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Jessica #27 - Gravitational Pull

Jessica #27 - Gravitational Pull

Wanting to marry a Jew is all well and good. But Jessica realizes you have to date one, too.


Yet again, I was at a loss for words.

I wondered, desperately, what expression was sitting on my face.

We'd had a lovely date thus far and now Amazingly Nice, Honest, Open Rick was searching my face to see why I looked stunned.

He had just quipped about himself as an altar boy.

-- Okay, I thought dryly, I know that some Jews take a "non-traditional" approach, but having altar boys is a little too over-the-top for even the most progressive temple!

"Jessica?" Rick asked, unaware of my calculations. "Uh, did I say something wrong?"

My mouth started speaking before my brain switched into gear. I had no idea what was coming out.

"Uh, Rick," the autopiloted mouth began, "uh... did you say you were an altar boy?"

He nodded.

I nodded, indicating that I understood.


He was still looking at me, no doubt wondering what on earth had seized my brain.

"This is going to sound strange," I began, "but, uh... are you by any chance not Jewish?"

"Am I by any chance not Jewish?" Rick repeated, apparently not sure if the question was a joke of some sort.

I nodded.

Uh... are you by any chance not Jewish?"

"Well, uh, no," he said, looking confused. "I'm not. I'm not Jewish."


-- Congratulations, Jessica, you've now managed to deduce the completely obvious. My brilliant career as a private investigator has begun.

"This is going to sound strange," Rick said, still staring, parroting me, "but does that matter?"

Years of egalitarianism-above-all training surged ahead, seizing control of my autopiloted mouth.

"No, of course not," my mouth said, brightly.

"Did he believe you?" Beth, my older sister, asked when I called her in Philly the instant he took me home. I poured out the story: seemingly perfect guy, only getting better as I get to know him more, but he's not Jewish.

"It was obvious that I'd behaved strangely. But I think he got over it," I said. "At least he didn't ask about it after I changed the subject."

I was embarrassed that it mattered. I felt less liberal, less open-minded, less tolerant. Somehow, not being Jewish didn't seem an acceptable reason to stop seeing someone.

At the kishke-level, it was about preserving a heritage.

My mind kept falling back to a scene from an old Spike Lee movie where black women chided black men for always dating white women. Then there was my prideful thrill when Eddie Murphy told Oprah Winfrey that he only dates black women. I understood that, at the kishke-level, it was about preserving a heritage.

But doesn't there come a point at which loyalty to one's specific culture is trumped by a recognition of the beauty inherent in all cultures? Is there a reason why can't I be true to my own culture and love someone from another?

The very idea of eliminating someone simply because he's not Jewish sat uneasily in my conscious mind. Done subconsciously or by chance, it was fine. Done above board by deliberation, it seemed discriminatory. American education had taught me the all-important 11th commandment: Thou shalt not discriminate.

Moreover, I continued musing, Jews have no monopoly on virtues. There are plenty of wonderful, non-Jews in the world. What's so special about us anyway?

I thought about the automatic kinship I felt when I realized someone was Jewish, especially here in Phoenix where I didn't meet so many. The cultural references fit, the way we get "Seinfeld" on a deeper level. And, of course, the appreciation of a fine bagel, and the attendant understanding that it's a crime to do anything but boil them!

Is that it? A voice I didn't recognize in my head asked. Is that what has sustained the Jewish people for thousands of years? A yearning for the perfect breakfast item while reading the Sunday paper? Isn't there something deeper?

I didn't know.

"What even made you think he was Jewish anyway?" Beth said a bit groggily, interrupting my thoughts. I'd woken her up.

"Well... uh, he... um," I stammered.

"Don't try to tell me that he 'looks Jewish.'"

"Well, he does! Plus his last name is Miller." Every synagogue I knew had a few Millers in it -- it's one of those names that Jews at Ellis Island used when Cheperchekoberg or Feinoskovitz seemed too cumbersome.

Plus, the night I met him, I was with a bunch of people who knew each other through the Federation Young Leadership group. I'd assumed, somehow, that he was a part of the group.

"To be honest," I admitted, "I guess I didn't really put much thought into it."

"Dad warned you," she said.

"Thank you, Beth," I said sarcastically. "That's very productive right now."

When I was trying to decide if I should take the job in Phoenix last year, my dad had pointed out -- with my mother nodding vigorously beside him -- that there wasn't as much of an established Jewish community here.

"You're going to have to find Jewish men to date," he had said. "They won't just fall into your lap. You'll have to make a conscious effort to be a part of the Jewish community and you'll have to seek out Jewish guys."

Jewish guys won't just fall into your lap.

