Kristen is no DMV newbie. She’s lived in Frederick, in Capitol Hill, and now resides in Arlington. “My now-husband was down here in law school,” she tells me. “I didn’t follow him. But I didn’t not follow him.” Coming to Judaism in the early days of the pandemic, Kristen’s well on her way to finding her people in the Jewish DMV.
Read on to hear all about her engagement, her insights on DMV theatre as a stage manager, and her journey to Judaism!
Samuel: You’ve been in Maryland, in DC, and now you and your husband live in NoVA. How are you liking the move out to Arlington?
Kristen: I spent most of my time in the Courthouse area. Clarendon is really great. There’s lots of cute restaurants. When I’m home, I like…hide in my hidey hole. I’m in my house. It’s a different life, but I feel like I get the best of both worlds because I do come into the office downtown pretty regularly. There’s so many neat things just walking distance away. When I lived near Eastern Market, it was great that I could just wake up and say: You know what, I’m going to go to Eastern Market today! Get a baked good and do all of my holiday shopping!
Samuel: One of the misgivings I hear from some DC people about moving to a place like Arlington, or really anywhere outside the city, is that it becomes hard to find community. Everyone’s just in their cars and high rises, stuff like that. What’s been your experience in terms of community and connection?
Kristen: You have to look for it. You have to work a little, but it’s there. We lived in our apartment building for five years and were on pretty good terms with our next door neighbor – she had a dog, and the dog loved us. I had hip surgery back in May and she saw me one day on crutches with [my husband] Nick…and she came sprinting down with the dog and was like: “I just realized I don’t have your phone number and you don’t have mine. If there was ever an issue, there’d be no way for you to contact me!”
She was so worried that she wouldn’t have been a good neighbor. It’s those types of things – you have to put yourself out there to make that community connection. I’m a Maryland girl. I was the same way, thinking I’ll never cross the river, I’ll never be in Virginia, that’s the bad place. But I really like it.
Samuel: What’s kept you in the DMV?
Kristen: I’m a huge theatre nerd. I’m actually a stage manager in addition to my daytime job. My dream DMV day ends with finding a show to see, and there are so many places doing good work: Woolly Mammoth, Constellation Theatre, Pointless Theatre Company. And then there’s community theaters like Silver Spring Stage. Community theaters are so cool – everyone’s on a shoestring budget, doing it for the love of the game.
Samuel: Huge topic shift here – tell me about your journey to Judaism!
Kristen: It’s a long and winding road. I’ve been with my now-husband for ten years. He is Jewish. We had a discussion years ago, when we were moving in together, and he asked if I would ever consider converting. I was like: I’m good! Thank you! I was raised Catholic, was confirmed, all that. I said it wasn’t for me, and we just moved on with our lives.
Then the pandemic happened. I lost all of my theater. I ended up having to leave my job. I stopped being able to see my friends, my family, and I was just clinging, looking for something that’s more, that’s real, that means something. It was Yom Kippur and I could hear Nick and his family downstairs doing Zoom services and praying and I was like: I really want to be down there! How do I do that?
I didn’t know where to start, and I was scared to tell anyone, so I ordered these books…I had a solid background and I knew I’d have support, but I didn’t want anyone to get too excited. I was just curious. I decided to sign up for Basically Jewish with Sixth & I. Before we even got there, it was December 2020, it was dark, everything sucked, and I just wanted to light some candles. We got some Shabbat candles and started building a Shabbat practice. We celebrated Hanukkah…and actually ended up getting engaged on the last day of Hanukkah 2020. So then we were really off to the races.
I fell in love with it immediately, and consumed everything I could, and converted through Sixth & I. I started in August 2021 and ended in May 2022. It’s a long time, it was the hardest thing…there’s so much soul searching and poking, and then there’s also telling everyone (or not telling everyone). You’re deciding how you want to live your life. It’s a lot, but I loved it.
Samuel: I’m really interested – Catholic God and God in Judaism are…different. How have you felt about that spiritual and philosophical shift?
Kristen: I think I came to Judaism because I believed in God, but not in the way that the Catholic faith did. I needed to figure out a way that I could keep engaging with God in a way that made sense to me. I didn’t realize that my approach to God was so different from other people, and I think now that I’ve always had this Jewish approach to God. The way my husband explains it, he says: God is ineffable. That’s the best way I could ever explain it. I don’t really know what’s out there, and that’s one thing that really drew me to Judaism. You’re encouraged to question, to think, to wrestle with God every day.
There’s this belief with converts that, no matter how you were raised, your soul was at Mt. Sinai when Moses presented the Ten Commandments. In a very woo-woo way, I believe that about myself: that my soul has always been Jewish, even though I didn’t realize it, and I’ve just found the right path for my beliefs.
Samuel: That’s incredible! We’ve got just a few more questions. What are you feeling proud about right now?
Kristen: I’m so proud of the latest show I’m working on. It’s called Open and is being put on by Nu Sass Productions. It’s a short one woman show about queer love and magic. I’m so honored to be the stage manager for such a beautiful show.
Samuel: What’s the greatest piece of art you’ve encountered recently?
Kristen: Look, I got married in October. It’s my wedding dress!
Samuel: You can bring three people – living, dead, fictional, real, whoever – to your Shabbat dinner. Who’re you inviting?
Kristen: I love to laugh. I need Mel Brooks, Iliza Shlesinger, and Adam Sandler. I wouldn’t get a word in edgewise but it would be the best dinner of my life.
Samuel: Last one. Finish the sentence for me: When Jews of the DMV gather…
Kristen: It’s always a good time!
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