Grayson Parks Is Shabbat’s Biggest Fan

By on March 20, 2024

Grayson brims with excitement and enthusiasm — about specific things like a book she read, or a cool bonsai tree she saw, or tinkering with her challah recipe. She is someone eager to connect with the world and all its possibilities. 

Over Zoom, we discussed Gray’s recent conversion to Judaism, working at Levi’s, reinventing yourself, and Jewish horror movies. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Jason: Grayson! What brought you to the Bay? 

Grayson: I graduated from University of Houston in May 2020, which was not the best time to graduate. Meanwhile, my parents had just moved here from San Antonio before Covid. I thought I’d just go and have a chill California summer at my parents’ house. I got here in August, then it was September, and then suddenly, it was December! I just kept sticking around. That first winter was when the catastrophic Big Freeze happened in Texas, and I took it as a sign that I probably shouldn’t go back. That incidental move has worked out well—I love the Bay Area and the life I’ve made here.

What do you think convinced you to stick around? 

I feel like I was given the opportunity to reinvent myself. And not just as a personality and an individual in a community, but even how I thought about the world. There’s a lot of revolutionaries here, in my opinion, and very potent work happening. During my time in the Bay, my understanding of what it means to be in community has been totally challenged and that has changed me on a lot of levels. 

How was your idea of community challenged?

When I lived on campus at a large college, community was whoever was around—the people I lived with. It was a community of convenience. More recently, I’ve realized how important it is to be resolute in who you’re surrounding yourself with because those people end up defining so much for you. I’ve been in the process of converting to Judaism and have learned a lot about intentional community and what it means to be with people and care about people and be held and taken care of by people. 

Can you tell me about your path toward conversion? 

My mom had something of a confusing upbringing religiously so she wanted my brother and I to have the freedom and intellectual capacity to make our own choice. The first time I encountered Judaism, I was reading a catalog for a Christian jewelry company, of all things. But there was a wedding band that had a Hebrew inscription from Ruth on it and my babysitter was Israeli. We read the story of Ruth together in a King James Bible, and I was really compelled by it. That was the first touch point. Over the years, I kept having these little moments of what felt like coincidence but looking back, were probably not coincidence.

Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be Jewish?

When I first arrived in the Bay, I was having a conversation with my boyfriend, who is Jewish, about this whole experience. 

“You know you can convert, right?” he said.

I hadn’t really considered that but then I did. There had been so many of those “coincidences” and prophetic dreams and it just felt right. Not long after that, I began the process with a rabbi at Temple Sinai. I’ve had a lot of feelings that I am where I’m supposed to be. It’s hard to explain beyond that feeling of very intense rightness. 

Prophetic dreams! This all sounds so powerful. What was the conversion process like for you?

I am a huge nerd with a degree in literature so I was absolutely out-of-my-shoes excited to read deeply about Judaism. Within the first month, I bought something in the neighborhood of 20 books; it took a lot of self control to pace myself. So the process was insanely fun for me, while also being very intellectually challenging.

Was there any aspect or ritual that most stood out to you?

I’m Shabbat’s biggest fan. I was so excited to get candlesticks and learn to make challah and the ritual and meaning of it all. I have maintained that as the strongest element of my practice, followed only by text study. I’m not shomer Shabbos [Shabbat observant] but from Friday night to Saturday night, I don’t look at social media, and I’m trying to avoid my phone. I have to say, I’ve really perfected my challah recipe and have gotten some rave reviews!

What’s your secret to a good challah for the aspiring bakers among us?  

A lot of people use granulated sugar or honey, but I use maple syrup. It makes the dough wetter, which makes the challah more tender. Maple syrup has a higher temperature tolerance than honey, so the bread doesn’t darken as quickly, and the syrup just makes it perfect, in my opinion. I’m a huge foodie and a lot of my experience with Shabbat and Judaism in general has been through cooking. Recently, I got a Jewish-Italian cookbook. I’ve heard good things about the fried artichokes common in Jewish-Italian cooking and can’t wait to try some of the recipes.

After you went through the conversion process, what was the ending ritual like? 

I met with a Beit Din, which is a rabbinical court gauging how you’ve done on your journey and if your desire is legitimate. In reality, it was more of a conversation so they can really understand where you’re coming from and why you’re doing it. After that is the actual moment and I prepared to go in a mikvah [ritual bath]. 

You get totally naked—all your jewelry, makeup, everything—and you shower and get in the water. It was such a potent, vulnerable moment being there in your purest, most natural form with just you and your rabbi having a quiet, intimate moment with nothing said but the blessings. 

Was there a sense of transformation? 

It did feel like a literal watershed moment of being enveloped in the water and then coming out and feeling new and different and changed in some way. Though at the same time, I felt kind of the same, except much more wet [laughs]. My rabbi always says that the moment of conversion doesn’t make the change—it marks the change. Really, in some moment before that I had become Jewish. This was just the official entryway through the door. Which is a relief because I don’t have to prove myself or give a disclaimer, like, “I’m still learning” or “I’m not Jewish yet.” Now, I’m good to go. 

Well, mazel tov and welcome to the tribe! On a totally secular note, I’d love to hear a little about your work at Levi’s. Have you always been interested in fashion? 

Yes but never in a professional way. Working at Levi’s was kind of a happy accident in a lot of ways but I really love it. I’m more on the business side working in inventory management so it’s a lot of Excel, spreadsheets, and numbers. But I do get to have some interaction with product and with the team who handles the fashion of it all. I find it really interesting working at a company that’s so linked to California history. It’s very fun as a history nerd. And as somebody who really enjoys talking about clothes, it’s kind of the perfect blend. 

Now, onto our in-house Proust Questionnaire! Tell me a book, movie, poem, play, song, or piece of art or media that you love. 

I’m a huge horror fan and my most recent obsession is Beau Is Afraid by Ari Aster. The movie deals with a lot of themes about Jewish men’s relationships with their mothers and taking that relationship to the extreme of the most scary, horrible, traumatizing thing you can imagine, but making it very dark comedy. 

What’s the Bay’s best-kept secret? 

The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt. I’d spent a lot of time at Lake Merritt but I’d never been into the garden. Then I went and there are bonsai that are over 400 years old! I was standing there marveling at the fact that something so small could live for so long. And they also have these rocks that people intentionally carved through dripping water. I really enjoyed seeing how the natural world can be reshaped by our hand in such minute ways.

When was a recent time you felt a spiritual connection? 

This morning, I was on BART and everybody was kind of grumpy and a little too close to each other. Then I looked down and saw a mom with a toddler in the stroller, and he smiled at me with the biggest, silliest smile. I loved the juxtaposition of all of us pissed off, headed to work, and this little dude who was so excited to just look at people. Children have such peace and happiness to them, and it’s powerful to be around that energy. 


GatherBay Profiles is our interview series spotlighting the vast array of community members doing rad things! Released twice per month, the series aspires to celebrate GatherBay’s greatest treasure—the people around us. Want to be profiled? Email