Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Is it Racist to Exclusively Date Jews When You're Secular?

I feel like I've had this conversation a thousand times with a thousand different people.

When I was younger and still somewhat religious, I used to tell people that I would only date Jews. It was partly because my religious beliefs were a part of who I was, and I thought a relationship with someone who wasn't Jewish was destined to end in fighting.

More than that, however, it was because my parents would be really angry and really hurt. When I was a teenager and began rebelling (and hanging out with people who were not Jewish), my parents sat me down and gave me a whole talk about why it's so important to only date Jews. I can't remember the specifics of the speech, but I am certain that my grandparents being Holocaust survivors came into it. Also, I remember that my parents thought it crucial that the religion not get watered down. That the only way to ensure that was to remain religious, to date religious, and to marry religious. (The whole idea of this is odd in retrospect, since neither of them actually grew up particularly observant or religious, and were certainly not observant when they dated or got engaged.)

Lately, with the introduction of a boyfriend into my life who is not Jewish, I've been thinking about the inevitable reactions that some of my family and friends will have when they find out. I've had the conversation with a bunch of my friends who do not care and the question came up again: is it racist of my friends and family to want me to exclusively date Jews?

As someone who was very uneasy with that idea in my younger years, I've been surprised to discover that my answer to that question is actually yes. Yes, it is racist. Would it be racist for my siblings to date only Jews? For my religious friends? No, certainly not. For them, religion is an essential ingredient in their everyday lives. They want to keep Shabbos with someone who wants to keep Shabbos with them. They want to be with someone for whom sending kids to (expensive) Jewish day schools is a priority. The list could go on infinitely due to the nature of religious Judaism.

But let's look at me for a second. I don't believe in the precepts of Judaism. I don't practice. I don't keep a kosher kitchen or Shabbos. I don't do any of these things. Judaism comes into my life only when I visit my family or in a sort of ethnic way -- when I make my own celebrations of holidays. There is no sense in which my life requires me to be with someone who is Jewish. If I were to narrow my dating field to only Jewish men, it would strictly be a matter of how they were born, not who they are, what they believe, or what they practice. And that, from my perspective, cannot be construed as anything but racism.

I think it's interesting how many completely secular Jews go about their lives wanting to only date Jewish people. I mean, I get it. There's the preservation instinct, which comes from the terrible things that have happened throughout Jewish history and have made us very tribal. And still, I think, when you come down to it, it's counter to what most of those secular Jews stand for in terms of their morals and ways of life.