A Sikh and a Jew walk into a bar. Even though this sounds like the beginning of a crude joke, it’s not and it actually did happen. At a speakeasy with no distinguishing signage in downtown San Francisco, my date and I sipped Prohibition-era cocktails in a dimly lit, swanky atmosphere — not exactly the place I would necessarily think to question the merits of interfaith dating. But stranger things have happened.
Let’s back up for a minute. It’s not that I’m against interfaith dating. In fact, I think mixing up the Jewish gene pool can be a good thing. But the idea of dating outside my religion didn’t even occur to me until relatively recently, nor did I appreciate the impact such a decision might have.
I’ve almost always dated Jewish men. Even though I didn’t grow up in a super religious household, and the Jewish community where I was raised in Oregon was relatively small, Judaism was always a central part of my upbringing, and the importance of being with a Jewish partner was instilled in me from an early age.
In college I had a thirst for a larger Jewish community. I sat on a Hillel board and became very involved with Israel advocacy, and met my former partner through a Jewish organization.
The nearly eight-year relationship worked for the better part of my 20s, but our union was not consecrated with a signed ketubah and ceremony under a chuppah. And when it was over, all we had to show for it was a house in common and a cute dog.
It wasn’t until that relationship ended that being with someone who wasn’t Jewish even crossed my mind.
I never felt that my beshert necessarily needed Jewish lineage, but it was an underlying assumption I had picked up along the way.
Dating is a lot different at 30 than at 21. Things move faster and no longer do we have the pleasure of waiting years to “see what will happen.” There seemed to be a slowly ticking clock hanging over each eligible bachelor I met. On my mental list of deal-breakers, “not Jewish” was merely penciled in.
But as statistics illustrate, many people are putting off settling down. Many millennials are overeducated, underemployed and waiting longer to get hitched. And, as people get older and the pool of likely partners shrinks, they are more likely to marry outside of the faith.
Considering that we make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population, being with a Jew seems to me even more salient.
I was reminded of this predicament while talking with a rabbi last year when I was living in Israel. He kindly informed me (while pointing to his watch) that not only was time running out, but the future of the Jewish people was in my hands. I pointed out that under Jewish law, matrilineal decent will make my children Jewish regardless of the faith of their father.
Last fall, the Pew Research Center released staggering statistics about the American Jewish population that would send many single Jews running to their matchmaker for a shidduch.
Author Gabriel Roth wrote a bleak response to the Pew findings at slate.com. As an intermarried parent, he wrote that he doesn’t know how his daughter (who will not have a bat mitzvah, he stated) will respond in 20 years when Pew calls to see if she considers herself Jewish.
This does not represent all interfaith couples. There are many non-Jews with Jewish partners who are willing and happy to raise Jewish children. Although I don’t know how easily this works out.
In reality, what does it look like to raise children within an interfaith relationship? Even if my hypothetical partner and I can agree on raising a Jewish child, I am essentially asking him to give up his religious background for the sake of my desire to raise a Jewish child.
Even though raising a Jewish child is of utmost importance to me, I don’t know how I would feel about actually asking a partner to give up his beliefs. And would this arrangement be workable in the long run once the heat of the romance cools down?
While I surely identify with being Jewish, observe most dietary laws and go to shul more than just on the High Holy Days, I haven’t fully decided where I stand on interfaith marriage.
In terms of the Sikh, a second date is planned. I don’t think limiting the already diminishing dating pool is in order just yet.
Abra Cohen is a reporter and can be reached at email@example.com.