When it comes to dating, I’m torn. I’m trying to find the right man to make my life with and some traits seem non negotiable. But I feel like I’m being forced to choose between marrying a Jewish man and marrying a mensch.
Based on the values I was raised with, I know marrying a Jewish man is right.
I want to make my life with a man who shares my heritage, who can teach my children the shema and knows all of the unspoken choreography of a Shabbat or chag. Being with somebody who can never understand the most important part of my family and heritage, who can never fully participate in the things that make me feel most connected to my deepest self, simply won’t work.
However, when I walk into a crowd of single Jewish men, I’m often met with a substantial lack of grace and respect. I can’t tell you how many times I have run into someone, at a concert or a mutual friend’s birthday, and we both know that we know each other, yet there is this weird game of “should I say hello?” I find myself becoming more guarded in these situations as well because I don't feel safe enough to be friendly and open as I may be in other contexts.
This lack of friendliness is coupled with a general lack of curiosity in new experiences that deviate from the north eastern Jewish bubble. Yes, you can smile and greet someone that was not on your teen tour bus – or that dude who looks vaguely familiar.
I remember sitting in shock, during a shabbat meal, as an acquaintance talked about a date he had went on the past week. He thought she was cool, but was not interested in dating her. I pointed out the fact that maybe this was just an opportunity to meet a new friend. “I don't need new friends,” he said. Normally, I would pass his attitude off as just plain rude, but he’s not the first person I’ve heard this from: I have actually heard it multiple times in these circles. So if you aren't going to marry her, then she has no value to you? Where do I sign up?Artwork by Amanda Shafran.
Of course, people who have grown up outside of Judaism aren’t perfect either. But in my experience, they are on average more willing to open up their lives to me with warmth and generosity, with courage and less fear. And, if it doesn’t work out, they treat me like I have some value other than being dateable. When did kindness become uncool in the Jewish dating world?
Not too long ago, I dared to date my first "goy friend." It was an unthinkable, shun-worthy deed that I kept hidden from my family – for a period anyway. I felt like I was committing a crime against the Jewish people. But he had these mensch-like qualities my Jewish upbringing taught me to seek out. He was kind and spiritual. My heart fluttered when he would tell me of the events of his day, which often included beautiful moments of human connection that he had shared with some inhabitants of the local park, sharing music and loving warmth. All the while I felt like I needed to keep this treasure of a person a secret. My worlds needed to be kept isolated. I was meant to be ashamed of a loving space where I felt appreciated and enlivened. Instead, I’m supposed to want to participate in some sort of event where I’d be ignored and treated like furniture by the eligible Jewish community of rising bachelors.
When I think of a mensch I think of warmth, of someone who emphasizes the sentiments of ben’adam’lechavero. I think of kindness, and openness to connection. I think of someone who shares a desire for continued personal development, for growth and discovery. There is a whole world beyond Jewish sleep away camp and it's beautiful! Through these new and different interactions I have been able to learn more about myself and have discovered an overflowing well of fascinating people who are thrilled to share space together along our intersecting paths.
I do believe that mensch-like qualities can be found in the world of Jewish dating, they’re just a little too few and far between these days.
And so I’m torn. The values I’m describing are so vital to making me a happy person, but they are so difficult to find in the Jewish men I’m meeting. I don’t want to look elsewhere, but I also want to marry a mensch. What’s a girl to do?
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