Originally published May, 2008. Republished July 16, 2013.
As I walked into the Hanukah Happy Hour on The Hill last year, a terrible realization hit me. I had either dated, or specifically decided not to date, every man in the place. I'm going to have to move, I thought, because I've dated every eligible Jewish man in D.C.
This is the true story of a 20-something Jewish woman trying to find the perfect Jewish mate. And yet, I wouldn't even be here if my mother had been on such a pursuit. So how does the child of an interfaith marriage justify her search for a Jewish partner, especially when all the good ones seem to be taken?
I decided at some point in college that I'd like a Jewish family. This was particularly inconvenient, considering I attended the Jesuit Catholic institution Boston College. By that time I had experienced several positive relationships with men who weren't Jewish and had not yet dated a Jewish one. Nevertheless, I scoured B.C. Hillel for eligible Jewish men. When I exhausted that (very limited) population I expanded my search city-wide. I went to the Boston-area Falafel Ball, where I met Ari*. We hit it off and went out a couple of times, but it never really went anywhere. Flash forward six years, and multiply that story by the entire JDate pool. I'm only sort of kidding. I have hours of crazy JDate stories, not to mention set ups by friends, and my very brief stint on JRetroMatch. In fact, just a couple of months ago a friend of mine tried to set me up with a guy I had asked out almost five years ago. He still wasn't interested.
|Brianne with her friends Rachel Flynn and Julie Fishman out dancing at Porter's, Julie's favorite place.
It was about this time I started to think about the question my Greek Orthodox aunt keeps asking me: Am I limiting myself and my own happiness by only allowing myself to date Jewish men? Easy for her to say. She married a Jewish man (my mom's first cousin). In fact, all of my mother's siblings and first cousins are in interfaith marriages.
Of the four families and nine cousins, I am the only one who practices Judaism. Don't get me wrong -- I love being part of a family that includes Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Greek Orthodox, and, for good measure on my Dad's side, Mormons. I've just decided I want something different. I want a Jewish partner: someone who will be equally interested in having a Jewish home with traditions, culture, spirituality and community. My mother, by the way, is fully on board with this idea. She is constantly calling me up to say she's found me the perfect Jewish husband in some other city. She has pretty good taste, too, so if any of them ever move to D.C., I'm set.
And then there is the numbers game. If we do the math it's possible to believe that the future of the Jewish community lies in intermarriage. If we could be more open and welcoming to interfaith couples, then we could engage them in Jewish life and double our numbers. Sure, it's controversial, but if we're honest with ourselves we know it's true. I know it's true, and yet I don't want to be one of the interfaith marriages. I'm terrified of being the primary one responsible for the Jewish upbringing of my children, especially because I'm not sure I have the knowledge or stamina to make it work without a Jewish partner. It worked OK in my parents' house, where my Catholic father was actually president of our Hebrew school, and maybe it's silly to worry about this. After all, when one finds a true partner, all that stuff is sorted out, right? Alternately, it's possible, and maybe even likely, I could marry a Jewish man and still end up being the one primarily responsible for infusing Judaism into our home. So I have to ask myself, what's the big deal here? Why is this point so important to me that I am completely stressing myself out about it?
My friend Jon* is dating a woman who isn't Jewish who he really cares about. I was talking to him about this the other day and he said to me, "I'm looking at my checklist, and all the boxes are checked off. She's smart, funny, beautiful. It's just that she's in the wrong category." He went on to say, "How do I explain to my girlfriend that I, a non-practicing Jew who practically lives for bacon, wants to have a Jewish family? How do I justify that?" It's such a good question, because it encompasses so much more than what he is asking.
Even if we could create a Jewish community that would welcome Jon and his girlfriend, because it was important to him to have a Jewish family, it's still not clear that this would be enough. How would his parents feel? How would her parents, her pastor, her siblings feel? As much as I'd like to think it doesn't matter, the alarming number of anecdotes I've heard about Christian grandparents secretly baptizing their Jewish grandchildren speaks for itself. (My own paternal grandmother tried to baptize me in the kitchen sink.)
It's not just about the interfaith couple. The whole village is involved. This thought weighs on me. Isn't it hard enough being in a relationship or married, not to mention raising a family, without all the extra pressure and scrutiny?
My friend Rachel (whose name has not been changed and whose own article about her interfaith family is linked here) has a great attitude about dating. She says she doesn't need to be with someone who is Jewish; she just needs to be with someone who understands how important Judaism is to her. I think that is a lovely sentiment and I'd love to go with it. I'm just not sure if I'm there yet. And yet there I was last month, hearing myself say the words, "While I'd prefer to end up with a Jewish man, I'm going to let the universe be in charge for a while." As I heard myself and processed what I was saying, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was no longer dealing with a limited supply that was (AHHH!) about to run out.
The week after I uttered those words I met a guy who is smart, funny, tall, handsome, and a doctor to boot. His name is Moshe*. I don't know if it's going anywhere, but the timing was brilliant. Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something.
*Names have been changed.