Sunday, February 16, 2014

Let's Talk about Love

I've always liked Natalie Portman. I thought Black Swan was brilliant, especially her performance. She once played one of my favorite historical figures. (Sidebar: this just rocked my world.) I started wearing Miss Dior again after her gorgeous ads for the fragrance came out. On that note, I loved how boldly she handled the John Galliano fiasco. And I can appreciate her approach to Judaism. Unlike some other Hollywood stars, Natalie doesn't try to reduce it to bagels and lox or a sprinkling of Yiddish, but openly discusses her love of Israel and her respect for how Judaism is done there (as compared to LA).

Yep, she married a non-Jew. A rather handsome professional ballet dancer with a French accent at that. In case you had any doubts as to Ms. Portman's commitment to her religion, the ceremony was Jewish, she named their son Aleph, and it was recently revealed that while she is filming her directorial debut in Israel, her husband is studying to convert to Judaism. This, mind you, is just before they move to Paris for his new position with the Ballet, when it is not an easy time to be Jewish in France.

I obviously can't speak to why Natalie fell for her husband or what made her move forward with a relationship with him. I also don't know whether she actually wears Miss Dior; I just know I love it on myself. This post isn't really about her, nor do I make huge life decisions based on what celebrities are doing. But I have always aimed to be completely honest on this blog, and I think it's time to admit that only dating Jewish has made me absolutely miserable.

I thought I was doing everything the right way. I didn't so much as browse JDate during my conversion process. I didn't think twice about spending the first two years of my thirties abstaining from dating and devoting myself to studying Judaism. And then, after I dried off from the mikvah and slapped some Essie on my naked nails, I realized I wasn't getting any younger and I contacted a shadchan.

I was so sold on the shidduch system, you have no idea. Finally, I thought, a man was going to appreciate me for who I am, instead of what I look like. I'd imagined having intimate conversations over tea with my matchmaker. She would get to know me as a friend and provide advice like a favorite aunt. I was not expecting to be barked at with a Long Island accent that would put Fran Drescher to shame. Who was I? How did I find her? Who was my Rabbi? How long had I been frum? I was blissfully unaware at the time, but I know all too well now: If you're a convert or BT, you are never, ever done proving yourself. The day school your great-grandchildren go to will reflect your sincerity (or for some, lack thereof) as a Jew.

I had no idea what a shidduch resume was, and she certainly had no time to tell me. I was instructed to call her when I was in New York so she would know I was serious. (Fun Fact: NYC is the center of the universe. You shouldn't even be Jewish if you don't live there.) I think I continued to hold my phone to my ear for a full minute while trying to process what had just happened.

But it got better. And by better, I mean better for a writer, because someday I'll look back on all this and laugh. Make no mistake, it got worse. I will provide here a handful of highlights. Picture them as a movie montage to that Fiddler on the Roof song, if you will. One shadchan dumped me because I was not interested in her first and only suggested match. If there is a nicer way to reject a gentleman than, "He seems lovely, but I'm just not feeling it, I'm sorry," I'm open to feedback. I gave up on shadchans and joined JWed. I was contacted by a bevy of Howies, Bennys, and Mendys, all of whom asked me if I would wear a sheitel before asking how my day was going. My profile, for the record, stated that I would, but I suppose they were determined to ascertain my actual commitment level. (See above.) I've had automated email responses that were warmer than JWed messages. I've had job interviews that were more personal than JWed dates. I moved on.

I began meeting Jewish men naturally, both through Jewish events and my increased Jewdar. I went through a phase of dating non-Orthodox Jewish men, thinking that I could inspire them into observance. They must have also presumed they could change my views, because this only resulted in me constantly being on the defense. I met a guy who wanted to identify himself as Orthodox but didn't keep kosher or Shabbat, yet told me he wouldn't have respected me if I didn't. (Again, see above.) Then he proceeded to look me up and down and explain why shomer negiah didn't matter. He never got a date. I had a brief relationship with an Israeli who spent more time at the gym than with me. I realized that we had nothing in common besides being Jewish.

And that brings me to the end of my kvetch-fest and to my ultimate point. In searching for love, it was easy to forget to love myself. I got caught up in trying to prove my sincerity. I bought into the mentality that only a man's Jewishness mattered, regardless of anything and possibly everything else I'd be compromising on. I subjected myself to treatment that I did not and do not deserve.

I have accepted that I'll probably never be considered "good enough" for a true blue FFB. But you know something, Benny? I kind of think that a grown man in his thirties should go by "Ben" or "Benjamin." I wish we could have had a real conversation instead of a one-sided interrogation. So the feeling is mutual, best of luck.

The same men who accuse me of being brainwashed by Orthodoxy have got it locked in their brains that the ban on pork was for sanitary reasons and refuse to consider any other explanations. I need to be with someone whose curiosity and passion for Judaism is never sated.

