, I wanted to convert to Judaism.

Danny never expected that I would fall in love with Judaism, and specifically, Orthodox Judaism. He had a negative past with Orthodoxy, having been kicked out of yeshiva for being a class clown, and didn’t want to go back to that lifestyle. He was dating a non-Jew for a reason.

I came from a very WASPy background, and in part, I wanted to get as far away from it as possible. I never liked the quietness of it all, the pastel color schemes, holding your feelings inside, and being the punchline to a Jackie Mason joke about gentile stereotypes. I felt very comfortable at loud, joyous, crazy, fun Shabbat dinner tables.

On a deeper level, I discovered through these Chabad experiences that I wasn’t an atheist at all. When I started to read the Torah, it made so much sense to me. It calmed me down. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. There’s really no logical way to explain it.

While I was experiencing all these uplifting emotions, Danny felt like he was losing control of his life. He was a standup comedian, and it was his entire identity. He was performing seven nights a week, hanging out with other comics, and spending all his time thinking about it. He was getting great spots at the best clubs in New York City and auditioning for Comedy Central. An Orthodox lifestyle was going to ruin all that.

And so… we fought. Though we loved each other very deeply and knew we wanted to be together, the Orthodox conversion was weighing down on us.

Mostly, we were not seeing each other. I was not recognizing Danny’s struggle with his past. He was not recognizing how Judaism was helping me find myself and feel at peace.

We’d cry together. We’d feel hopeless. We’d make up, fight, and make up again. It seemed like we would progress, then I’d want to take on another mitzvah, and Danny would get triggered.

The funny thing was that at least we would never fight on Shabbat. It was when we put down our emotional weapons and called a truce. Though many of our fights were about Shabbat, and all the “problems” it caused, we would not let our arguments spill over into it. Shabbat always saved us.

Honestly, there was no one dramatic incident that turned everything around for Danny and I. Overtime, Danny realized he wanted to be less of a standup club comic and more of an artist. Now, hosts a podcast where he talks philosophy with comedians called Modern Day Philosophers, writes comic books, performs shows six days a week, runs podcasts for teenagers with drug addiction issues, and finds other creative ways to express himself. He has become more in touch with his spiritual side and doesn’t fight it anymore.

I am there to help Danny navigate any religious issues that may come up in his career, because, well, I’m his wife-ager (wife/manager). And now, when I have my own issues that come up with Judaism, Danny is there for me. He reminds me of how I used to feel when I first started converting and shows me his positive spin when I’m feeling down.

At this point, we have been together nearly eight years, and we are satisfied with where we are in our lives.

We may have gone into this relationship as Privates, but we’ve come out on the other side of this harrowing, yet fulfilling battle as Generals, ready to take on the world, together.

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