The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Join the discussion by commenting on this post, sharing it on Facebook or following the Forward on Twitter. And keep the questions coming. You can email your quandaries, which will remain anonymous, to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Divorced Jewish Female Seeking …
I am a Jewish divorcee who was formerly married to a Jewish man and raised a Jewish family in a Conservative Jewish home. Now I am 50-something, dating, and wondering what you think about me considering going out with non-Jewish men.—Ready to Move On
Allow Yourself to Follow Your Heart
KEREN MCGINITY: Finding love has no magic formula and you would be lucky to experience it again. You can try to limit who you date but you may unexpectedly meet someone who happens to not be Jewish and feel a connection worth exploring. You have done your portion to raise a Jewish family. Allow yourself to follow your heart but also ask yourself some key questions along the way.
How important is being with someone Jewish to your own sense of Jewish identity? Whether to date non-Jews depends on how you envision your future family and home life. Although your marriage to a Jewish man ended and your children are grown, if having a Conservative Jewish home is still important to you then you might want to think twice about going out with non-Jewish men unless you are willing to negotiate.
Do you want to be in the position of explaining Judaism to a non-Jewish partner? Dating someone who is not Jewish can be a wonderful opportunity to teach a potential romantic partner about Jewish life. If, however, you would prefer to be with someone who already knows what MOT stands for, then stick to dating Jewish men. Even two Jews have to elucidate for each other what resonates and why, but the teaching field is usually more level than when a Jew and a non-Jew are in a relationship.
Are you seeking companionship or a soul mate? You can certainly just date men of other backgrounds without any long-lasting influence. If your ideal scenario is to eventually remarry though, then you need to consider what message you will be sending if you meet and marry a non-Jew. My Jewish parents divorced and they both remarried non-Jews. Their choices illustrated to me that marrying someone Jewish was not a guarantee of marital happiness and that intermarriage was an option. Be aware that your actions could have consequences for your adult children (and grandchildren).
Dr. Keren R. McGinity is an author-educator affiliated with Brandeis University. Her books include the newly released “Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage, and Fatherhood” and “Still Jewish: A History of Women and Intermarriage in America”, a National Jewish Book Award finalist. Learn more at www.loveandtradition.com.
Relationships Are Hard Work As It Is
HAROLD BERMAN: That you are asking this question means you have some concerns, or at least some feelings of ambivalence about dating men who aren’t Jewish. If you didn’t have at least a lingering thought that it might matter, you wouldn’t be asking.
If you have a strong Jewish identity — and your previous marriage, how your raised your children, and that you are taking the trouble to ask for guidance about this all suggest that you do have a strong Jewish identity — then who you choose to date may matter very much.
Since your future will probably not involve raising children, some may suggest that your partner’s religion becomes less important. Although it is true that you will not be in the position of having to negotiate a future child’s religious upbringing, there are still many compelling reasons to gravitate toward a Jewish partner. Relationships require a lot of hard work as it is, and being on completely different pages religiously only complicates the situation.
Yes, it has been done — many times. My wife and I were intermarried for the first 16 years of our marriage. She then converted, and we’ve been an observant Jewish family ever since. We always had a very close and loving intermarriage. But no matter how successful a particular intermarriage might be, I can say from having been on both sides of the fence, that our being on the same page Jewishly makes for an even stronger, richer, closer relationship.
Also, you only mention dating, not marriage. But I’ve known many a date that led to marriage, even though that wasn’t the original intent. Finally, if your preference is for your grown children to marry Jewish, than the example you set is important. In short, especially given your background, you will likely be happier in a Jewish relationship.
Harold Berman is a veteran Jewish communal professional, and the Director of J-Journey.org, which provides mentoring and support for intermarried families exploring the possibilities of observant Jewish life. Harold is also, with his wife Gayle, the co-author of “Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope,” about their “intermarriage gone Jewish.”
Good Chance Mr. Right is Jewish
JORDANA HORN: This is a chance to reboot your life, but only you know where your own comfort zones ends. Sure, with your kids are out of the house at this point, you have more freedom to do as you like. But as a relationship with a hypothetical non-Jewish significant other becomes more significant, you still might find the need to address things you never thought you would in your previous life, since your children will be implicated in your choices of where to spend Christmas Eve, Eid, Lunar New Year, Diwali, etc. As they say, “it’s complicated.”
I’ve been unhappily divorced and am now happily remarried. Personally, after my divorce, I only dated Jewish men (of course, we met on JDate). I made that choice largely because being Jewish is such a large part of my family life. I had two boys under three, and wanted to find a partner who would help me to raise them as Jews in a Jewish home. I also wanted to have more children (and now have five in total!). My reasons, in short, were principles entwined with the personal.
After dating a veritable rogues gallery, as well as many nice men who simply weren’t right for me, I happened to have met a wonderful Jewish guy. The sad truth is that wonderful guys are hard to find, Jewish or not. I understand the impulse to ‘broaden the search,’ but want you to make sure that in doing so, you are being true to yourself and your own expectations for your future and your kids’. Wishing you the best of luck on your new adventure.
Jordana Horn is a writer, freelance journalist, lawyer, contributing editor at Kveller, columnist for the Forward, mom of five kids and way overtired.