Teenagers and Interfaith Dating

by Amy Krakovitz (Charlotte, NC)

Here’s my guilt and my joy: my husband isn’t Jewish. And yet we’ve made a wonderful life together for 35 years. We have two grown sons, and I love him more today than I did 35 years ago. But ask me what I want for my own children: I want them both to find partners who are Jewish or who have some Jewish ancestry. I want grandchildren who will identify as Jewish and who will love Israel, Hebrew, and Judaism the same way that I do.

So when I asked my 8th and 9th graders at the Consolidated High School for Jewish Studies in Charlotte, NC to write an essay on how they felt about interfaith dating, I didn’t want to influence their opinions. I can imagine how their parents feel about it, whether they are the children of two Jewish parents or one, whether their parents were born Jewish or are Jewish by choice.

Every one of these teenagers goes to a school in North Carolina where they are in a tiny minority; in some cases a student might even be the only Jew in the entire school. So the desire to date and have a relationship with someone is profoundly impacted by their exposure to a Christian majority. Most of their peers are not Jewish. It’s likely that most of their friends are not Jewish. This reality is evident in their essays. One hundred percent of the essays that I received approved of interfaith dating, at least for now while they are young.

They’ve exposed themselves in a very visceral and sometimes humorous way. I am truly proud of what they have produced.

As a class, we will continue to write about Jewish subjects and I hope these teens will continue to be as honest and forthright as they have been here.

Writing prompt: DATE ONLY JEWS OR PLAY THE FIELD?

Responses from 8th Graders:

As far as I know, Harrisburg, North Carolina, isn’t exactly known for its Jewish community. The only Jews who I’ve ever met in North Carolina are from the Charlotte JCC, which happens to be a half hour away. I don’t have the money, time, or license to ship myself to Charlotte every day (or even every other day) to see my Jewish friends. So how can I be expected to hold a committed, romantic relationship with one of them?

Exclusively dating Jews is not an option for me, nor has it been for most members of my family. My mother married an atheist, my aunt a Christian, and there have certainly been no special Jewish boys or girls in my own or any of my siblings’ lives. For the time being, I don’t foresee my siblings or myself with a Jewish counterpart. But that is not to say I wouldn’t date a Jew, for I certainly would. I’ll date whom I love regardless of gender, race, or religion. – Leah Kwiatskowski

* * *

I am only 13 years old and I have not been in a serious relationship yet. For now, I would play the field for it does not really matter whom you date now or if you do not date at all. For now, religion is not a factor in whom you date. Religion does matter as you get older and develop more serious relationships because if you believe you have found your wife and you are planning on having a child with her, deciding the religion of the baby will be a lot easier if you are both Jewish. For boys, when you first see an attractive girl, your first question is rarely about what religion she practices. It does not play a key role in choosing relationships when you are 13 years old or maybe even an older teenager. So for me, instead of sticking to just Jewish girls, I would play the field. – Isaac Turtletaub

* * *

Being a 14-year-old boy, I have not had any long-term, serious relationships. However, I have been on “little” dates and, honestly, most have been with non-Jews. Dating is a way to get to know new people and experience new things. Limiting whom you can date based on their religion seems a little ignorant to me. As people grow up, they begin to date more frequently. Dating only people who share your views could set you up for problems later. The old saying can often hold true: “Opposites attract.”

On the other hand, dating only Jews could have its advantages. Let’s say you dated and eventually married a woman who was not Jewish. You had a child who is now entering school and you don’t know whether to enroll that child in public, Jewish-based, or another type of religious school. How do you decide who gets the final say? Sometimes difficult situations can be avoided years before they occur. But what if you don’t meet someone amazing because of your religious standards?

In the end, your relationships shouldn’t be dependent on someone else’s religion. Everyone should have the opportunity to be with others. Limiting whom you date based on their religion is inconsiderate. Everyone should be able to date anyone. – Sam Friedman

* * *

Dating only Jews is an interesting topic to talk about. From a teenage perspective, I would say playing the field and dating girls of other religions is okay. In today’s world, it’s possible that the person you are dating now is not always going to be the person you marry when you get older. As teenagers, we are going through mood changes and changing our minds all the time. Just because someone “likes” a girl one day doesn’t mean that he will still like her months later. Most relationships among my peers last around a month. If you’re Jewish and you want to date a Christian girl at a young age, why not?

