We sat, all 100 of us, in a large, dusty room of the manor house situated on the grounds of our summer camp. At the ripe age of fifteen, many of us had started dating already. About ten definitive couples could be found amongst our teenage cluster, while many others claimed to have significant others waiting for them at home.
The evening program on that particular night was designed to generate discussion about dating as Jews. In the bubble of a Jewish camp, such a conversation was not only possible, but often came up outside of organized programming. For those of us from interfaith family backgrounds, the subject was a familiar one, always sitting in the back of our minds and haunting us like the end of summer.
We were told to separate into three groups; one group that believed they should only date Jews, one group that wasn't sure, and one group that was comfortable with interdating. I definitively placed myself in the latter, assured of the validity of interdating by the "success" of my parents' interfaith marriage and their conveyance of Judaism to me and my brother.
I sat there, listening to my peers talk about how they "certainly wouldn't mind dating someone who wasn't Jewish." But there arose another consensus, one that left me both surprised and agitated.
Many of the people in the room believed that, while it was possible to date a non-Jew and maintain a Jewish identity, they did not believe in the possibility of raising their children Jewish as the lone Jewish parent. Their arguments? "How can I expect my spouse to support a religion to which he or she does not belong?" "Wouldn't my kids be confused?" "I can't imagine dragging my kid to Hebrew school without the support of my spouse."
I spoke up. I told everyone to look at me: I was raised by a Jewish father and Catholic mother, and didn't I turn out okay? Wasn't I at a Jewish camp, living Jewishly, and learning about Judaism everyday? "You're an exception," they said. At that point, I didn't have much of a defense. At the age of fifteen, I had never considered my situation unique. I assumed that most parents just did what my parents did for me--decided on a religion, and stuck with it the whole way through. I later found that out of the twenty or so present, only I and one other girl had been raised Jewishly in interfaith homes. It came down to this: How did our parents do it? And what made them get it right?
I'm still researching the answers to these questions. I'm now in my twenties, and I've engaged in interfaith dialogue with a variety of audiences: friends from all religious backgrounds (Catholic, Methodist, Sikh, atheist, Jewish), colleagues, rabbis, and my parents. I have come to believe very much in the benefits of interdating. I have dated many non-Jews, and I have found no person preferable to another because of religious background. In fact, I have been fortunate to learn the traditions and meanings behind a variety of religions through those whom I have dated.
Dating, by its very nature, is a way to experience a variety of partnerships. And as I have been led to understand, one must cull the necessary lessons from each relationship, and determine what traits are attractive and necessary in the person whom one decides to one day marry.
I have always held this belief: If Jews are to be understood in this world, and if we are serious about avoiding marginalization, stereotyping, and the many conspiracy theories which we are accused of daily, then we had better start reaching out. There is not enough truthful information in the public and secular sphere to depict us as the people we truly are--diverse lovers of justice and righteousness. There is a war going on in the Middle East that confuses us and causes others to confuse us with beliefs that we may or may not have. Many media outlets define us, redefine us, and debate our identities for us.
The point is this: we as Jews are such a diverse people--spiritually and ethnically--that to deny ourselves the opportunity to date non-Jews is seemingly ridiculous. Differences need to be addressed, not ignored. They need to be celebrated, not shunned. If I, as a young, single Jew, am to limit my dating pool, then I've already proclaimed my ignorance as to what the majority of the human population has to offer. This is not something I am willing to do; had my father held the same belief, I wouldn't be here.
Following my parents' example, I intend to raise my children as Jews. This is obviously a consideration in choosing a spouse, who may very well be Jewish. But my spouse may also be a non-Jew who is disinterested in passing on his own religion, and, as in my mother's case, supportive of raising children as Jews. Of course, my spouse may also be as dedicated to his own religion as I am to Judaism; the decision to raise Jewish children is one that I am prepared to discuss fully and plan thoughtfully.
My Jewish identity--articulated through the loving efforts of my interfaith parents--is strong. I can't wait to share that with the people I will date, and the person that I will eventually marry.