Going to Temple: A BYOJB Affair

By Andrea Lavinthal


Reprinted from the New Jersey Jewish News with permission of the author.

After almost two decades of attending High Holiday services, my family and I have the process down to a well-choreographed routine. And we’re not alone. Year after year, the same families sit in the same seats and say “l’shana tova” to the same people, while pretending to not size up their weight, outfit, jewelry, etc. (oh, come on, you know you do it too).

So it came as a shock to me this past Rosh Hashanah when something seemed different. It wasn’t the air conditioning (still set on “Antarctica”) or the choir (still set on ear-splitting). It was the men.

There seemed to be a lot more young men than usual. And then it hit me. They weren’t just random male temple-goers that I had never noticed before–they were boyfriends, each one seated next to a girl and her family.

Okay, so I don’t exactly read the monthly temple bulletin, but I feel fairly certain that nowhere in it was Rosh Hashanah 2006 declared a BYOB event, as in Bring Your Own Boyfriend. But yet, it seemed like every girl around my age had decided that it was the “it” thing to do–including my best friend, whose boyfriend sat sandwiched between her brother and grandmother.

You might assume that this bothered me because I am single, but that’s not the case. I’ve had the same boyfriend for almost six years, but unlike the significant others at services that day, my boyfriend isn’t Jewish. And as most Jews know, if my Conservative temple had in fact issued a formal BYOB announcement, it would’ve been more like BYOJB, or Bring Your Own Jewish Boyfriend.

Ever since I started dating my boyfriend, whom I’ll call “J.,” my Jewish friends, Jewish friends of friends and Jewish people I barely know ask me the same three questions: Do your parents care? Are you going to marry him? Will your kids be Jewish? The short answers: no, maybe, yes.

It’s not the questions that bother me, it’s the people who ask them. Ironically, those most concerned with my interfaith relationship are always the least religious Jews I know. I call them “lox and bagel” Jews, since the only knowledge they seem to have about Judaism is the food we eat on the holidays. Yet, despite the fact that they don’t attend temple and haven’t celebrated Shabbat since Hebrew School, these lox and bagel Jews consider my Christian boyfriend a big issue. When pressed to give me a reason for their concern, not a single one of them has ever said, “Because interfaith marriages put the future of the Jewish population is at risk,” which, to me, remains the most legitimate argument against my choice. Instead, I usually get something like, “It’s just easier when he’s Jewish” or “They just know things.” What kind of things I wonder? Like that there are eight nights of Hanukkah or that Jews don’t eat bread at Passover? Because that is usually the extent of what my Jewish friends can tell you about their religion. And as for the “it makes life easier” argument, my boyfriend and I agreed a long time ago that if we get married, our children will be raised Jewish–Hebrew School and all–but that they will also celebrate Christmas and Easter with his family. Will that make our hypothetical children less Jewish? Maybe. But, how would they be any different from children that grow up with two Jewish parents who instill them with little Jewish identity beyond gefilte fish?

I don’t think that dumping the man that I’ve been with for six years–someone who values me, my family, and my religion–would help solve the issues Jewish people face. And while I could find a Jewish boyfriend, that would mean losing J. Besides, who wouldn’t want a guy who will give you and your future family together the gift of Judaism and all he wants in return is that our son mow the lawn. It’s a small tradeoff, even though I’ve never met a Jewish man who mowed his own lawn.


About Andrea Lavinthal

Andrea Lavinthal Andrea Lavinthal is a beauty editor and the coauthor of The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl's Guide to Living It Up. She belongs to Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, N.J., and lives in New York City with her boyfriend, J.