Teenager’s relationships are normally not that strong. The dating couple might see one another in school and occasionally on a weekend. It’s not the same as living with someone and seeing each other every day. We want to enjoy life as teenagers, not regret it.

Even for adults, it’s a personal decision. I would prefer to have a Jewish wife. But if I am in love with a Christian girl, I am going to marry that Christian girl and try to raise a Jewish family. – Jason Garfinkle

Responses from 9th graders:

As my favorite Beatle once said: “All you need is love.” Now what did he mean by that? Any love? Specific love from certain people? Love from your religion? Others? No. John didn’t mean that. Any love is worth attention, affection, and time. No matter a person’s religion.

My family would not agree. They say the same thing over and over. “Date Jewish, tatala! The shiksa goddess is not for you, tatala! Oy! I will match you up with a real Jewish lady!” (sigh) If they could leave me alone, life could be better.

I love girls. Christian and Jewish. It has nothing to do with how they look, how they talk, it just doesn’t! People have not looked at this the way they should: loving the person. Relationships are not about people’s backgrounds.

You love a girl for the girl she is. Her personality. Her sense of humor. And how she loves you. You can’t let religion affect it. Most people who date outside their religion do it because they love their partner. If someone denies their love or feelings for someone just because of religion, they’re absurd!

I’d like to ask any married couple: Name everything you love about your spouse. Every little single detail. Now top it off by saying they’re a different religion. If that can change your love for this person, then you aren’t really in love.

I encourage my friends to date outside their Judaism. Relationships are about loving someone. I really don’t care about their beliefs. These are two separate things: your love for a person and your thoughts about his or her religion. Whether you let one thing affect another is your prerogative. Just remember that you can hate a religion, but love a person. Love is love, no matter whether you accept or deny it. It’s love. – Sam Cohen

* * *

Half of my family is Jewish. They moved from Poland just before the Holocaust claimed their lives. My grandfather started a trucking company in New Jersey where my dad grew up until he was a teenager. My grandparents were fairly traditional Jews, with my grandfather serving as a part-time rabbi, and my grandmother studying Hebrew for her Bat Mitzvah when she was 65. Yet, they’ve never forced on me the idea of dating only inside the faith. In fact, I don’t even know what they feel about the subject because my mother converted to Judaism before she met my dad.

Personally, I believe it’s fine to date outside the faith. Your partner doesn’t have to change your faith or your idea of faith, and you don’t even have to talk about faith. If you talk about religion, you may learn something about someone else’s religion, and maybe even some new ideas that will serve to help you grow. Dating someone of a different faith should be considered a learning experience, not a break in religious observance. If you are talking about marriage or moving in together, you should definitely talk about your faith and how you want to raise your children, and possible religious conflicts.

Choosing whom to date is like choosing your career. You should make your own decision but be aware of the consequences. Dating outside the faith should be a personal choice on what you believe is right or wrong. Faith does not have to be a big part of a small relationship, although it can make for interesting conversations.

My parents were the first generation of my family to intermarry. Though my mother converted before they were married, her sister remains a devout Christian. I am aware of the differences in our religions, but I want to appreciate them rather than fight them.

I think the choice of dating outside your faith should be yours alone. You should not let peer pressure or family influence get in the way of your happiness, but you should be aware of the consequences. – Isabelle Katz

* * *

When people meet and fall in love, it happens naturally. We shouldn’t need to over-examine another person’s characteristics right from the start. This is why I believe that people should be free to date whomever they choose. In my experience, I’ve never been involved with someone of Jewish ancestry. Though someone may not pray to God in the same way that I do, or attend the same house of worship, he or she may still be a good person. In my perspective, beliefs are not the key factors in relationships. Values are. Truly good people are those who find ways to apply their beliefs to their lives and aspire to live a life by the right values.

