I am the kind of nice Jewish girl who gives my mother nightmares.
I'm not on the run from the law, I didn't skip Hebrew school to get my belly button pierced, and no, as a teenager, I didn't break into the synagogue vault where they keep the Manischewitz for kiddush after Shabbat services. (That my mother knows of, at least.) For the most part, I'm exempt from all of these crimes. I worry my mother for one reason, and for one reason only: as a queer observant Jewish woman, I adamantly refuse to only date Jews.
To clarify: my decision isn't a twenty-something's act of rebellion. When I state that I am open to dating non-Jews, it doesn't mean that I'm averse to going out for a cup of coffee with a yiddishe maidele. I will also specify that I am fortunate enough to have family and a network of others who accept me for who I am, unconditionally. But the downside to social progressiveness is that I, too, am now expected to marry a nice Jewish girl. (Preferably a doctor, lawyer, or dentist, of course.)
Ostensibly, my choice to not exclusively date Jewish women can seem baffling. I observe Jewish holidays, light candles on Shabbos, keep kosher, and have an unironic love of Barbra Streisand movies. I'm the product of synagogue on Saturdays, summers at Jewish sleep-away camp, and United Synagogue Youth conventions. Raised in a traditional Conservative Jewish household in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the idea of exclusively dating Jews -- and eventually marrying a Jew -- was ingrained into my consciousness at a young age. It was not only a way to find a familiar comfort in another in observance and accordance with Jewish culture, but it was also a responsibility: to do my part for a bigger picture, and keep American Jewry intact. It was more than happiness; it was a duty. But as I launched into adolescence and concurrently became aware of my lesbian leanings, I experienced a sense of dissonance. At the time, the idea of same-sex marriage was a pipe-dream -- the mere thought of coming out at all seemed like a frightening prospect. My disinclination to disappoint anyone, let alone my family and my community, overrode my desire to be myself. I didn't want to veer from what I felt was implicitly expected from me: to one day foster a family in a community and culture that I held so dear.
With the support of a few trusted individuals, I ultimately came out to my parents, friends, friends-of-friends -- everyone within a five mile radius, so to speak -- and found that my newly-announced homosexuality, in the long run, barely caused a stir. And while I can't say that everyone embraced me with a (rainbow) ticker-tape parade, I can attest that the Jewish community that I was most afraid would repudiate my very existence welcomed me with open arms. Love was love, it told me, and striving towards tikkun olam -- repairing the world -- transcended whether I preferred Natalie Portman to Zach Braff. (It was the mid-2000's, okay?)
And perhaps that is where my jumping-off point for my argument begins: love is love, the Venn diagram for both my queer identity and my Jewish identity. Both communities uphold the need for love and social justice in all facets of everyday life, and both dictate a need for justice and acceptance, which is why the idea of solely dating Jews seems entirely outmoded. It isn't hard to grasp the survivalist tenets of Jew-on-Jew dating and mating -- after all, we've been persecuted for thousands of years. But the idea of only dating one type of person for their religion (or for their ethnic group, as I define my own sense of what it means to be a Jew) seems deeply troubling to me. No matter which way you put it on paper, it is related to the same course of logic that was used fifty years ago to ban interracial dating. The rhetoric of "stick to your own kind" vis-a-vis Jewish dating isn't exactly bigotry, but it isn't quite not.
Moreover, Judaism has taught me about my own sense of agency. In the same way that I can go out to a restaurant with friends that isn't exactly glatt kosher and find a culinary item to consume, I can be trusted to adhere to the integrity of my faith. My sense of Jewishness should not be defined by whom I date or marry, but by the way I put Jewish teachings and ideology into practice. It's possible to create an environment with someone who understands my own need to engage in my Jewishness, and still respect my partner's own background, with a simple word: compromise. With a cosmopolitan view of each other's cultural histories, this can be achieved.
One of the wonderful things about modern Judaism is that it does not operate on polarities or binaries: much like the Jewish people as a whole, Judaism has outlasted empire after empire due to its ability to adapt. And while naysayers cite the now-infamous Pew Research Center's survey report as evidence of Judaism's decline, the very same study shows that now, more than ever, Members of the Tribe identify as Jews culturally and socially. The paradigms and definitions of what it means to be a Jew today are ever-shifting. In this vein, my desire to be an observant Conservative Jew and to one day in the future have a Jewish household is far from impossible. My Jewish family, when it exists, will look different from what most have grown up with, but it will be just as Jewish, no more and no less. I'll be married under the same chuppah.
So Mom, sleep tight. And ladies, for the record, regardless of whether you're Jewish or not: if you can make a mean matzoh ball, call me.
This article originally appeared on NYBlueprint.
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