And of course, Jewish or not, I refuse to settle for someone who doesn't respect women or treat me well. Overall, I've reached the point similar to the one in my conversion journey, when I decided to stop just doing what was expected of me and hold out for what I wanted. Hey, it worked then. I found a Rabbi who was kind and patient. He and the Rabbis on my Beit Din made sure I knew what I was getting into, but they also trusted me to be a good Jew. Those were my standards when it came to converting. I'm so high-maintenance, I know.

I don't operate in extremes. I'm not saying I'll never date another Jewish man or that I'm off to join I have always believed that converts come to Judaism in different ways. It so happens that I was introduced through a class, not a man, but I know a few very sincere converts who came to Judaism through a Jew. I'm aware of at least one cited in the Talmud as well.

It occurs to me that the commitment to Judaism and other important qualities I am seeking in a Jewish man, I may very well find in a non-Jewish one. Funnily enough, where Reform and Conservative Jews seek to correct me on my supposed overzealous practices, non-Jews couldn't be more supportive and enthusiastic. And who else could better understand my pop culture and Jewish references than a fellow convert who also balances both? Most importantly--and I really can't stress this enough--I love the idea of a man truly falling for the person I am and not seeing me as a checklist. I've had it once before. I believe with all my heart that I'll have it again.

From this point forward, I am open to all possibilities.

Shavua tov,


  1. As an FFB, your dating experience pretty much mirrors mine.

    One of the biggest scams in the frum world is the "shadchan." Because of the aforementioned "Fiddler on the Roof," we like to focus on the existence of Yenta the Matchmaker, and not her horrendous success rate. I have never read the original Isaac Bashevis Singer tale, but probably if there was a Yenta, she was a local widow who was sought out as a middle-person to diplomatically arrange marriages and receive a fee for that service, not one who was able to competently match two souls.

    As I detail on my blog, no meeting with a so-called "shadchan" ever went well. In my experience, the shidduch system is only successful in terms of one friends and acquaintances who know you and truly think they know of someone else for you. That's how it worked for my siblings, my parents, and dare I say it my grandparents in Europe.

    It also makes things complicated in that the original "rules" of the shidduch system has been arbitrarily changed (i.e., the male is supposed to be redt the female first, not the other way around).

    In my eagerness to be "open", I have definitely compromised with men who were not on my religious or nice level; thankfully, they said no. I always say that God is watching out for me, since I become incredibly stupid when on dates.

    My basis of who I am is my beliefs, and if a man does not share that then I have nothing to share with him. Do not date with the perspective of changing a man, even his beliefs; in general, changing men is an impossibility.

    Those who go through life believing that Hashem is in their lives will be worthy of having Hashem in their lives. I keep in reminding myself of this when I want to strangle yet another date who was supposedly "wonderful!"

    For all Jewesses, no matter if they be FFB, BT, or newly minted, we have the Great Matchmaker in the Sky on our side. Know yourself, know your faith, and we shall overcome the Bennys.

    1. I appreciate your wisdom and positivity, and you make some great points. I know that dating isn't really fun for anyone a lot of the time, even for non-Jews. I'm grateful to be part of a world that teaches their sons to value women and marriage. I completely agree with you that the current shidduch system is a joke. Most of my frustration stems from how converts are treated, and how it really comes to the surface with dating. These men have absorbed the idea that converts can't really be trusted, we could go OTD at any time without warning, we need to be watched intently to prove ourselves sincere, and they express as much instead of just getting to know me. For a person who fought hard and long to join the Jewish people, it's really psychologically harmful to feel like I'm still not good enough, I still don't quite belong. It's also, quite frankly, culture shock, because in the non-Jewish world I was and still am considered a catch. I like to think I am in both worlds. My devotion to Judaism is real.

      I will say you are spot on about changing men. I am done trying to "inspire" liberal Jews through dating. Honestly, I think there is more brainwashing in Reform and Conservative circles, because most of them never become acquainted with Talmudic debate and different rulings. They learn one thing from their Rabbi when they're an adolescent, and they hold onto it for the rest of their lives. I cannot be with a man who has secular American values and who treats being Jewish like it's a cutesy cultural aspect of himself.

      I completely agree that trusting in Hashem is a huge part of the process. Turning to Hashem is actually what helped me find my third and final Rabbi and convert. I know He will guide me through this, too. But I'm also confident that He would not ask me (or you, or anyone) to participate in a system that does not treat people with kindness and consideration.

      If I was going to compromise my beliefs for love, I would have given Judaism up entirely and married the love of my life (thus far) a few years ago. Nothing and no one can tear me away from this. If I end up with a FFB who holds a positive view of converts and has diverse interests, of course I'll be ok with that. But if I end up with a man who falls in love with me before he falls in love with Judaism, who will respect me even more because I introduced him to his religion, I'll be ok with that, too.

