I am in a relationship.
Not an interfaith, interracial, mixed, different, special, unique relationship.
One that, when we get married, cannot be officiated by an Orthodox or Conservative rabbi, or be recognized in Israel, because I’m Jewish and he’s not. And that’s okay. What weirds me out isn’t that our marriage wouldn’t be recognized in a vast number of Jewish institutions. It’s that here, in America, my relationship is viewed as a sparkly goldfish in a bowl that no one wants to take home.
It’s a weird metaphor, I know, but it’s a good image for how I feel sometimes. To liberal and progressive Jewry, my relationship is still sometimes seen as “exotic,” with people making comments like, “Wow, good for you!” or “That’s so brave!” Even in Reform spaces, where there are dedicated programs for interfaith couples, I’m not exempt from the cringeworthy commentary (especially from older members of the congregation). And those are the good ones. I’ve gotten to the point where they make me feel weird for a minute, but I’m able to brush it off pretty fast. My partner and I are some weird local version of the Lovings in the Jewish community. Okay, it’s weird, but whatever.
On the flip side, there are those in the Jewish community who think my relationship is somehow single handedly responsible for the decline and eventual annihilation of the Jewish people. And you thought regular dating was stressful. Imagine having that kind of power (and pressure) when it comes to who you binge Netflix with. No matter how many times it happens, I still find myself appalled when a so-called “modern” Jew tells me that I’m hurting my people by dating outside the faith.
Don’t get me wrong: Jews are a minority. A really small one. And because of that, and the fact that we became a minority by being murdered, exiled, and persecuted for 2,000+ years, there’s a fear that intermarriage will water down Jewry till it no longer exists. And for some people who date outside the Jewish community, that does happen: They marry someone non-Jewish, have kids, don’t raise them Jewish in any way, and those kids have kids, and they aren’t Jewish, and before you know it, no one in the family is Jewish or has any idea they were Jewish in the first place.
But there’s also Jews who leave the Jewish community for a variety of reasons, none to do with who they date. Sometimes they lose faith. They don’t feel welcome in the community. They find other places they bond with better. They convert to a religion that feels more like home. It happens.
I get why some young Jews really only want to date within the community. I would never police them on it or judge them. Sometimes other Jews are easier to relate to, and you don’t have to teach them things like why Hanukkah is actually not that big of a deal, for crying out loud, stop marketing it like Christmas! Sometimes they want to have a Jewish household with a Jewish spouse, and celebrate traditions and rituals that they have in common. I support that wholeheartedly.
I just don’t want it for myself. And that won’t make my future children any less Jewish.
That’s the key thing here: My kids will be Jewish no matter what. I will raise them knowing where they come from, who their family is, and what their history means. Having a non-Jewish partner doesn’t mean not sharing values. My partner is the closest thing to home I have ever found. He has more Jewish values than most Jews I know. Tikkun olam — healing the world — isn’t something he says, but something he practices. Our biggest clashes are less about religion and heritage and more about my addiction to Netflix telenovelas.
At the end of the day, for me it’s not an “interfaith relationship.” It’s just a relationship. And it’s not some wildly different experience dating someone not Jewish, because where it counts, he is: His values are made of compassion, justice, and kindness. All these things are what make me love Judaism. So while the rabbinate may think our relationship is disgusting, invalid, or horrifying, I don’t care. Because my life is lived Jewishly, and that’s all that matters to me.
Header image via Cøsta on tumblr.