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The J in JDate: Reform Romeo, Conservative Juliet

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As if dating isn’t tricky enough for Jews who want to marry within the religion, there are also complications when staying in the Tribe. Marnie Alexis Friedman explains why.

One Friday night at synagogue, as services were ending, I could feel someone watching me. I turned around and found myself lost in the baby-blue eyes of a good-looking guy sitting a few rows behind me. He made his way over and we exchanged basic information like names, occupations, and how soon we could have dinner together. He had a trait that I’d been looking for in a man: he went to shul of his own accord. But once we started dating, he stopped attending services, even though he knew I was there every week. Imagine my surprise when, after we broke up, I saw him back at shul the next few Friday nights in a row. In retrospect, it was obvious – besides JDate, where else would a nice Jewish guy go to look for women?

We’re all on this website because we want to meet other single Jews. But what kind of Jews do we want to date? Can a Conservative, synagogue-every-Shabbat girl find happiness with a Reform, only-on-High-Holidays boy? Could Kosher Keith and cheeseburger-eating Cheryl be a shidduch made in heaven, or are such star-crossed lovers doomed to a sorrowful parting? Plenty of couples who start out with different levels of observance meet, fall in love, and somehow learn to compromise.

My deep, insightful, well thought-out answer is… I think it depends.

Plenty of couples who start out with different levels of observance meet, fall in love, and somehow learn to compromise. They attend separate services, then meet up at home for Shabbat dinner. He goes to shul every week; she gets there in time for Kiddush. She’s fully observant of Shabbat; he turns on lights and checks e-mail. He eats only dairy in non-kosher restaurants, she orders shrimp cocktail.

It’s a commonly held notion that being in a couple means compromise – not to go against your beliefs, but to find ways for both of you to do what feels right. Sometimes, however, there is no compromise. Just as a rabid Red Sox fan and a die-hard Yankees fan might have trouble surviving the playoffs together, Frum Romeo and Secular Juliet might not make it through the High Holiday season.

An important question to ask is: how many steps apart are you on the observance scale? Joel, 34, speaks for many when he says, “I limit [my dating search] to a certain ‘band’ around my religious practices.” Opposites may attract, but relationships don’t often work without some common ground. Anne, 29, describes herself as “a two-days-a-year Jew.” She and Josh, a regular synagogue attendee, broke things off after a few months of dating. “He wanted me to sit next to him at services every week. When I offered to go with him once or twice a month, he was insulted. He didn’t realize what a big step that was for me.”

Personally, I’m Conservative and go to synagogue every week. But since I check e-mail, watch TV, and talk on the phone on Shabbat, I keep my JDate search preferences wide open. If I fell for a guy who kept Shabbat fully, there’s a good chance I’d become more observant. But if I were swept off my feet by someone who only went to synagogue once in a while, I might start going less often.

It’s not just a matter of being open-minded. Experience has taught me that the checklist for my dream guy is long enough already. I can’t (and don’t) expect to find a man who meets all of my must-haves, like-to-haves, can’t-possibly-haves – and is also at precisely my level of religious observance. As fabulous as I am, I don’t want to date myself. There’d be no mystery, no fun in that. I want to be part of a partnership where we learn from one another, examine the paths we’ve taken that have landed us where we are, and start a journey together that will lead us wherever we’re going. It’s not just a matter of being open-minded. Experience has taught me that the checklist for my dream guy is long enough already.

Two people in a relationship needn’t have identical passions. What’s important is that each person be willing to learn about the other’s interests – and see if there’s something the couple can share. I once dated someone who’d never seen much reason to go to shul, but since he knew it was important to me, he came to services almost every week. I was able to share with him one of the most important parts of my life. In return, he gave me an appreciation of a cappella music and taught me how to swing-dance. So he learned how to daven, I learned how to dance, and we always knew what we’d be doing on Friday and Saturday nights.

I would never force someone to go to synagogue with me. A “my way or the highway” attitude is just about the quickest way to build resentment. Other than the guy who thought Friday night services were a weekly singles’ event, none of the guys I’ve dated were regular synagogue-goers when I met them. But every boyfriend I’ve had has been willing to attend services with me occasionally, when I presented it as something we could try together. From my perspective, long-term compatibility is not about having similar levels of religious observance, per se, but about having similar values and worldviews as your partner.

That open-minded approach worked for Irene, a Conservative Jew who fell in love with a Reform Jew named Ellis. Since she always wanted to explore the religion more, they began by going to Reform services every week, then added certain rituals at home. Soon, they started attending a Conservative synagogue and keeping a kosher home.

As they found their way as a couple, both realized that they loved learning about Judaism nearly as much as they loved each other. If they hadn’t given each other a chance despite their differing denominations, they would probably be in very different places today. Thirty-three years later, they still spend Shabbat together – usually at synagogue, occasionally at the symphony.

Marnie Alexis Friedman is an actuary who loves living in Los Angeles.
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2 Comments »

  • Eric Golub says:

    One of the things I have found is that so many people are under the illusion that they are open-minded when this is not the case. Nobody wants to be seen as intolerant, but people are who they are.

    My career is political. I happen to be politically conservative, which inspires rage among many otherwise “tolerant” women in the non-Orthodox Jewish community. Although I would never force my views on anyone else, my choices at many Jewish events involve either sitting silently as everything I believe in is attacked, or dare to speak up and face the equivalent of bullying.

    One woman at a dinner party made a joke a few years ago about how cool it would be if Bush supporters were “flammable.” (Would a Burning Bush remain unconsumed was her idea of wit). Yes, to her, lynching was funny.

    At a party last week a woman took delight at regaling me with a story about a website placing bets on when Margaret Thatcher (who is currently very ill) will finally die.

    In the first case I got angry. In the second case I stayed silent but seethed underneath that such evil could exist in a human heart.

    “Ideological Bigotry” is a major problem in the Jewish community, and some Synagogues make it clear in their sermons that “Republicans need not apply.” One Synagogue on Hanukkah took time to attack Donald Rumsfeld.

    We will all be better off when people attempt to find common ground rather than deliberately exacerbating differences, whether it be politics or level of religiosity. I know several couples who beat the odds and their differences and “made it” because they worked hard and showed real respect and tolerance of each other, not the fake kind that sounds good but is often not practiced in real life.

    eric

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