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By Stacey Zisook Robinson
Editor’s note: This author describes difficulty finding a rabbi to officiate her wedding in Chicago. We urge couples to utilize our free rabbi referral service, available here. If you are in the Chicago area, or any of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community areas, our rabbi/directors can help guide you.
Iâ€™m dating. Again. Post-divorce, post 50, Iâ€™m dating. I suppose itâ€™s fittingâ€”I didnâ€™t do much dating during the prime dating years of adolescence and young adulthood. My teens and 20s (and if weâ€™re being really honest, most of my 30s) were relatively unscathed by the trials and tribulations of this particular social lubricant.
Not by choice, mind you. I wanted to date. Would have loved to dive into the dating pool. I envied my friends who wept and wailed and crowed with delight, sometimes all in the same conversation. I was just weird enough and insecure enough to assume that no one would ever actually want to date me, so I remained everyoneâ€™s confidante and confessor. I gave awesome advice and my ears grew muscles with the constant stream of listening that they did.
By the time I was dating, it was less â€śdatingâ€ť and more a series of negotiations over a meal or three to determine relationship status. I mean, come on: Who dated at my age? Who did small talk and boundaries? Time was ticking; letâ€™s get a move on. In or out, whaddya say?
My criteria read something like an EEOC banner: any and all applicants accepted, regardless of race, color or religion. I probably would have given pause at political leanings; that is (still) a deal-breaker. But all the other stuff? Not a whit did I care. I fell in love, deeply, passionately, forever and for always with someoneâ€™s soul.
It was probably no surprise to anyone that when I finally found The One, he was not Jewish. It was a huge surprise to me when I called my rabbiâ€”the man who had been my rabbi throughout most of my childhood and young adulthoodâ€”and he refused to marry us.
â€śWhat?â€ť I criedâ€”literally criedâ€”into the phone. How could that be? Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that my rabbi (whom Iâ€™d not seen in more than 20 years, but whoâ€™s counting, right?) would refuse. â€śMazel tov,â€ť he said, kindly and with finality. â€ťI wish you luck.â€ť And he hung up the phone.
It took a while, but I found a rabbi, apparently the one rabbi in Chicago who performed mixed marriage ceremonies. On a magical day in May, there was a chuppah and a glass and a rabbi, and my somewhat befuddled bridegroom who wasn’t Jewish.
Nine months and a day laterâ€”exactly nine months and a dayâ€”we had our son. But as time went on, I watched as my world, my marriage, fell apart. I forgot that if you have a relationship based upon need (because really, who on earth could ever love me; need was almost as good, right?), when the need goes away, whatâ€™s left to hold all the pieces together?
And so my husband became my ex-husband, and I jumped back into the (non)dating pool. I wound up with a handful of relationships to call my own. Though now there was a difference: These were all Jewish men.
Itâ€™s not that I had refused to go the Jewish route when I was younger. This was no misplaced rebellion from God or my parents. Had some Jewish man, in need of fixing or just plain in need, offered, Iâ€™d have been all over that. Iâ€™d have loved that. Maybe it was timing or luck. Maybe it was my subconscious. Regardless, Iâ€™d never dated within the tribe before.
At some point in my more desperate attempts to find healing with the ex of note, however, I had found, much to my surprise, God. And with God, synagogue and Torah and community and services and committees and temple politics and devotion and Talmud and chanting and teaching andâ€¦ OK, Iâ€™ll make this easy: I found my Judaism. I felt as if I had finally come home. Outside of being a mother to my son, being a devoted, mindful Reform Jew was the central fact of my life, and I was determined to make â€śJewishâ€ť central to my dating criteria from now on.
So, of course, when I least expected it, there it wasâ€”love. Again. Dating. Againâ€”no, not again.Â For the first time. Actual dating. The Iâ€™ll-pick-you-up-and-weâ€™ll-go-to-dinner-and-then-Iâ€™ll-take-you-home kind of a date. The Iâ€™ll-call-you-in-a-few-days-and-weâ€™ll-make-plans-for-another-day kind of date, because we donâ€™t have to do everything right now; later is also good, because there will be a later.
And now here I am, dating. Heâ€™s kind and funny and smart. He loves me, which is awesome, since I love him. We met in junior high and we found each other again in a hailstorm of good timing and strange coincidence. He likes pizza and the Cubs, has a cat named Einstein, and heâ€™s not Jewish.
Dammit, heâ€™s not Jewish. And it never, ever mattered to me before. But I found God, and Judaism, and mindful devotionâ€”shouldnâ€™t it matter?
â€śI donâ€™t know about him,â€ť I said to my son, now 17. We were talking just after Iâ€™d come home from a dateâ€”not the first one, not even the second or third, but right at that tipping point of figuring out where it all fit, having no idea if I was doing it right at all, since Iâ€™d never actually done this before. â€śHeâ€™s not Jewish. That feels kinda weird.â€ť
My son, filled with that heady mix of cynicism and ennui that pervades every 17-year-old, said, â€śMom, you just want someone who believes what you believe.â€ť
â€śNo,â€ť I replied, with a growing sense of wonder, â€śnot that. I want someone who thinks like I think. Someone whoâ€™s willing to dive in and learn and argue and discuss and discover. Heâ€™s devoted to his faith and to what his faith calls him to doâ€”serve those in need, fix whatâ€™s broken in the world. How is that different from what I want?â€ť
I wonder sometimes if I am betraying my faith, my people. He and I, we talk about it from time to time. He comes to synagogue with me on occasion. I go to church every once in a while with him. I think we are both a bit smugly sure, in a most loving way, that each of us is right about the whole God thing, and we kindly indulge the other in their misplaced faith.
Thereâ€™s a chance that God smiles indulgently at the both of us, too.
But we dive and struggle and wrestle with faith, with God, with love and our imperfectionsâ€”not to change the other, or to prove our rightness. We wrestle because it is part of the thing we share: devotion and faith.
We are completely together, differently. That is, ever and always, enough.
This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.
Stacey Zisook RobinsonÂ is a single mom. She sings whenever she can. She writes, even when she canâ€™t. She worked in Corporate America for a long time. Now she works at her writing and looks for God and grace, meaning, connection, and a perfect cup of coffee, not necessarily in that order. Stacey has been published in several magazines and anthologies.Â Her book,Â Dancing in the Palm of Godâ€™s Hand, has just been published by Hadasah Word Press. She recently launched a Poet in Residence program designed to work with both adults and kids in a Jewish setting to explore the connection between poetry and prayer as a way to build a bridge to a deepened Jewish identity and faith.Â She blogs athttp://staceyzrobinson.blogspot.com, and her website can be found atÂ www.stumblingtowardsmeaning.com.