Rachel Factor is known world-wide as an inspirational Jewish performer and speaker. She was a professional dancer in music videos, film, and television. She appeared in the Broadway productions of Shogun, the Musical, Miss Saigon, and at Radio City Music Hall as a member of the Rockettes, the world-famous American precision dance team. Rachel also starred in Shakespeare’s Othello, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In 2005, Rachel founded the Jerusalem Center for the Performing Arts. Her mission was to help Orthodox Jewish girls and women who did not have access to the performing arts. Each year JCPA transforms the lives of thousands of Jewish girls, women, and their families through weekly classes, special programs, and public performances. Today, Rachel is an Orthodox Jewish woman living in Jerusalem with her husband and four children.
Q: Tell us about your journey to Judaism.
I was born in Hawaii. My grandparents on my father’s side were Buddhists. My parents were not connected to any organized religion so we were raised without religion.
From a young age, I felt I was a very spiritually seeking person. I grew up in an amazing comfortable family with great parents, stability, and security. However, I still felt like I was missing something. This led me to dance. It was an outlet to express the inner longings I felt and the pain associated with not being able to find what was missing in my life.
Not having any connection to religion made it difficult for me to say the word G-d. As I started dancing, I began to have a connection with something greater than myself. Through my dancing, I felt like I was speaking to something or someone. I felt I had a vehicle for asking all of my questions. I was getting a lot of comfort from this method of communication. Because of this new insight, I decided to become a professional dancer. Through dance, I felt connected to G-d. I finally found what I had been longing for.
I graduated from high school in the late 1980s where the push was to go to college. I wanted to become an artist. My family was supportive. It was my mom who said, “Good luck. And in a year, I hope you come to your senses and go to college.”
My professional dancing career took off. I got an agent and did the audition circuit. I started working almost immediately. I appeared on television and met famous amazing people. Despite all of this, I felt an emptiness. My work wasn’t fulfilling. So, I went to the east coast to perform on Broadway, and then I was off to Hollywood, hoping I would find fulfillment. But I came up empty. I was thinking this can’t be all there is?
Q: How did you meet your husband?
It was in the late 1990s. I met this guy who happened to be Jewish and he wanted to get married. He was a producer and director. Unlike him, I wasn’t thinking about getting married. I was only 29. I had a career to think about.
From the very beginning, I admired his very special qualities which he attributed to being Jewish. The thing I remember the most was how he honored his mother and grandfather, who were the closest people to him. When we were together, strangers would come up to us on the Atlantic City Boardwalk with tears in their eyes. One woman said, “Gosh, I hope my grandchildren will treat me like I see that you treat your grandfather.” I had never experienced anything like this before.
He was wanting to start a family and I was now 31 and still not ready. It was September 11, 2001, when the twin towers were hit. That horrific event was a wake-up call for me as I lost two really good friends from high school. It made me think about where my priorities were. And, all of sudden, it became important to me to have children.
I started learning more about Judaism and decided to convert and jump in with both feet. I made a full commitment to keeping Shabbos, kashrus, dressing modestly, etc. To me being a Jew I felt like I threw myself into the Olympics.
With the birth of our first child, everything changed. I started remembering the previous spiritual longing I had. I wanted a value system and structure to give to my child. Through Judaism, I found the religion I wanted to give to myself and to my new family. Judaism teaches us that to find holiness and spirituality, we must go into the world. This means even mundane things like drinking tea – have holiness inside of it. This teaching brings me so much comfort.
Throughout my whole life, I was missing myself. It was through Torah, Judaism, and mitzvot I was able to connect to myself, giving me such a fantastic feeling.
Q: What hashgacha pratit, divine providence, did you witness while living in Jerusalem?
I missed my parents because my father had passed away and my mother lived in Hawaii. So, one day when I was complaining to Hashem, I asked, “Why don’t I have frum parents that I could go to for Shabbos when I am exhausted?”
Hashem replied, “You want religious parents you can go to for Shabbos in Jerusalem? No problem.” A short while later, a miracle happened. I met a family living in Mea She’arim. They invited us over for Shabbos. The father was Japanese and from Hawaii. He had payos and was wearing a Shtreimel, a fur hat worn by many married Haredi Jewish men. He was speaking to me in Pidgin English which is how people speak in Hawaii. At the same time, he was speaking Yiddish to his grandchildren and Hebrew to his children. I was having a sensory overload.
I said to Hashem, “You didn’t have to make him Japanese, from Hawaii and extremely Jewish.”
Because of my visual and audio representation of hashgacha pratit, it showed me that Hashem can make anything happen. The experience was so powerful. I will always be grateful.
Check out Rachel’s online video tutorials, dance classes, and tips.
Dance with Rachel ONLINE from anywhere in the world
Dance with Rachel IN PERSON at her dance center in Yerushalayim
View Rachel’s show and story, “Not Even Normal”