Retro Feature: Small Community, Big Problems – What’s a Jewish Girl to Do?

This article was commissioned by the website Interfaith Family (now 18 Doors) in 2009. It had been almost a decade since “Single Jewish Female: Dating Within the Faith” was published, and I was asked to write an update of what happened since. Now this article is over a decade old, and of course is out of date in terms of some of the details, but I still find it and its predecessor amusing and the topic is still one of frequent conversation in my circles.

Small Community, Big Problems: What’s a Jewish Girl to Do?

In 2000, I wrote an article called “Single Jewish Female: Dating Within the Faith.” The piece documented my quest to date Jewish men, while not ruling non-Jews completely out of the picture. With tongue-in-cheek humour, I spoke about my unique struggles with both groups while dealing with parental pressure to date only Jews while living in a city with a small Jewish population.

Of everything I have written in my career as a freelance writer, this article has gotten the biggest reaction. To this day I still receive e-mails by others dealing with similar dating dilemmas, including numerous requests to follow up with a “what’s happened since.”

What has happened since is a lot of the same. I still live in the same city, I am still not married, and I still date non-Jews. Interdating, whether you are for it or against it, is simply a fact of life in cities with smaller Jewish populations. Edmonton has around 800,000 residents in the metro area. The Jewish community is around 6000, and has remained at that number since I was a child. Do the math. Unless one avoids having a social life, intimate connections with non-Jews are going to happen.

I don’t date Jewish men as often as I did in my 20s. Shifting demographics has a lot to do with this. Men in my age group tend to be already married. The Jewish men in my community have mostly either married out or moved away to large Jewish communities. The lack of a decent Jewish social life and kosher amenities, combined with our near Arctic climate really does not create a huge incentive for a Jewish person to move here.

As well, I have been “off the market” for much of the time, exchanging what seemed like a never-ending series of shallow coffee-dates and one-time meetings for longer-term relationships. In other words, I haven’t really been looking all that hard. And yes, most of these relationships have been with non-Jewish men. The pool from which I date comes from the circles in which I travel and the people I know, and that is just the way it worked out.

Parental pressure is still there. Although we don’t discuss it as much any more, I know that if I marry a non-Jew my parents will be deeply disappointed. I do not know if their views have mellowed with my advancing age. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I have avoided getting married – holding on to that tiny glimmer of hope that I will meet someone who is a good match for me in terms of personality, politics, interests, and stability, while also being Jewish.

At the same time, I want to make sure I am with a partner because I love him, not because we both happen to have Jewish DNA running through our veins and I want to please my parents. I also want to make sure my partner is with me for the same reason. One of my semi-serious relationships in the past few years was with a Jewish man. I had actually met this man for coffee on two occasions some years before. We met again after someone had given him my business card and he contacted me out of the blue. Me, ever the curious, decided to give it a shot. And we hit if off, despite the fact that he claimed not to have remembered our first encounters. In hindsight, this should have been my first clue.

Six months into the relationship, he began making it very clear that his intention was to get married and have kids before, in his words, “he was too old” (he was in his early 30s at the time). Various other words and actions of his led me to believe there was family pressure behind the scenes. Of course, he denied that he was simply looking for the first available Jewish woman to get together with. Which was the truth. When it became obvious that I was not going to force the relationship to go beyond where I was comfortable at the time, someone in his family introduced him to someone else with whom he immediately got involved. They are now married and have a family. I have to give him credit – he got what he wanted more or less according to his schedule.

Although it has never really worked for me (I am just not photogenic enough to pique initial interest) the Internet has helped greatly when it comes to Jewish people from small communities connecting. One man in my community met and married a woman he met through an online Jewish dating service after nine years of being on the website almost constantly. Seriously, every time I would log in, there he was – I wondered if he always kept a browser window open to that website even at work. However, he was very specific in who he was looking for, and ultimately he found her.

Dating exclusively in a small community has its perils. Where I live, just about everyone is related to everyone else either by blood or marriage. If things end badly, much of the community risks finding out and your dateability status falls dramatically. And if you do end up dating within the community again, odds have it you are going to end up constantly running into your ex.

Lack of choices is what ultimately leads members of small Jewish communities to interdate, which often leads to intermarriage. Still, I seriously think that when a Jewish person ends up with someone from “another religious stream” (as the dating websites call it), we at least want someone with whom we can share our Jewish values and pass them along to children (if indeed we are so blessed). This has proven to be a very effective filtering device in my dating life. If a potential partner is not interested in what is a fundamental part of my life, then I don’t believe he can truly be interested in me. No chuppah, no thank-you.

I have also learned that being with a Jewish partner is no guarantee for a harmonious home. Judaism can be expressed in so many ways that just because two people happen to be Jewish doesn’t mean there will be no conflict over matters of religion. For example, the level of observance between my parents is so great that it has caused friction over the years. I always joke that my parents have a mixed marriage, even though both of them are Jewish.

So, in the end, even though I am still a “Single Jewish Female,” for me it all comes down to love, negotiation, compromise, and companionship. Knowing my penchant for having a strong personality and standing up for my values, at least some of that is going to be kosher.