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 GoyimDate.com. 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.