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The Debrief: Will You Only Date Jews?

December 11, 2013

Interviews by Mimi Arbeit

This article is reprinted with permission from JewishBoston.com

It turns out that many young adult members of the Boston Jewish community are thinking quite seriously about this question. See below for some of their responses, ranging from “no Jews” to “only Jews.” 

Heart balloonHaven’t found it

“I don’t date Jews, and I haven’t in a long time. I was raised to be a strong, independent, capable woman. I crave a partner who is equally strong, and I haven’t found that in Jewish men of my age. My healthiest long-term relationships have been with recovering Catholics and practicing Unitarians. Do I want to raise my children Jewish? Yes. Am I likely to have children with a Jewish partner? No.”

It’s exciting

“It’s more important to me that our politics and attitudes toward relationships are aligned. In fact, I find it exciting to date people who have different cultural backgrounds. Rhetoric that ‘It’s exhausting to have to explain all the time’ doesn’t ring true for me at all.”

Time will tell

“On the one hand, my parents always hammered it in that serious relationships between Jews and non-Jews never work out. On the other hand, I am so rarely really attracted to anyone that when I am, I owe it to myself to see where it leads. Only time will tell once I’m in a serious relationship how I feel about the religion aspect, but so far it’s a tertiary concern behind personality and attraction.”

Too limiting

“I’ve dated Jews and non-Jews. Only dating Jews feels too limiting to me and even potentially racist—which is not to erase the existence of Jews of color, but more to say that in Boston the majority of the Jewish community is white/Ashkenazi. All I really need is for my partner to respect that my Jewish identity is important to me and be willing to learn about it. I say all of this as the child of an interfaith marriage.”

Dissolving into gray

“It’s likely that I will be with someone Jewish, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Some people could understand me—could understand my struggles, my joys, my questions—without being Jewish, but there’s a better chance if they are Jewish. Also, when it comes to non-Jews, I could see myself with someone who is not white/not Jewish more than a white non-Jew. I just feel like a woman of color would be more likely to understand me. I also have an additional value around ‘queering’ race, if you will. Part of me feels like interracial marriage/relationships/procreation is the solution to a lot of problems by kind of dissolving everything into gray areas, and the more people in interracial couples, the faster that will happen on a societal level.”

Openness

“I’ve never put a limit on falling in love, at least not a clean one. Man, woman, tall, short, Jewish, Muslim, those are labels that aren’t helpful to me. What are helpful are the gray labels, the ones that fall in between black-and-white categories, the ones I understand and you might not: smart, funny, kind, generous, respectful. For me, I’d rather date someone open to my beliefs and respectful of my traditions than someone who isn’t. My Jewish partners have been less educated and less willing to learn about my Jewish practices and beliefs than my non-Jewish partners. And isn’t that—respect, a willingness to learn, an openness to faith—really what we, as Jews, want in our partners?”

Lived it

“I’ve lived with two non-Jewish partners, and those were the most observant times in my life. I went to shul (synagogue) Friday and Saturday. We’d have havdallah (end of Shabbat) parties when Shabbat ended each week. I said the bedtime shema (prayer) each night. In contrast, I was once engaged to a Chabad woman whose father cut it off because I wouldn’t become observant enough. So there’s that. We’re all so many things and can connect with others on so many different planes that it’s hard for me to say dating Jews or non-Jews has had any unique effect. I feel cultural similitude with Catholics because they make up half of my family too. I know matrilineal descent is the minhag (practice) of the Western Judaism I primarily follow, but I intend to raise my kids Jewish (maybe alongside other things), whether their mother is or becomes Jewish or not. At the end of the day, if it wasn’t a problem for Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David and Solomon, who am I to make an issue of it?”

Signed a contract

“Growing up, I thought having to date only Jews was in some ways repressive and oppressive. Saying that love is not legitimate unless it is with a Jew felt the same as saying love is not legitimate unless between a man and a woman. A part of me still feels this way. I also know very active Jewish people from intermarried families, so ‘keeping the kids Jewish’ is not a convincing reason to date only Jews. But by virtue of my chosen career, I am not allowed to date a non-Jew. My rabbinical school made me sign a contract stating, ‘I will not date or marry a non-Jew.’ Now, since spirituality and a Shabbat practice are so much a part of my life, I would want to date someone who knows what that means and can participate fully in it. So maybe I wouldn’t want to date a non-practicing Jew in the same way I wouldn’t want to date a non-Jew. But I think I would be more open to dating non-Jews were it not for school.”

A welcoming place

I have struggled with this a lot. It is important to me to live a Jewish life and to raise my nonexistent children Jewish. However, if that can be done in a thoughtful way with a partner who is not Jewish, I am open to that. What I do know is that I want the Jewish community to be a welcoming place to all people, couples and families, regardless of origin. I feel that those who are definitively against intermarriage do not have a realistic vision of the future of the Jewish people.”

Shared heritage

“Yes, I will only date Jews. Not for any ideological reason, but because Judaism is central to my life and my identity, and has been all my life. I need a partner with whom I feel a sense of shared Jewish heritage, and who will join me in incorporating Jewish practices and values into our life together.”

It’s not enough

“I like dating Jews, but being Jewish is not enough. I went on more than my fair share of dates, mostly with Jewish guys. As far as compatibility, there was no significant difference between the non-Jewish men and the non-practicing Jewish men. I was set up on blind dates with guys simply because they were Jewish, but when our Judaism didn’t match, it didn’t work. We didn’t have enough in common. My Jewish upbringing informs everything about me: my values, my diet, my hopes and dreams for my life, my future, my children. I could never be with someone who didn’t share those things. I’m grateful every day that I found someone who does.”

Giving order

Debrief“There are a lot of reasons I shouldn’t care about dating Jewish. For starters, I don’t consider myself to be that Jewish—probably a result of my family’s scientific skepticism of organized religion, which drowned out the teachings of my Hebrew school education and my grandparents’ Holocaust stories. When my brother married a non-Jew, my family could not be more overjoyed to have a Mayflower Puritan in the family. Entire swaths of New England share her last name, a fact that tickles my family endlessly. On top of that, most of my family is just concerned about my ability to develop warm, affectionate feelings for any other breathing organism capable of reciprocating. My grandma says to me, ‘You’re not getting any younger!’

“Yet despite all these reasons to fall for anyone with a pulse, I found myself in lust-but-not-love with non-Jews I dated in my late twenties. I can see a short-term future, but not a long-term one. Dating Jewish gives order to an otherwise chaotic world for me. In a world of infinite potential matches and paths one’s life could take, my dating bias eliminates 92.8 percent of possible directions my life could go, in Boston. The limited choice allows me to settle into dating people and quiet down the clamor of options. And there’s something comforting about sharing a cultural and spiritual frame of reference, even if that frame of reference was only vaguely alluded to in my childhood. So, to the JDate gentleman who had an adult temper tantrum when I pondered out loud about whether dating Jewish is actually important to me, I’ve concluded that it is. I think.”

The Debrief appears every Wednesday on JewishBoston.com. Read past columns here.

Having Jewish family origins in Germany or Eastern Europe. Hebrew for "separation" or "distinction," the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evenings. 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." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. 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.
A custom or accepted tradition or group of traditions in Judaism. Plural is "minhagim." Hebrew for "hear," the first word and name of the central Jewish prayer and statement of faith. Yiddish for "synagogue."
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