      You're an intelligent, eloquent, and hilarious Jewish woman, beautiful inside and out. You deserve only the best and I hope you meet him soon. Don't ever settle for a Benny. :)

    2. Man, you just make me tear up.

      People say incredibly stupid things. I have been reading Brene Brown's books (I highly recommend them; check out her videos on TED), and I have discovered that shame is what makes others judgmental and exclusionary. In the frum community, it is concealed beneath a mantle of so-called religiosity, but we are an emotionally crippled nation, forgetting the spirit of the law as opposed to the application.

      It is an effort for me that when someone says something hurtful, for me to turn around the perspective: It's not about me. It's about them, their shame and fear.

      This is a great article by Rabbi Berel Wein that I find myself thinking of constantly:

      I am so sorry that the frum community has so far to go, and that we have hurt you and other newcomers. We should know better, and we don't. We have been charged to enlighten, and we are falling short of the mark.

      As a sidebar, the blogger Frum Satire, an FFB, married a convert. Aliza Hausman, a convert, married an FFB rabbi.

      I love your thoughts and your posts. Don't stop blogging.

    3. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement, and for sharing that beautiful piece by Rabbi Wein. It was inspiring in its own right, and I will be rereading it often, but it also made me realize that I get so irked by the questions from shadchans and the Bennys because they're not seeking to assess my actual character traits, but rather the signs of conformity. Do they want me to wear a sheitel because everyone wears a sheitel and so that people will eat at our house, or because I believe in the mitzvah and want our home to have holiness?

      I have seen Brene Brown on Oprah's Lifeclass and thought she was great. I'll check out her TED talks.

      Thank you again for understanding and rooting me on. I can't tell you how much it means to me. xoxox

    4. So-called "professional" shadchans are a dime a dozen nowadays, and chances are they don't even have success rates. It is probably because of the reasons you cite. Anyone can be a shadchan (my mother is quite proud for her one shidduch) and I have tried it too, although it didn't end well. So focus more on the people you meet, since, as my mother says, the average person probably knows about 200 people, and so on; that is what the true essence of the shidduch system is.

    5. I know there are some great shadchans out there, and I don't want to judge them all by a few negative experiences, because that is the very approach I don't want people taking to converts. I really meant it when I said I'm open to all possibilities, and that includes the right shadchan. I think by relaxing a little and not turning to one method as THE solution, I'll have better luck. I had many moments of frustration during my conversion, but in retrospect, I would not change a thing. I'm glad I didn't convert under a Rabbi who didn't trust me, but I'm also glad I earned it. I'm sure I'll feel the same when I'm happily married. :)

  2. Now first off Kate, you are the best, you do fit in and you are an incredible catch, as is Leah. She is so funny. I only had a very short and hideous introduction to Jewish dating, so I can slightly relate. The whole JDate is an absolute joke, and my experience was disgusting.
    I know you will not compromise, as your standards are spot on. I wish you nothing but the best, and so much hatzlacha in finding your beshert.
    As you know, my husband is not Jewish. Every Rabbi has told me I should divorce, and we were seconds away from this. As I began my Orthodox journey, and to date, he has been nothing but supportive and participates. He respects my dishes (haha) and does his best. While he has shown some interest in further studies, who knows what may happen? Maybe he will convert, and maybe not. Regardless of what I've been told, the divorce because you find out your Jewish but your husband isn't and you're going to be orthodox thing isn't going to happen for me.
    I will continue to daven for you, for Leah, and for all the wonderful women who are trying to find a man worthy of them.
    You are too precious to settle.

    1. Thank you, Chava. I was unaware of the details of your story--you are so brave for sharing and I admire and respect you even more now. Of course the Rabbis are looking at it from a halachic perspective, but I agree that a marriage cannot be thrown away overnight, and such a delicate situation requires the utmost sensitivity to all feelings involved. I give you much, much credit for continuing on the derech and being such a great example of a Jewish woman. I wish you only happiness and Shalom Bayis. As it happens, I kept finding strange things in my mom's family, so I am having an expert look into my background. The kicker is that my great-great-grandmother's maiden name was Schmidt--a last name common for both Jews and non-Jews. Ah, Hashem has a sense of humor. Thanks again. xoxox

  3. You're too sweet, Kate. I feel awful for the single gals in our communities. The horror stories are endless. The 2 best were the man who wouldn't date the woman because she wore pajamas instead of a gown; and the gal who wore patent leather pumps-- her date nixed her for one may be able to see up her skirt sue to the shine of said shoes. Of course on Lea's blog, the stories continue for her, and it seems for you as well, Kate.
    Thanks for your kind words. I do understand the halacha behind it all, but (there's always a but), the heartache we both went through was too much to bare.
    How interesting about your potential family history. Now wouldn't that be something?

    1. Oh wow. Those stories are so sad, they're funny. That's the very checklist approach I take issue with. It's hard for me to imagine that anyone can find their beshert based on such detailed demands. I believe in each person defining what is essential and non-negotiable, and then being willing to compromise and/or discuss other things. I love Chanel Egoiste and hate leather furniture, but these things wouldn't make or break a decision for me.


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