My grandmother, an elegant French transplant, was raised in a time when proper social graces were still de rigeur.
She never misses an opportunity to remind us of those times and dispense of her wisdom. As her favorite and mouthiest grandchild, I am most often the beneficiary of this wisdom and consequently, could write an entire encyclopedia on etiquette. Still, the tenet I would have no reservations to exclude is her prohibition against speaking about religion and politics at the dinner table. (Sorry, Mamie!)
You see, many of my first dates occur at the dinner table of some trendy, overpriced eatery. This is where I get to know my suitors (her term, not mine) and decide if we should progress into a relationship. As a responsible, contributing member of society, religion and politics are at the forefront of my mind and conversation all the time. Discounting them in the initial date dialogue would be ill-advised, and would misrepresent me, as well as the connection. I mean what would our supposed chemistry be based upon - our shared appreciation for Japanese food and a mutual acquaintance from summer camp? Perhaps that might have sufficed a few years back, but I’m older and wiser now and I know that the strength of relationships is correlated with mutual goals and values, both of which tend to be intertwined with religion and politics.
With all that said, I can’t understand people who don’t give weight to the religion variable when picking a life partner. I hate to revisit the polarizing topic of intermarriage, especially since it seems the dust has settled and both camps have agreed to disagree and ride out the impending apocalypse predicted by all those highly-funded Jewish American studies. But like I said earlier, I’m mouthy and I just need to share some points on the topic. Be forewarned, however, that my points on inter-religious marriage, for the purpose of this article, are completely void of any religious content. After all, my grandmother taught me not to talk about religion.
In any case, the fact of the matter is that for most of us, intermarriage has not one bloody thing to do with religion. A friend of mine proved it.
If I had to categorize said friend in terms of religious affiliation, I would classify him as “Jewish by accident.” His definition of keeping kosher is ordering a double bacon cheeseburger from McDonald’s and requesting only a single serving of bacon... on Yom Kippur. His adherence to religious practice is minimal, to say the least.
Still recently, he came under fire for his views against intermarriage. A jilted shiksa (non-Jewish girl) accused him of being “elitist” and practicing “dehumanizing discrimination” because he refused to take the relationship to the next level with her for the reason that she was not Jewish.
He later explained to me that this decision was based on the fact that he really appreciates Jewish humor and did not want to spend the rest of his days explaining jokes to her. Furthermore, he alluded to the fact that regardless of her sensitivity to Judaism, he might not be at ease sharing a laugh with her at the expense of “his people,” because after all she was not “his people,” and her partaking in the jab would turn it into a mockery regardless of any piece of paper incurred during the conversion process.
I was taken aback by how my friend trivialized Judaism into a members-only social club. I even sympathized with the elitist term she threw his way. Only upon further reflection did I realize I would not have chided him had he blamed a language-barrier for the break-up. After all, it would be the force stopping them from seeing eye-to-eye and relating to each other. So what was the difference? Essentially, nothing - both were obstacles to communication.
I considered other "accidentally Jewish" friends' reasons for marrying Jewish and came up with a lengthy list that included social, cultural, linguistic and historical rationales, as well as the obvious: Jewish guilt. Each reason was a direct manifestation of their respective Jewish identity.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are the Starbucks generation, where everything we consume is designed to meet our individual tastes, and religion is no exception. We worship what speaks to us and what we deem holy; be it Jewish humor, Jewish food, Jewish values, Jewish religion or nothing at all.
Religious views, or lack thereof, are a component of our personal identity. In the case of the aforementioned friends, Jewish identity (regardless of Jewish practice) heavily composed their personal identity, and as such played a determining role in who they would choose to marry.
I would find it odd, and as I said earlier, ill-advised to proceed with a relationship where an aspect of your personal identity is in conflict with or worst yet, concealed from that of your romantic interest. That is not to say that intermarriage is right or wrong. It is simply to say, you should seek out a life partner to complement and connect with your own identity, whatever it may be.
Furthermore, I don’t think such a determining factor of your personality and of your eventual connection should be ignored further than the time appetizers are served. Religion and politics are topics that typically get passions flaring, which is not necessarily a bad thing on a first date.
So, in light of my grandmother’s wisdom, I have this to say: “I’ll have the truffle risotto, with a handsome Jewish Republican on the side, please!”
Margaux Chetrit is the founder and president of Three Matches, an international dating agency. Her insights on love and sex are inspired by a career in diplomacy, a panoply of academic degrees and ex-boyfriends. For more of her musings, please visit: www.threematches.com or follow her at www.twitter.com/threematches and www.facebook.com/threematches.