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Dating Maze #357: Loyal to the Tribe

April 23, 2012 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

I want to marry a Jewish guy, but they all seem to be dating non-Jewish women!

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

Everyone seems to be finding Jewish boys, but me. At least three of my non-Jewish girlfriends are currently dating Jewish guys. Why do Jewish boys lean toward non-Jewish girls?

I don't want to intermarry – not because of family pressures, but because I believe it is important to have unifying values in a family. I don't want to raise children in two conflicting religions. I just want a nice Jewish boy. Is that too much to ask?


Dear Lizzie,

We see that you feel a strong Jewish identity, and recognize that it's important to have a unified religious identity in the home that you will someday build with your husband. That's quite insightful – because shared values are one of the most important foundations of a successful marriage. Doron Kornbluth, author of Why Marry Jewish?, cites five research studies all concluding that intermarried couples experience higher divorce rates than same-faith couples, and intermarried couples who stay together "have more problems and less happy partners than same-faith marriages."

Your reticence to raise children in a home with two different religions is also insightful. Kornbluth notes that children who grow up in families that provide "a structured and stable family life have fewer emotional problems, have a more positive sense of self, and are able to respond to stressful situations." Children have a distinct developmental advantage when their parents incorporate a single religious and cultural tradition into family life. The children "derive a sense of security and a stronger identity from family rituals and from a moderate level of order, regularity, and structure."

Parents often don't realize the difficulty for a child to grow up with two different traditions.

A variety of studies demonstrate that children who grow up in intermarried homes can feel marginalized, and often remark that they feel as if they don't fully belong to either parent's faith, or don't know where they belong. In particular, parents who want to expose their children to their own heritage often don't realize that it isn't easy for a child to grow up with two different traditions.

People who interdate may not have made this connection. Or, they may have decided that they only want to marry another Jew, but decide that it's okay to interdate as long as they aren't “ready to get serious.” with anyone. It seems that while about half of young American Jews desire to marry Jewish, fewer than 10 percent feel it is important to only date other Jews. It is difficult to see far enough into the future to understand that they might fall in love with a non-Jewish dating partner and decide that these feelings are more important than their plan to have a Jewish home.

One other reason why some of the Jewish men you know are dating non-Jewish women is that they may not have a strong feeling of Jewish identity. When deciding whom to date, Judaism becomes a non-criteria, or a minor one. Whether they are just dating casually or have decided to look for the right person to marry, their first priority is finding someone they can connect to emotionally and feel attracted to. If they're ready to date more seriously and start to think about shared values and compatible life goals, religion may not factor into the equation at all. They'll find other common “values” – based on politics, education and entertainment (films, music, books) that form much of the western culture in which they have been raised.

Many young adults who don't feel a strong religious connection in their late teens and 20s don't realize that as they mature, there is a strong likelihood they'll begin to experience a religious awakening of sorts. Particularly when people begin to settle down and start a family, they often turn to the religious roots they absorbed while growing up. Carole Rayburn, a psychologist with a degree in ministry, finds that "People with long-dormant beliefs sometimes have sudden religious awakenings and renewed interest in their roots once the kids arrive… and at the holidays it hits them between the eyes that they will be responsible for the child's religious education and traditions." This emerging desire to impart Jewish views and rituals into an intermarried family often threatens the harmony of the marriage.

Practical Tips

We realize that you don't have to be persuaded about the desirability of marrying another Jew, but we hope that our discussion has helped reinforce your determination to only date Jewish men. We have a number of suggestions to help you find good dating partners, but first, you should take some time to clarify where you see your life going over the next five years, what qualities will help you grow in that direction, and what qualities you seek in a man you'd like to date. Narrow down each list of qualities to the 4 or 5 most important to you.

Also, think about your own connection to Judaism and how you see it growing over time. Put together a short description of your personality, where your life is going, and the type of person you'd like to meet. This will help you when you start networking.

Initially, we suggest that you pursue a goal of developing stronger ties to Jewish communal life and a larger Jewish social circle. This is one of the best ways to ultimately meet Jewish men who would be good for you to date.

(1) Go to places where other Jews go. If you're still in school, look into clubs and other activities for Jews your age – synagogue-based youth groups, college Hillel chapters, Jewish outreach activities, or programs at the local Jewish Community Center. Explore the availability of lectures, concerts, or mini-courses on Jewish subjects, find something that interests you, and go! Try to do some of your shopping at a local Jewish bakery, kosher market, and bookstore, and get to know the merchants and other customers. Enrich your social circle by striking up acquaintances with people of all ages.

(2) Develop more Jewish friendships. Is it possible that you don't have many Jewish friends? That could be a reason you're not meeting or being introduced to Jewish guys. Try to nurture friendships with some of your new Jewish acquaintances. If you attend an educational or cultural activity (as suggested above), introduce yourself to some of the other people there and see if you can cultivate a connection by chatting together after the program or meeting for coffee.

(3) Get more Jewishly involved. Do you attend synagogue or Shabbat dinners for men and women in your age group? This can strengthen your spiritual connection to Judaism while providing opportunities to socialize and form connections with other Jews. It's also a good idea to think about incorporating Jewish community service into your life. Volunteering for the community is a good idea for everyone – it helps us feel a stronger connection to others and gives us a sense of responsibility that our “me-oriented” culture sometimes encourages us to forget. There's never a shortage of Jewish community projects in need of help – becoming a Jewish big sister, delivering kosher meals on wheels, visiting Jewish hospital patients, raising money for a Jewish cause, or adopting an elderly Jewish nursing home resident as a surrogate grandparent.

(4) Stretch your Jewish knowledge. Enroll in a course in basic Judaism, Jewish literature or music, Jewish history, or even Jewish ethnic cooking. This will strengthen your resolve to marrying Jewish, and will keep you focused and feeling positive about the prospects.

(5) Move to a more Jewish area. If you don't live in a neighborhood with a noticeable Jewish population, consider relocating to a part of town, or a nearby community, that has a larger mix of Jews. If you're a college student on a campus with few Jews and Jewish activities, consider transferring to a school with a more active Jewish campus life. Most people meet dating partners through some sort of networking, and networking is much harder when the people in your daily circle don't have connections to the type of men you'd like to meet.

(6) Solicit dating suggestions. Ask the people you've become acquainted or friendly with if they know a good Jewish man for you to date. Most people have set up a friend or relative at one time or another, and your asking may trigger thoughts of a friend, co-worker, neighbor or relative who might be good for you. Briefly describe the kind of man you're looking for and ask if they know someone like that. Ask about some details you feel are important for you to know, and offer some more information about yourself. If the person they describe sounds like a possibility, ask if they'd consider setting you up.

To expand your network, think about enlisting your parents, relatives, and long-time friends. And open yourself up to the possibility of using a reputable Jewish Internet dating site or matchmaking site to help you find potential dates both inside and outside of your geographic area.

These suggestions all require you to become proactive, but they are optimal ways to meet suitable Jewish guys. With a little persistence, there is a strong likelihood that one of them will pay off in a jackpot.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry


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