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How Jewish Are You?

November 21, 2012

Re-posted from Living the Dream blog, with permission.

Go on enough dates and you often feel like all the questions have been asked.

Until this one. I have to admit it took me by surprise a bit. I think because I wasn't entirely sure how to answer it. I mean I am Jewish. Was raised Jewish. Mother is Jewish. Father converted to Judaism. Sunday School, Hebrew School, Bat Mitzvah, BBYO, etc. I identify as a Jew. I was raised as a Conservative Jew. I go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I try to spend Passover seders with my family and pass on the flour that week. I light the menorah on every night of Chanukah and am proud that I make some pretty decent potato latkes.

But what does it mean to me in my dating life? On every online dating profile I've ever filled out, I always select "Jewish" under religion. I've taken a few (unsuccessful) turns at JDate; both in Boston and in London. And I am always asked the question by friends when it comes to my dating life: "Does he need to be Jewish?"

It's an interesting question. And I'm curious if it comes up for those of other religions. Does he need to be Catholic? Or Muslim? How much importance does that have in what you look for in a mate? Does it change over the years? Does it become more or less important? A deal breaker? Are these questions that mean little when they are posed about a hypothetical partner? Are they any different than questions like — would you date someone with a child? Someone who is divorced? Do the answers get thrown out the door once there is a real live potential partner in the picture?

When I was in my early 20s my mom would ask if the guys I was dating were Jewish. When I lived in London in my mid-20s she would ask if the guy was British or American. Now she just asks if I'm dating. I think she was more concerned about a recent suitor's sport team affiliations than that he was Catholic.

But every time I am asked about the importance of someone that I date being Jewish this is usually my response. No. But then I follow it up with the somewhat hypocritical addition that while he doesn't need to be Jewish, I'd really like to raise my children Jewish and I can't really imagine having a Christmas tree in my house or going to church. Maybe that's not very open or accepting but it's honest and I know how I really feel.

But that's not necessarily something I'm comfortable putting in my online profile. It's probably not something I'm comfortable bringing up on a first or second date. But should it be? Should I be as open about my religious expectations as I am about my politics? Does it matter?

In answer to the question that began this post, I just told the suitor the lines about the holidays I celebrate with my family, how I was raised, and especially how I really can't imagine separating religion in my life from the food that it brought to my life. Because at the end of the day, if they're not going to appreciate a good kugel, then we probably have no future together.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.
Nicole Fonsh

Nicole Fonsh is an ex-banker turned librarian, currently working at a local university doing prospect research. She is originally from Western Massachusetts, but Cambridge is home these days. Things she loves includes, but is not limited to, finding stuff, food trucks, politics, bourbon, local beer, dinner parties, travel, sarcasm, her bike named Daphne, and, sometimes, running. You can normally find her talking about one of these loves on Twitter.

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