13 Again By Kinga Dobos

Hi. My story begins in Transylvania, in a city built around a mountain, surrounded by tall trees and crisp air. My family was part of a large Hungarian minority in Romania. I spent my childhood in a simple, hardworking home during the chilly days of the Communist regime. All of my relatives were Hungarians, all Christians, and ingenious people who were forced to adapt to living under a dictatorship. During the 1980s, poor living conditions, political persecution and discrimination were part of our everyday lives. There was, however, one safe place where we could meet without harassment: church.

I have fond memories of church. It was the place where during the Ceausescu regime I could see my Hungarian friends. Unlike our homes and schools, our churches weren’t torn down by the government. Unlike regular school, we had no homework. We simply showed up and listened to Bible stories that helped us endure our daily challenges. In public, we could be attacked for speaking in our mother tongue, but at church we could speak Hungarian freely.

But with each passing year, living conditions were getting worse and worse. Food was rationed and unavailable. We didn’t have heat, electricity, or water. We didn’t own passports or a television set so we had no access to foreign news. We could not get a decent education. So when I was 13, my parents took a leap of faith and escaped to Hungary. My brother and I were left in the care of our grandparents.

It took my family eight months, a revolution and the fall of communism to reunite in Budapest, Hungary. During the separation, I turned 14 and it was during those early teenage years that I learned to see the world from a different perspective. I am grateful that my parents paved the way for my brother and I to move to a new country, but it is because of that dark era in Romania that I learned to look beyond myself and appreciate the good life when I see it.

Life in Hungary was a 180-degree turn. During our first few months in Budapest, my mom and I couldn’t get enough of wandering inside a supermarket. Although Hungary was also a former communist country, there was fresh bread, cheese, meat, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and even shampoo in the stores.

And yet, Hungary had other forms of prejudice I hadn’t expected. Hungarians in Hungary didn’t like immigrants—not even Hungarians from another country. They discriminated against us, as well as Jews, gypsies and gay people. Within a few years, I began to view the country as a stepping-stone to something better. Over time, I missed the sense of community that comes with being part of a small group that must fend for itself. I missed seeing people like my parents, who had a burning desire to ensure their kids could go to college. And I missed seeing people fight for greater hope. So I decided to leave Hungary after high school. Although I didn’t have a clear direction of where I was going to find that life, I knew that a sense of community and of belonging were two things I was going to find and invest in.

In 1995, when I was 20, I moved to London to be an Au-pair, and for the first time in my life I met and lived with a Jewish family. I worked incredibly hard, but they treated me fairly and supported my wish to learn English. After a year, I came to the United States to study filmmaking and experience the country where Freedom of Speech is everyone’s First Amendment right.

After college and a decade of living in Los Angeles, I realized that all the people I had worked for or lived with in this country, were Jewish. Nearly everyone who took me in or encouraged me, were Jewish. Then, when I traveled back to Hungary for the first time, I felt not only culturally American, but I also felt culturally Jewish. I realized then that Judaism is the religion that provides all the elements I had been seeking.

At its core, Judaism provides a strong community. It is a culture that prioritizes family, education, and perhaps most importantly, expects its members to practice Tikkum Olam. While growing up Catholic, the emphasis was on being a good Christian – which meant that one had to live a righteous life in order to make it to heaven. In Judaism, I learned that the emphasis is on the life we are living right now! In Judaism, we don’t do good deeds merely because we want to be good people; it is a commandment, not a choice. And I love that. I love it when great things are expected of me, and when I can live up to those expectations.

About five years ago I realized that although I felt culturally Jewish, I needed to officially belong—so I decided to convert. In my conversion classes we were encouraged to “temple shop” before choosing the community that shared our sensibilities. For me, Rabbi Wolpe and ATID have provided the community I’ve been seeking. With inspiring sermons, regular programs for young professionals, and a strong sense of community in a big metropolis, ATID and Sinai Temple have given me a new home. And this community has enticed me to expand my conversion with a Bat-Mitzvah. So this month I’ll be 13 again!

For the past year and a half I’ve been studying with a group of 10 women. In two weeks, on Shavuot, I will be an active part in celebrating the holiday of receiving God’s commandments, and I will participate in the holiday that remembers Judaism’s first convert, Ruth. I will be doing that as an official member of a tribe that I admire. As an adult Bat-Mitzvah and a convert to Judaism, I will be carrying on a tradition of family, education and of giving back. I’m excited to connect to a tradition where giving back is not an option, but a must.

To me, that in itself, is a dream come true.

Originally from Transylvania (Romania) Kinga Dobos came to Los Angeles to pursue her interest in cinema. She studied film production at UCLA and works as a freelance video editor. Along with movies, Kinga's greatest passion is writing. After film school she adapted two books into feature films; currently she's writing her memoir, a collection of short stories about her cultural experiences in Europe and the United States. kingadobos.com