My Jewish Dating Problem
I’d given up on finding a Jewish woman to marry—until the woman I fell in love with decided to convert
The relationship became shorter-distance when Alicia attended Rutgers School of Law in Camden; we were both in New Jersey, at least. 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: Judaism. Before I could ask her why she was so interested, she asked me for recommendations on other books. I recommended Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Literacy. 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. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t influence her to convert, even if I never overtly made such a request. 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 2008, the same month her conversion was completed. Eleven months later, we had our perfect Jewish wedding.
I often wonder why I went through years of wandering through the desert filled with Sarahs, Rebeccas, Rachels, and Leahs only to marry a Ruth. 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: those I could date and those I could not. 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. I’d be seized with nerves, I’d feel the need to make grand gestures that I thought were romantic but in retrospect probably came across as desperate. There was nothing wrong with my normal self. But “Howard-in-search-of-a-date” was an entirely different, socially awkward mess of a person. My vow to date only Jewish women had turned people into possibilities and turned me into someone I don’t like very much in retrospect.
At the same time, I consider myself rather lucky. I hadn’t rejected Judaism. 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: a strong sense of ethics and a profound love for knowledge. They were part of what I came to love about her, and they were part of what she came to love about Judaism.
Even if Alicia’s grandmother was a little bit confused about why we couldn’t get married in a church, her family was mostly supportive. 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. Hopefully they’ll be as nice as their Jewish mother.
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