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 Interfaith2

III: What to Expect When You’re Interfaith-Dating

Expect to explain everything.

Expect that your Orthodox friends will alienate him—b’shogeg, but still—by talking about the Agudah and Moshava and a recent date at Pardes until he breaks in, very politely, with an “um … what?” Expect to become a whispering translator, adept at sneaking a quick explanation in the lull between conversational topics. (Simple conversations spiral into endless tangents of explication, an assault of verbal hyperlinks.) Expect palpable discomfort when he realizes that his instinctively proffered handshake just made your female friend feel super awkward. Expect to feel like the worst teacher on the planet, torn between your own post-Orthodoxy and your desire to make Judaism seem like it makes sense.

Expect to feel like a jerk when you hear the condescension in your own voice as you embark on a conversational Hebrew lesson: “Eizeh tzeva zeh?” (“what color is this?) you ask, pointing at a nearby car and wincing. You sound like a kindergarten teacher. To his credit, he says only “adom,” (red) and asks you to hand him his “mishkafei shemesh” (sunglasses).

When contemplating your future together, expect anguish. When wondering how to explain this to your parents: expect to fudge, to omit, to prevaricate. Expect lie after lie to pile on you until you are Atlas, struggling under the weight of this huge, fake world that you have built for your parents to live in, the world in which you went on all those vacations with your friend “Arianne.” The world in which you live with your friend “Ramona.”  The world in which you just aren’t dating right now, thank you.

Expect those lies to hurt more and more every time you mouth them.

My parents know that I am not exactly Orthodox, but under their roof, I maintain strict adherence to ritual, out of tradition and respect. Beliefs are thornier: ungovernable and private. It is only when they spill out, becoming reified and obvious, that they are a problem. “Q” is six feet and 150 pounds of Problem. He is a choice that I made. There is no way to pretend he isn’t there.

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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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