Dating Games: Being Jewish

I wanted to meet my "beshert" and I was going to turn over every Jerusalem stone until I found him.

Jewish wedding_521 (photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
Jewish wedding_521
(photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
I’ve been Jewish since before I was born. I don’t simply mean religiously or ancestrally. I mean that my entire life as a Jew was mapped out for me in utero. It’s technically a Reform level of Judaism, but it’s Jewish all the same.
My parents decided that for their child, leading a Jewish life meant beginning with being blessed by a rabbi with a Hebrew name (apparently “Tamar” isn’t Hebrew enough), attending the JCC for preschool, Jewish day school for elementary school, going to temple semi-regularly, becoming a bat mitzva and so on.
It’s the “and so on” phase that I’m in now, and it’s the most complicated and confusing one. “And so on” is a vast and vague space that is impossible to map, no matter how hard you try. Of course, my parents imagined this time for me to include marrying a Jewish man, making a Jewish home, raising Jewish children and inviting my parents over to share Shabbat dinner. It’s navigating the path to this final (some might call it fatal, some fantasy, or some other “f” word) destination that is the black hole called dating. Our parents can in no way prepare us for the unknown and unusual difficulties that Jewish dating presents.
Our parents send us off to college and hope we’ll meet Mr. Right(-man, -berg, -son) and that will be that. But the pressures put on us by our doting parents and grandparents can instead have the reverse effect. College and the real world we are introduced to thereafter present us with a world outside of the insulated Jewish one in which we were raised. I, for one, dated outside the Jewish faith for the first 10 years of my dating life before finally winding my way back at the age of 25. People (usually concerned parents) often ask me how and why I suddenly made the switch.
In hindsight, it was simple: Her name is Elie. But, of course, no Jewish lesson comes without an anecdote. My best friend married a great guy who grew up attending the same temple she did. I was the maid of honor at their wedding and was forbidden to bring a non-Jewish date. I saw right through their little scheme and wasn’t surprised to find myself at a table filled with eligible Jewish bachelors.
Unfortunately it only left me feeling resentful. Two years later their first child was born and I was witness to the rabbi blessing her with her great-great grandmother’s name, and it was then that something clicked.
My best friends didn’t have to discuss how they were going to raise beautiful little Elie because they simply wanted to give her what they had had: a Jewish life ripe with tradition and value. Nearly 30 years after my parents had the same intentions for me, I finally got it and wanted it for myself and my future family. Even if I had found a non-Jewish husband who loved me and supported me in raising our children Jewish, it wouldn’t have been the same.
I wanted a husband who knew all the words and hand motions to “Dreidel, Dreidel” and who could recite the kiddush prayers on demand, someone who got choked up during Debbie Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach” and who only ate matza for the entire eight days of Passover; simply, someone who looked forward to teaching our children these traditions.
I couldn’t rely on the odds of finding him at a “regular” bar and I knew I had to increase my chances. So I signed up for JDate, volunteered with YAD, got involved with AIPAC and took organized trips to Israel. Yes, I wanted to be a community leader and to strengthen US-Israel ties, but I also wanted to meet my beshert (soul mate) and I was going to turn over every Jerusalem stone until I found him. I made sure to do something social every week, I took every opportunity that came my way and kept my eyes open for a prospect at all times.
And so when I found myself drawn to a guy at a friend of a friend’s birthday party at a bar in Tel Aviv while I was in Israel on vacation, I went for it. And when, after spending just a week together, that guy asked me to move to Israel, I went for it. And when he asked me to marry him 10 months later, well, of course I went for it. My husband and I are now excitedly raising our son ensconced in Jewish culture.
For me, the switch simply flipped and I suddenly became a preacher on dating within the Jewish community: why it was important, where to go to meet people and how to market your best self. It took a long time for me to get to this point and I hope I can help make the path shorter and much less rocky for you than it was for me. You may not have had your moment yet, and you may not need a “moment” for intra-faith marrying to click in your head and heart, but you should still try to open the door to every possibility of finding your beshert.