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Playing My Jewish Cards

Monday, July 29, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

I'm Jewish, and while I would ultimately like to date someone Jewish as well, I am open to dating non-Jews who would be either open to converting or at least strongly supportive of a Jewish home. My question is, at what point in the dating process should I bring up the importance of my Jewish background?

Signed,
Playing My Jewish Cards


Dear Playing,

It's been over a year since I answered a version of this question ("Newly Dating," 3/12/12), so it seems like that's far enough in the past that I can take a moment to revisit how to approach this scenario. Hopefully I don't come across as unjustifiably smug to say that I actually think my previous answer was pretty good, but I also think this is a common enough struggle and a complex enough topic that there's always more to say. 

I'm happy to report that in the past year, a lot of strides have been made in the Jewish community to be more welcoming and more supportive of interfaith families. Interfaith Family started a specific network in Philadelphia; they are offering classes and programs for families facing interfaith questions around lifecycle issues and also for general educational purposes. Big Tent Judaism has become a more and more commonly heard phrase, and not just referring to the specific organization that runs programs under that title. I happen to keep my ears tuned to these things, but even if you don't, I hope you've felt an increasingly inclusive vibe in the air. I happen to think that the tidal shift when it comes to same-sex marriage has also loosened up a lot of people to consider the value in wanting other people to be entitled to happiness even when their happiness looks different, and I think this applies to interfaith marriage as well.

All that being said, when you're on a first date sitting across from a guy or girl who wants to know about your background and whether you'll be spending future Christmases together, whatever you decide to communicate needs to be respectful of both you and the person sitting across from you. You don't want (or need) to lead with a statement articulating your precise feelings on your own relationship to Judaism or your goals for a relationship with a person who might not share those exact feelings. You do need to have a sense of what you're comfortable doing or not doing, saying or not saying when it comes to your religion and also to someone else's.

Bring up your Judaism as a part of yourself, because that's what it is. It's one of your values, a huge part of your identity, a clear factor when it comes to your life's priorities. If your partner's religion isn't a deal breaker to you, don't present it as a deal breaker. If openness to Judaism is a must-have, present it as a must-have. Don't hide anything about yourself and your Judaism, but don't go out of your way to present it in a combative fashion. Being honest is at the core of any successful romantic relationship, so be honest. You'll be fine.

Be well,
Miriam

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