(Photo from ROI Community on Facebook)
Danielle Selber is our in-house matchmaker and she wants to be in your corner. As the only “non-profit matchmaker” in the country, Danielle blends traditional Jewish matchmaking with modern sensibilities. To meet up with her for coffee, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s it like to “date Jewish” in Bupadest, Krakow, Mexico City and Brisbane? That’s the conversation I got to have at the ROI Summit in Jerusalem this month, a yearly gathering of young Jewish people working on big things. Hosted by the Shusterman Foundation, ROI’s ultimate goal is to connect dynamic, creative Jews with each other and to give them the tools, support and space they need to turn their ideas into innovative work that will change the face of Jewish life today and tomorrow. At this year’s summit there were 50 participants from the US, 50 from Israel, and 50 from 30+ other countries. I was invited for my work as Tribe 12’s in-house matchmaker, a position unique to Philly’s Jewish community.
In a session called “Open Space”, all of us were invited to suggest our own topics for discussion. I put a simple question up on the window: “Is it important to ‘date Jewish’?” I wondered if anyone would even swing by, with 25 other topics to choose from. People showed up right away and kept on coming! I’ve changed a couple details to protect the privacy of the conversation, but I’ve kept the heart of the discussion — and the pieces that surprised me most — intact.
One Israeli with Yemenite heritage had never considered not dating Jewish and admitted (with true Israeli brashness) that he was offended that others would disagree. Other people were quick to point out that outside of Israel, it’s not always so simple. We heard from a guy wearing a badass pair of hipster glasses who has lived in Turkey his whole life. He explained that if he wants to meet someone Jewish, his only choice is to literally move to another country, because Turkey is 99.8% Muslim. He confided that were the circumstances different, Judaism would be the #1 factor in dating for him — but as of now, he has only dated Muslim women.
Another response to that Israeli’s bold declaration in support of dating Jewish was from an American girl from the West Coast who explained she had given it a great deal of thought and decided Judaism was not a factor in dating for her at all. She was hurt by the idea that another Jewish person would think they had a right to decide who she should or shouldn’t date.
Others came just to listen. One British girl in her 30s came to the discussion because she had never given any thought to this question, and she wanted to hear our perspectives to form a view of her own.
One girl from Romania brought a vulnerability to the conversation by admitting that when she declares a preference for dating Jewish, it feels like an “almost racist” statement to her — like she is saying people who are not Jewish are very different, or even somehow worse, than her. I asked her to consider if she would date a black Jew or Asian Jew, which could help her understand if her preferences were racial or cultural, and this revealed another layer of complication — in the town where she lives, there are no black people. She felt that having children who look black would put them in danger, which took the idea of dating a black Jew off the table for her. Even those who disagreed with some of her conclusions appreciated her honesty.
A Canadian girl explained that she had always dated Jewish and that it was extremely important to her — until she met her current partner of a year, an atheist who was raised Protestant. An Australian quickly shared the story of how, after two years of dating a guy who wasn’t Jewish, someone at a work party asked them how they would raise their kids if they got married. This uncomfortable public question led to a private discussion between the Australian couple, marking the first time they had ever talked about it, and as a result they broke up soon after. The Canadian girl said she wished someone would bring up the question to her and her boyfriend in the same way! I suggested that she start the conversation herself by asking him about whether he will want a Christmas tree in his future home — an easy warm-up that can lead to a more serious conversation.
The discussion officially ended when the session ended, but it led to many more conversations over drinks, lunch tables, and poolside — everyone wanted to tell the “matchmaker” their story! My biggest takeaway from these conversations was a repudiation to an assumption I’ve always had: that all Jewish people have seriously considered the question of whether dating Jewish is important to them. Maybe it sounds naive, but I thought it was something everyone had mulled over!
What I found is that not only do people not have the right words to broach these discussions with partners who are not Jewish, they do not even know how to start the conversation internally with themselves. That’s something I’d like to either find if it already exists, or create myself — a tool for starting the conversation about the “Jewish factor” in dating, first as self-reflection and later, if necessary, with a partner of a different religion. I’m grateful to my colleagues around the world for giving me a new perspective and hoping to have similar conversations here at home.
Tribe 12’s Matchmaking is an easy, in-person alternative to dating apps for anyone looking to date in Philly’s Jewish community. Danielle will learn about you and the kind of person you’re looking for to start keeping an eye out for you — and hopefully set you up with someone great! To meet up with her for coffee, email email@example.com.