What I hadn't realized is that making an effort to find Jewish guys isn't enough. I'd made that effort already, even going so far as to join a plethora of Jewish Young Adults organizations. It had paid off to some extent. I had had one serious relationship and a few minor dates.

But now, this.

I thought of Rick -- mature, sensitive, kind, caring, genuine, emotionally available and stable guy.

The proactive efforts were all well and good, but there was another level. I had to commit to dating Jews.

"Whatever you do, don't tell Mom or Dad until you're sure he's worth the headache," Beth said.

Our parents had been, suffice to say, less than supportive of Beth's relationships with non-Jewish guys.

I never deliberately ruled out dating non-Jews, and my parents worried when I chose a WASPy liberal arts college. But even there, my serious boyfriends had all been Jewish. I'd always gravitated toward Jewish guys.

But now... here was Rick.

I'd already gravitated toward him. And he seemed gravitated toward me.

It's still early enough to reverse the gravitational pull, my Dad's voice answered.

I said good night to Beth and got into bed, my head spinning with a recurring thought: I like Rick.

November 25, 2000

Article 27 of 66 in the series Jessica's Journal

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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) Anonymous, September 12, 2002 12:00 AM

Rabbinic advice

Jessica, here is how an Ohr Somayach Rabbi responded to the question of intermarriage. Take his words to heart.

For Jews, "marrying within the faith" isn't a cultural preference or prejudice. Rather, it is one the commandments G-d gave us at Mount Sinai. A Jew who marries a non-Jew transgresses a Torah prohibition.
1. The practice of not "intermarrying" is in fact one of the oldest features of Judaism. It dates back to Abraham telling Eliezer, his servant, not to find a wife for his son from the Canaanites. It continues with Isaac's command to his son Jacob not to marry the "daughters of the land." The practice is mentioned in the Bible as a legal prohibition, and is also part of the covenant that Ezra the scribe had the Jews make when they rebuilt the Temple after the Babylonian Exile.
In all the above cases the underlying idea of the prohibition seems to be ideological. As Jews, we have a unique identity that is connected to our purpose in the world. We are the "chosen people." We were chosen to propagate the ethical monotheism of Judaism.
In the words of Leo Tolstoy:
"The Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire, and has illumined with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring, and fountain out of which all the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs and their religious. The Jew is the pioneer of liberty. The Jew is the pioneer of civilization. The Jew is the emblem of eternity."
We were chosen as a permanent protest group against idolatry and immorality. Intermarriage is therefore antithetical to the Jewish purpose and to the Jewish identity.

Intermarriage is a betrayal of our task and of our "choseness." It is also a guarantee against Jewish continuity.
Let me illustrate with a conversation heard on the Dr. Laura Schlessinger show in the US:
A woman calls Dr. Laura: "I'm Jewish," she says. "My husband is not Jewish, but he is very active in the Jewish community. We are trying our best to raise our children as Jews and give them a Jewish education. Now my son is almost thirteen, and he tells us he doesn't want a bar mitzvah (celebration of the acceptance of one's Judaism). What can we do?"
"Let me get this straight," Dr. Laura says. "You say your husband is not Jewish?"
"That's right," the woman answers.
"How do you expect your son to follow Judaism when you don't?"
Being Jewish isn't a cultural affiliation or a tradition. It's being part of the Chosen People. That means a commitment to the responsibility given to us by Hashem at Sinai. Someone who understands this will obviously choose a partner who is likewise committed. Otherwise, it's entering a relay race, but choosing a partner who's running towards a different finish line.
Who you marry affects every single aspect of your life. It affects your community. It affects your children. It affects all future generations. The Jewish home is the single most important establishment in Jewish life. It outweighs any synagogue or temple, even the Holy Temple built by King Solomon. By marrying a non-Jew one thereby ends over 3,000 years of Jewish continuity, effectively cutting oneself and one's offspring off from what it means to be Jewish.
There have been many other arguments offered against intermarriage, below is a summary of some of the most famous.
1. Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, 12 million were left afterwards. Today there are only 13 million Jews in the world. Where are the rest that by natural increase should number close to 20 million? The answer is that the silent holocaust of assimilation has caused them to disappear as Jews.
Intermarriages are twice as likely to end in divorce as same-faith marriages (75% divorce rate!). Some reasons for this are the different identities of the spouses and the differences in culture and family. For example a Jew will naturally turn their head at the mention of "Israel" and "Jew." A gentile who converts in superficial and insincere conversion only for the sake of marriage does not create a new identity that is now Jewish.
3. One is granting a victory to anti-Semites who seek to destroy the Jewish people. Think of what has been sacrificed in the past by our own ancestors to keep their Judaism. And think of the heritage that is being sacrificed for the sake of personal reasons.
Ultimately, however, all Jews must have a sense of pride in their own identity. We cannot define ourselves by foreign ideologies, nationalities or religions. As a great author once wrote:
"Pride is faith in the idea that G-d had, when He made us. A proud man is conscious of the idea, and aspires to realize it. He does not strive towards a happiness, or comfort, which may be irrelevant to G-d's idea of him. His success is the idea of G-d, successfully carried through, and he is in love with his destiny¡K People who have no pride are not aware of any idea of G-d in the making of them, and sometimes they make you doubt that there has ever been much of an idea, or else it has been lost, and who shall find it again? They have got to accept as success what others warrant to be so, and to take their happiness, and even their own selves, at the quotation of the day. They tremble with reason before their fate."
Let us not live by the "quotation of the day" but rather by our own heritage, the Torah. When Jews study Torah, and identify as Jews they are really just returning to their true selves.
In the words of the Rebbe of Kotzk,
"If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I; then I am not I and you are not you. However, if I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you; then I am I and you are you."
Genesis 24:3ÈÎ4 & 28:1
Deuteronomy 7:1ÈÎ5
Nechemiah 10:30ÈÎ31
Exodus 19:3, 6; Deuteronomy 4:20, 26:17-19; Isaiah 61:6.
Leviticus 22:32; Maimonides, Book of the Commandments 9
A Book of Jewish Thoughts, compiled by Rabbi J. H. Hertz
Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 16:1
Maimonides Hilchot Issurei Biyah 12:1
Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa
Siach Sarphei Kodesh

