My Journey from Altar-Girl to Cantorial Soloist

The Scenic Route to Judaism
August 11, 2023Kyra Goldman

I was born a Goldman, and always knew I was Jewish on my dad’s side. Although my whole family was spiritual in their own way, the Jewish side of my family didn’t have warm feelings towards religion, and the only thing  passed down to me was the Jewish humor

I grew up in New Jersey and had an open-minded upbringing. My mother was a Catholic feminist, and my father became Catholic before I was born.  Although the Catholic Church didn’t have a place for women clergy, my mother believed that the Church would eventually catch up to the times about women clergy, sexuality, and marriage. Being a part of a spiritual community was very important to her, so my family was very much involved.   

I always had a feeling of being Jewish from a young age, but as a young person, I didn’t know what to do with that feeling. I had a First Communion, a First Penance, and Confirmation. We moved to Kentucky when I was 10, and at that time the Pope made a progressive decision to allow girls to be altar servers. My mom pro-actively ensured that I was among the first altar girls in my diocese.    

At 12, my dad and I participated in a small-town Kentucky production of "Fiddler on the Roof." My dad, who was the only dark, bearded, curly-haired guy in town who could sing, naturally got the part of Tevye, and I was one of the little daughters. Something in my  heart felt like I belonged in the Shabbat scene. I loved rehearsing it! I only learned the words, Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech haolam and I didn’t know what they meant, but I knew I was connected to them. I have many memories of small moments like this that I call “sparks.”  

Moving to Georgia at 16  I became interested in God and started reading the Bible. My mom suddenly passed away of a brain hemorrhage and life as I knew it fell to pieces. All I had was my guitar and the Bible. I started writing spiritual songs, exploring my faith, and getting involved in the Christian music world, which is largely Evangelical. I decided to explore in that direction. As a musician, I spent time in Evangelical churches singing my own songs and traveling around the country and in Canada and Europe. I had opportunities to record and do radio and television programs.  Even as a teen, I remember telling Pastors “I feel like I’m Jewish.” But what Evangelical Pastor is going to suggest going to a synagogue? Of course, it was suggested that maybe the feeling was really a call to be a missionary. 

In 2015, I was invited to do a tour in the Netherlands and Belgium. I said to myself, “If I’m ever going to go to Israel, I’d better go now while I’m close enough to afford the flight.” After the tour, I went to Israel by myself. Everywhere I went I had a familiar feeling like I had not only been there before, but I’d been there a million times. I thought to myself, “I feel like I’m visiting my birthplace. Does everybody feel like this or is it in my DNA?” I anticipated that I would feel something at the Christian sites in Israel, but my strongest feelings were at the Jewish ones. I felt very strongly connected to the Kotel. I also had a strong feeling that I owed Israel something and that I have to protect it. I said, “What does this mean? Where is this coming from? Nobody taught me to feel like this.” Being in Israel ignited all the sparks that I had felt throughout my life. I walked around Israel with the thought in my heart, "You belong to them, and they belong to you." 

Interestingly, the experience did not make me doubt my belief system. I was just very curious about what was going on inside me. I decided to see a therapist and said, “I feel like I am two people. I am Christian and I am Jewish and I don’t know what to do about it!” She replied, “Consider it self-care to let yourself explore.” I found the idea very helpful that exploring is self-care! I gave myself permission simultaneously to go into a synagogue while also pursuing  Christian music for a living. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I would be accepted or if I’d be kicked out of the synagogue. As it turned out, I had a very welcoming experience. People went out of their way to include me and help me learn Hebrew and understand what was going on in services. I liked the way I was treated, and I liked the way I saw other people being treated. I had a feeling of light coming out of my heart when I was there.  

Now, a Reform congregation and an Evangelical worldview aren’t exactly compatible. I knew as soon as I stepped into the synagogue that I was meant to be there, but I had an internal conflict with my own belief system. And thus began my undoing! It took a few years for me to allow myself to re-examine my thoughts and beliefs. It is very difficult for someone coming from the Evangelical world to explore a Jewish environment because re-examining one’s belief system is not encouraged. I had to fight my own anxiety and guilt that maybe I was turning weak and sinful and falling into a dark hole. I told myself, “This is ridiculous! I am searching for God and searching for truth and how can this be sin? This guilt is not real. This is just indoctrination.” I let myself go to Torah study and I let myself re-read with new eyes.  

Eventually, I started thinking about converting and realized that whenever I thought about it, I had a big smile on my face. I said to myself, “Let your own smile be the proof that conversion is right for you!” I’m happy to say I converted in August 2018. I don’t feel like I changed to “something else” as it may appear to the people who knew me from before. I don’t think of my conversion as “becoming Jewish” I think of it as “acknowledging who I was in the first place!” At the Mikvah I got the freedom to be myself.  

This does not take away from how I was raised. I am grateful for the community I had growing up and for my beautiful, loving, parents who lived out the values that I would also call Jewish values. I feel that the values of the Reform movement are the values my mother instilled in me, and I think she would be proud. I wish that she was here to see what I do now. Sometimes I say in my mind, “Hey, mom! Look! I’m leading services in synagogues now! Can you believe that?” Sometimes I can’t even believe it. My life has changed so much for the better.

This past year, I was gifted with the opportunity to be a song leader for WRJ's Civil Rights Journey (check out all the photos!) and to write the anthem song entitled, “Another Thing Coming!” I wanted the song to sound like an army of women. There are parts where we all stomp in unison. You can hear it, feel it and participate in it. Each of us has our own personal power and when we put that together with a group of women, we are unstoppable! I was basically saying in the song, to anyone who thinks they can stop a group of determined women, good luck! or rather, brace yourself! To me, social justice is basic care for humanity. It is love. Our care is sometimes a warm, comforting maternal quality and it is sometimes a force to be reckoned with! We have decided to put our life energy and power into making the world a better place. 

As I was writing the song, I of course thought of my mom as I always do. It felt like an opportunity to represent her because she also cared about Civil Rights and being personally involved and having empathy, compassion, and praying with our feet. She would have loved to be a part of the vivacious WRJ, and I am sure she would be happy that I am. 

Editor's note: Kyra began taking classes this summer towards the Cantorial Program at Academy for Jewish Religion. You can listen to her music here and learn more about her at www.kyragoldman.com

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