Kelsey Pettit, 27, is a proud Jew by choice who is deeply involved in Jewish life at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. A language curriculum developer, Pettit has studied the Jewish community at Georgetown University, where she did her master’s degree. She also loves to cook and bake.
What drew you to Judaism?
I grew up in a really small town in Texas. And so there’s no Jewish population at all and I grew up Protestant. I met my now-husband, Greg, during my undergrad, and he’s Jewish. We’ve been together for seven-and-a-half years, married like one year.
I wanted to be with him for a long time, and I knew that meant having kids that were going to be raised Jewish. That was something that we both agreed on and wanted from beginning, and so I was like, ‘I need to know more about being Jewish.’ I never envisioned that I would convert.
What made you decide to convert?
We both moved to D.C., and I was going to Georgetown for my master’s, and that’s where I got really involved in the Georgetown [University Jewish] community.
I just really loved learning about Judaism, I really loved a lot of the approaches and philosophies to it and just enjoy being part of the Jewish community, and it all made a lot of sense to me.
It just kind of impressed me with the plurality that exists in Judaism. We don’t say, “No, we have to pick a certain way that has to be and everyone has to think it.”
What did you get your master’s in at Georgetown?
Linguistics. I actually wrote a couple papers about the Georgetown Jewish community as part of it though. So my actual master’s thesis was on language use in some Jane Austen novels. But I did a couple of extensive papers about the Georgetown Jewish community, looking at it as kind of an ethnographic study and basically me sitting at the back on
Shabbat and taking notes.
I also interviewed people in the community. A lot of it was about how they negotiated Shabbat, what their space looks like, how people felt about their space on campus [at a Catholic university].
People have strong opinions about how the Shabbat service was constructed and that was kind of a big focus of what I looked at.
What does it mean to develop language curriculum?
I’m a curriculum development specialist with diplomatic language service. actually a defense contractor, pretty much, because my company is almost exclusively [for] government. [It’s] a lot of online materials as well, so we’ll be building the online modules in a variety of languages I really oversee the actual curriculum developers.
So I’ll be like, “Oh, we need to do X number of lessons covering these topics,” and what lessons should look like and then I will edit and give feedback, and help the developers come up with a product that the clients are paying for. Yeah, so I get to work on a bunch of different languages, which is nice.
What are the most common languages that you work with?
Probably Spanish, French, Russian and Chinese.
How do you work with the curriculum if you don’t speak the language?
Usually you can look at [the materials] and using the English that’s there, you can see what’s going on. The lessons usually contain an explanation of the grammar so you can look at it and say, ‘OK, I as the role of student understand this or I don’t.’ Or, this needs to be clearer, or I don’t think that this is really accurately describing the way past tense is working, that kind of thing.
So I might give feedback on that. We also will have work in the target language checked by another target language speaker.
What do you love about cooking?
I think the biggest thing for me is that when you cook for someone, it’s sort of taking care of them. It’s a physical manifestation of being able to express taking care of that person. I love cooking for my husband … he’s such an appreciative eater. He’s like, “This is the best thing you’ve ever made,” and he genuinely means that.
What’s your go-to recipe?
Tahini chocolate chip cookies. I love a good roasted eggplant soup that has couscous in it. I love to learn something and then master it and I’ve got my own way of doing it.