“Keeping the Faith”

Yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe magazine “Coupling” column by Alison Lobron provides an illuminating perspective on how young adult Jews think about interdating and intermarriage.

Alison describes herself as a “not-very-active Jew” who had no Bat Mitzvah, no Hebrew lessons, and no family tradition of Jewish holidays. After a two-year relationship with a “not-very-active Protestant” on which religion had little impact broke up, friends suggested Alison enter Boston’s lively Jewish social scene.

She relates how the first time she went to services at a synagogue known as a young-adult mixing spot, she felt that she “barely counted as Jewish,” “spent most of the evening searching the prayer book for a nonexistent English translation,” felt lonely when two people assumed she was an out-of-town, non-Jewish guest of someone, and felt that she didn’t have much in common with “people with whom I was supposed to share a culture.”

Alison writes that in dating, people “must figure out how much we care about” ethnic, religious and family affiliations, and concludes that just as she wouldn’t limit her friendship circle to Jews, she wouldn’t limit her dating pool, either. However, “a funny thing happened during my adventures in Jewish dating… I did become attracted to aspects of Judaism itself, like the ritual of Friday night dinners with family as a peaceful door to the weekend… I do see [cultural identity] as a part of myself that will need to be reconciled and sorted out with any future Prince Charming. Still,… that prince can come from any number of tribes.”

Those of us who are interested in encouraging Jewish choices among young adults who are interdating or likely to interdate can draw many lessons about effective programmatic responses from Alison’s short account:
* Jewish cultural identity has a strong attraction even among Jews with little Jewish upbringing
* Jews–let alone non-Jews–feel unwelcomed when prayer books don’t have English translations and when people make thoughtless comments about whether they are or aren’t Jewish
* Shabbat ritual can be a very attractive aspect of Judaism

The organized Jewish community should capitalize on the opportunity presented by young adult Jews like Alison Lobron, who are not willing to restrict their dating to Jews and expect that their intended one can come from “any number of tribes,” but see their Jewish identity as something that to reconcile and sort out with that partner.

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