I have several confessions to make. One is that in romance, as in many other things, I love a challenge. Two is that I’ve always found non-Jewish men more challenging than Jewish men. Three is that my ultimate goal has always been to marry Jewish — which meant that any non-Jew who dated me would eventually have to convert. But — final confession — that pleased me, too. My parents were Holocaust survivors who spoke regularly about the depletion of the Jewish population. If I could get a man to convert, wouldn’t I be adding to the common store? Wouldn’t I be replenishing the stock? In short, maybe my tastes were good for the Jews.
Of course, life might have been simpler had I gone after my co-religionists. But, as I said, I loved the sweetness of forbidden fruit. Eve was my ancestor, after all. All that fruit in the Garden of Eden, and what did this woman want? You know the rest. Jewish men were kind and adorable. They seemed to like me, too. They “got” my humor and extraversion. Most knew exactly who I was, appreciating my hourglass body and jet black hair. Non-Jewish men, not so much; many were aloof, some even on the repressed, cold fish side. (Jews like cold fish, but only in the form of lox in a buffet.) Unlike Jewish men, they didn’t easily acknowledge or express their deeper emotions. Some didn’t have deeper emotions. But when I felt they did, I’d lure them out with a sense of the exotic, the feeling that they were missing something with the blond girl next door (and that I could provide it). I’d help them develop a taste, not only for me, but for my whole tribe – its suffering, its longevity, its poignant religious simplicity, its klezmer and its lox. Once that happened, as it did with the man I married, I thought my problems would be over.
There’s a Jewish saying that may come in handy at this romantic juncture: Man plans, and God laughs. It rhymes in Yiddish (“Mann tracht, und Gott lacht”) and applies even more to women’s heartfelt plans. Once my beloved and I had pledged our devotion, problems came flying from all sides. From his mother, a devout, cross-wearing Christian, the comment: “better a Negress than a Jewess.” From my mother, a refugee from Eastern Europe, disappointment and scorn: “So,” she said irritably, “a Jewish boy I see you couldn’t find.” She had a point, my parents had meticulously raised me to meet Jewish boy after boy; not only at years of religious school, but at the Ivies to which they had scrimped to send me. And yet, here was my situation: I wanted to marry a gentile who loved the Jews, and he wanted to convert to Judaism and marry me.
Did we resolve our Romeo and Juliet dilemma? Sure. Did my darling convert? Of course. At our Jewish wedding, my father asked his mother if she was upset. There she was, listening to hora music, having just seen her son smash a glass.
“I hope our joy does not come at the expense of your sorrow,” he said.
Looking up into his wise brown eyes, she responded, “No — I’ve learned that there are many ways up the mountain.” She’s right. It’s been a high, craggy mountain to climb, but now — with three Jewish children, beloved by all — the view from here is nothing short of amazing.