Fear and Loathing in the Shtetl: How I Came Out to My Orthodox Mother About My Non-Jewish Boyfriend – A Story in Four Parts

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A10 Interfaith

Written by Yahalom.  Yahalom is a first-time Jewrotica writer.  Feel free to clarify any unfamiliar terms in the Jewrotica glossary.

Rated PGI: Accidentally in Love

I meet “Q” on a freezing Tuesday in January.

The most banal of meetings: a blind date, stupidly arranged for the first day back to school after winter break. It’s 10 degrees outside. I have 140 midterms to grade, and little inclination to fake-laugh at some guy’s jokes.

He texts that he is wearing a black hat, and I envision some terrifying cross between hipster and hasid, a fear dispelled in fifteen seconds of first-date conversation.

“I’m a classical musician,” he tells me. I cross “possible hipster?” off my big, prefab list of Reasons Why It Won’t Work Out.

As for his hashkafa: no issue here. The man is not a Jew.

This, I think with some measure of satisfaction, will never last.

Except, for some reason, it does.

I suppose no one ever “intends” to fall in love. That old chestnut: That’s why we call it falling, yuk yuk yuk. The not-badness of our first date is so revelatory that it takes a few more dates for it to register that I am enjoying this. Not sighing in relief at the absence of badness, or shrugging a noncommittal “meh” when he asks me out again, but actually having fun.  Pretty soon there are long late-night conversations, and public hand-holding, and dinner-making, and gooey feelings, and I’m in way, way over my head.

II: A Necessary Interlude

So, interfaith dating.

Though I was raised frum—K-12 Modern Orthodox education, a hilariously unsuccessful half-year of hippie seminary—I’ve been wandering Off the Derech for over five years, longer than I spent getting torah guidance at my Modern Orthodox high school. My deviation from the Orthodox party line is, I suspect, no more radical than your average rational person’s, but it’s hard to shake off 20-odd years of family practice, not to mention a 2,000-year-old cultural identity.

The labels are irrelevant, but they boil down to this: Despite some spiritual low points (two years of out-and-out atheism, flavored with whatever nihilistic apikorsus I was reading that week at secular college), I’ve carved out a derech for myself. It’s not the Judaism of the OU, and it doesn’t have to be.

In another time, the Powers that Be might have called me Acher and dispensed with me; in 2012, I’m very much a part of a religiously literate, if not ortho-prax, culturally and spiritually vibrant Jewish conversation. Before “Q,” I imagined myself ending up with a post-Orthodox guy who, like me, had had his fun crossing all the lines in the sand during his rumspringa, and was looking for a way to embrace, if not halakha, then its spiritual cousin, “cultural practice.”

Somehow, I found myself dating a man who had no relationship to Judaism whatsoever.

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  • This was witty, touching and maybe a little sad – but powerful. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    I identified with a lot of what you wrote. Though I’ve never had a real relationship (romantic/partner) with someone outside of the Jewish community, most of my friends in Austin are non-Jews or super non-affiliated Jews. Until I left the Northeast, I didn’t realize how much of my language is permeated with Hebrew and Jewish vocabulary. Sometimes I censor myself and translate words for friends, and other times I just say whatever I am thinking – so that the 16 housemates in my co-op eventually learn “Layla Tov”.

    Interestingly and to your point about introducing Q to friends, most of my Austin friends (or even romantic interests) “make sense” in the context of Austin, but just wouldn’t if I transplanted them back to my home community. Do you understand what I mean by that? Perhaps it’s just the occupational hazard of living in two worlds…

  • Anonymous Internet Commenter

    This was kind of sad. I feel for the author’s family. What a thing to have to go through–raising kids with your values and having them spit them back in your face.

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