(11) Artie White, June 5, 2002 12:00 AM

Free Will

Jews and Non-Jews are all born with free will. We are all born neutral. It is what our parents teach us that make us Jewish or Christian or whatever faith. When you ask for advice from other people, you're subjecting yourself to this very same manipulation. You're only doing what someone else wants you to do. Take a step back and ask yourself..."What do I want to do?" Do what makes YOU happy, not what will make someone else happy. That's the beauty of free will. We all have it, but we never use it to its full potential. The best person to ask for advice is yourself.

(10) , December 3, 2000 12:00 AM

Dear Jessica: You should have known he wasn't Jewish when he changed your tire!

(9) , December 3, 2000 12:00 AM

I don't envy your situation .....

Although I live in NYC, I still haven't found my "Jewish Mr. Right" and it's getting more difficult as each year passes. My few long-term relationships have been with non-Jewish (and non-religious) guys and, as much as I loved these guys, I did feel the lack of Jewish closeness & cultural knowledge. The chemistry between us was so strong that I didn't have the strength to leave the relationships. I still wonder if my Jewish Husband is out there --- I don't envy your situation. Immediate gratification has a strong gravitational pull ..... I know all too well.

(8) Anonymous, November 28, 2000 12:00 AM

Jessica, Reconsider!

Dear Jessica,
I am a 19-year old male college student, and it saddens me to read that you are considering continuing this relationship. It's not anger that I feel, but sadness. For I wish you could know how much being Jewish means to me. It means so much. Here at Cornell, amongst many non-Jews, and many Jews who know as much or less than you, I truly feel priveleged for the yeshiva day school education I received and my ties with the Jewish community here. And I feel sad that Judaism means so little to you. For Judaism isn't Seinfeld, it isn't bagels, and it's not even maintaining a culture. This may sound corny, but it's the very meaning of life. It defines our purpose in life. Some columns ago, you spoke of how you felt bad, next to Harris, that you didn't have any life-goals. And, Jessica, for that brief instant, you were onto something. Getting your degree, getting a job, and then a better one, these things are all nice, but when it comes down to it, they're not really that important. What is important is leading your life according to the right values. And though you dismiss that the Jews have a lock on good values, and I don't dispute that, you must realise that Judaism has contributed, very tremendously, to the good values that Western society takes for granted now. And more than that, Judaism provides tremendous meaning. It's so much more than just rituals, Jessica, it's so much more. Intermarrying will be turning your back on Judaism, whether you want to think of it that way or not. Don't take that risk. Break it off with Rick, and then take some time to think about your goals. You write for a wonderful website, I do hope you'll take some time to explore it to learn more about Judaism, I especially recommend the weekly parsha emails. Jessica, I am planning to transfer in January to Yeshiva University because I realize I am lacking in my Jewish knowledge. You are too. Follow my example. Realize that Judaism is way too important for you to ignore the rest of your short life here. Jessica, we each have a soulmate, a basherte. I guarantee you that Rick is not the person for you, however nice he may seem. The person for you is out there, but you must stop seeing Rick and learn some more, before you can meet him. I sincerely hope, I pray, that you take this advice of mine. Good luck with everything.

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