Friends and family recited the seven blessings. We drank the wine. The rabbi pronounced us married. I stomped on the glass with great vigor.
The intense pressure I felt to date and marry within the tribe damaged my perception of Jewish women and my ability to be myself around them. But as I fell in love with her, she fell in love with me—and with my Judaism as well. This information was pounded in from all directions, from rabbis, from my parents, my grandparents, Hebrew High School, Camp Ramah.
I felt the pressure: The future of my people was at stake! I resolved that I would only go out with Jewish girls. In high school, this decision proved to be mostly moot.
I had difficulty finding dates, period. Pretty much everyone I asked out rejected me. I attributed this to the fact that I was kind of nerdy: I hoped things would be better in college. I went to study at Oberlin in The school was arty, musical, nerdy, and had a substantial Jewish population.
But a funny thing happened. Even though I no longer felt outside the norm, I still had trouble getting dates … with Jewish women. Every Jewish woman I asked out on a date rejected me. I had numerous opportunities, on the other hand, to date non-Jewish women. I tried not to follow up on them at first, but I was frustrated and lonely and had finite willpower. I left Oberlin as I came to it: I had made some good friends, though.
While I was at school, I joined an online discussion forum where I began to chat with a non-Jewish girl named Alicia. She lived in New Hampshire, shared all of my nerdy hobbies, had a great sense of humor, and looked like a younger blonde version of geek icon Gillian Anderson from The X-Files.
She had a great sense of humor, a wonderful smile, and an honesty that I found refreshing. We would chat with each other online virtually every day while I was in college, and even after I graduated. But we had never met, much less gone on a date. After college I became desperate. I created an online dating profile on eHarmony, hoping that its mystical personality matching system would somehow do the job that I had proven unable to accomplish on my own.
Before long the site gave me a listing of potential Jewish candidates. Though I was excited by these possibilities at first, the resulting dates could best be compared to Seinfeld episodes. One of my dates somehow managed to steer every discussion, no matter how unrelated, to the topic of cheesecake. Meanwhile, more and more of my friends were getting engaged, more and more of them started families, and I had never dated anyone for more than a few weeks.
After a year of failures, I quit the site. This was my ulterior motive when I planned a trip up to New England. We hit it off in person as well as we had online. We went out for Thai food with my friend and his wife. It felt very much like a double date between two married couples, even though the meeting was hardly planned that way.
By the end of the weekend, we were officially dating. My paternal grandparents survived the Holocaust and met at a displaced persons camp in Landsberg, Germany, before they moved to the United States. My father spent his entire professional life working for Jewish Federations across the country. As a child, I grew up in Conservative congregations in Georgia, New Jersey, and Minnesota, was educated in Jewish day schools from kindergarten through fifth grade, and spent most of my childhood summers at Jewish summer camps.
As an adult I have written for Jewish newspapers and teach in a synagogue. Even as our relationship became more serious, I did not want to push her to convert, yet I kept hoping she would become interested in the religion on her own. It was too important to me. So, even though I wanted it and believed it could work, marriage was off the table so long as Alicia was still a gentile. My paternal grandparents were more concerned; I promised them that I would only marry a Jewish girl.
Instead of visiting her once a month, I went down from Livingston to Camden once a week. One visit, I found a giant stack of books on the counter. This was hardly unusual. Alicia is and always has been a voracious reader. What was unusual was the subject matter of the books: Before I could ask her why she was so interested, she asked me for recommendations on other books.
By the next week she had read it and had a new pile of books on Judaism on her counter, then another pile the next week. On some level, I was confident that once she decided to study Judaism, she would become enthralled with it and want to convert.
I think that Judaism was waiting for her to find it. She knew how important Judaism was to me. I also have no doubt she started reading the pile of Jewish books because of me. In the end, however, the decision to convert was hers. She began the conversion process during her second year of law school, much to the joy of my parents and grandparents. The conversion was completed at the beginning of her third. The rabbi said that she knew as much about Judaism as a first-year rabbinical student.
I proposed to her in September , the same month her conversion was completed. Eleven months later, we had our perfect Jewish wedding. Why did my decision to only date Jews end up so disastrously?
I think the decision itself was part of the problem. It split the women in my life into two categories: As a result, I was a much more natural and relaxed person among the non-Jews I felt no pressure to impress, whereas my relationship with Jewish women was always fraught with an intense sense of importance: Maybe this would be the one who would end my isolation.
There was nothing wrong with my normal self. At the same time, I consider myself rather lucky. And in Alicia I recognized someone who shared my values, if not my religion. Indeed, she shared the two Jewish values I find most important: They were part of what I came to love about her, and they were part of what she came to love about Judaism. Her mother even got to choose her Hebrew name. Now the familial pressure has gone from marrying a nice Jewish girl to having nice Jewish kids.