Keeping the Faith
I'M STILL FIGURING OUT HOW JEWISH I AM, SO I CAN'T REALLY REQUIRE IT IN A BOYFRIEND.
(Illustration by Kim Rosen)
Everything about my first encounter with Grant went perfectly except for the ending. We met at a friends party and spent most of the night talking. He walked me to my car. We smiled broadly, shuffled our feet, and made idiotic remarks about the weather. Then he wished me goodnight without asking to see me again and vanished before I could ask him.
Later, on our third date, Grant explained his hesitation. You mentioned you celebrated Passover, and most of the Jews I know only want to meet other Jews, he said. He hadnt wanted to offend me by suggesting I might not be deeply committed to finding a Jewish husband, so hed asked our party hosts good friends of mine if I would be open to a gentile suitor. They had given him the green light, as well as my phone number.
In the two years Grant and I were together, our religions had little impact on our relationship, perhaps because we werent really so different: I was a not-very-active Jew, and he was a not-very-active Protestant. We both liked holidays that involved eating and gifts, and didnt like ones that demanded long hours on a hard bench.
When I broke up with Grant and reentered the dating scene, several pals half-suggested and half-joked that I throw myself into Judaism. They knew I wasnt religious, but theyd heard that a lot of Boston Jewish organizations offer a lively social scene and that JDate had a track record for lasting relationships. Still, the first time I joined a friend for services at a Beacon Hill synagogue known as a young-adult mixing spot, I felt as though I was getting away with something naughty. In my own mind, I barely counted as Jewish; Id had no bat mitzvah, no Hebrew lessons, and, until my mother and brother got religion a few years ago, no family tradition of Jewish holidays. Yet, here I was, getting a free pass to the social events.
As it turned out, I spent most of the evening searching the prayer book for a nonexistent English translation. The event was not primarily about connecting cool, interesting singles; it was (duh) about Judaism and connecting cool, interesting Jewish people. So Id felt out of it. And Id felt lonely when two different people assumed I was the out-of-town, non-Jewish guest of my friend. Most important, Id felt that I didnt have much in common with all these perfectly nice people with whom I was supposed to share a culture.
We all have constituencies in our dating lives, be they the broad backdrop of an entire ethnicity or religion or simply our family and friends. We all must figure out how much we care about these affiliations. I know that a great many Jews, and members of other minorities, feel strongly that marriage within the community is a matter of the utmost importance. I know some who see this stance as exclusionary and some who consider it just plain silly, given the wide and interesting world out there. Im not going to settle that debate here.
Ultimately, a lot about dating is putting yourself in situations where the general public has been winnowed in a way that proves congenial for you. For me, Jewish proved not to be the best winnower. Some of my best friends are Jewish (as the saying goes), but many are not. Just as I wouldnt limit my friendship circle to Jews, I wont limit my dating pool, either.
Still, a funny thing happened during my adventures in Jewish dating. I didnt fall for a Jewish man, but I did become attracted to aspects of Judaism itself, like the ritual of Friday night dinners with family as a peaceful door to the weekend.
So the role of cultural identity in my quest for love has become more complicated than when I first tiptoed into temple. I still dont see it as the most useful subgrouping of the population for me to make friends, let alone find a mate, but I do see it as a part of myself that will need to be reconciled and sorted out with any future Prince Charming. Still, as I told Grant long ago, that prince can come from any number of tribes.
Alison Lobron lives in Concord. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.