Though the various religions across the globe may vary from one another, many of their values are universal. As long as two people share similar values in life and are able to maintain mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, there shouldn’t be anything holding them back from being together. God may want two people to come together. By limiting ourselves to one group of people, we may be denying ourselves someone who could make us truly happy. – Olivia Weidner

_____

 Amy Krakovit, an instructor in “Writing for Good” at the Consolidated High School for Jewish Studies, Charlotte, NC, worked with her 8th and 9th grade students to prepare these essays for publication. They are reprinted here with the permission of the students and their parents.

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5 Comments

Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity, Jewish writing

5 responses to “Teenagers and Interfaith Dating

  1. Interesting question, and very thoughtful responses from your students. I, too, struggle with Ammy’s dilemma. My first husband, the father of my son, isn’t Jewish. While I chose to marry a non-Jew, I want my son to choose a Jewish partner. Hypocritical? Perhaps. Before we married my family shared their concerns about this interfaith marriage. The gist of their message was that relationships and marriage are hard enough without adding the additional stresses and disconnects that can come with marrying someone from a different faith tradition. As much as my 25 year old self fought against what I believed to be their limited notions of love (don’t they understand that love will conquer all?!), eventually their words rang true. As I moved closer to Judaism following my son’s birth, the gap in connection with my non-Jewish husband widened. He supported me in my Jewish journey, but he wasn’t able to engage or truly partner with me. Now that I am remarried to a Jew, I find such comfort, ease, and opportunity for spiritual and intellectual growth as we grapple with and embrace Judaism together. It feels like being home.

  2. While the results make me wince (because they include values that are opposite my own–I don’t think teenagers should date at all, frankly, and I think Jews should date Jews), your essay project is certainly eye-opening and the essays really are a valuable read for Jewish parents and educators.

  3. Jeff Montoni

    (I am Amy’s husband) I said not long ago during our traditional Thanksgiving dinner “what are you thankful for” that I was thankful that I married the right person. I never looked at Amy as being Jewish but rather someone who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I grew up in a very small upstate NY town (2700 residents) and there were oddly enough a few Jewish families that lived there. One of my friends in 1st grade Nathan Samuelson, his parents owned the clothing store in town. Patty Wass who I dated briefly, and Jerry Bakash who was a high school friend and I do miss him. The story goes that when I was born, my grandfather celebrated by drinking Mogen David wine. i guess it was in the cards. i have two very special sons who have had the privilege of being raised in a very Jewish household. I was as active and supportive as I could be. It was never a question of how they would be raised, never an issue with me. I fell out of Catholicism a long time ago, and have kept an open mind about how our family worships and what we believe. Sorry to ramble, but these kids are young and they have their whole lives ahead of them. The lessons they are leaning now will make them more receptive to the very changing world we live in.

  4. Thanks for sharing this interesting exchange with your thoughtful, articulate students. I teach poetry-based creative writing in schools in suburban Chicago, including a Jewish day school, and I love to hear what kids have to say and how they say it.

    I was raised non-observantly Jewish in the 60’s and 70’s. A handful of years back I became a bat mitzvah in tandem with my oldest daughter as she turned 13. I almost backed out because I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to my Jewishness, but went ahead because I felt with strong clarity that I wanted my kids to identify as Jews (my husband is also Jewish). I’m glad that I became a bat mitzvah. My sense of Jewishness continues to evolve; I consider myself a Jew first and always, but not last or only.

    I have shared with my kids a view I once heard that made a lot of sense to me: it’s easier to be married to someone whose grandmother’s kitchen smelled like your grandmother’s kitchen smelled.

  5. sheena gravamen

    Thank you for sharing the thoughts of your students. Im actually an old one (though my heart isnt) but I still feel the dilemma of dating a Jewish guy. They’re still young thats why its very easy for them to say that..but what if your old enough to enter in more serious and more complicated relationship? Are u still going to ignore all the difficulties your going to face? How about the families of both sides? When the wedding is set, who’s going to preside? A Rabbi or a Priest? Where are u going to do it, synagogue or church? There’s a lot of worries to think of…but your students are right..cause in the end, it doesn’t matter anymore…you wont give any care to all of that as long as you love him..any way its not his religion why you love him…its him.regardless of who and what he is..

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