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A Jew-by-Choice’s Perspective on Her Teenage Daughter’s Interdating

What if my daughter started dating somebody who wasn’t Jewish? How should I react? The standard expected reaction would be to get upset, but as a woman who converted to Judaism my response is decidedly different.

Although my friends and I have discussed this issue ever since our children were born, our discussions have moved to a new level now that our kids are in their teens. Most of my friends come from an interfaith background. We all made a commitment to bring our children up in the Jewish faith–a commitment that wasn’t made lightly or taken for granted. For many of us, it hasn’t been an easy task.

Transmitting Jewish values, explaining Jewish holidays and life-cycle events to a child isn’t easy when you were brought up with other values and holidays. Maintaining sometimes fragile ties with our families of origin and acknowledging and honoring their religious traditions is a tightrope that we walk. But we attended the B’nai Mitzvahs of our children, and are now seeing them through high school, driver’s licenses and dating.

Our children, when asked, will identify themselves as “Jewish.” They participate in activities sponsored by their synagogue-affiliated youth groups. We feel a sense of pride and success: we have, indeed, raised Jewish children. So, is it hypocritical for an interfaith family to want their son or daughter to be with someone Jewish? How can we “forbid” our children from doing something that we did?

My friends and I who are in this position feel conflicted. We have been told that if our children marry someone Jewish and raise their children Jewish, then we will have been successful. But dating isn’t marriage, is it? I always thought of dating as a trial run to see if you are compatible with a person. Dating is a means to find out if you have similar interests, values, and goals. My friends found partners who had all of these things, plus a different faith.

At one time, whenever my daughter mentioned a boy’s name, I would ask, tongue-in-cheek, “Is he Jewish?” I stopped doing this when Erica expressed how angry that question made her. I realized then that I needed to really look into my heart to see where I stood on the issue. What was important to me?

I meditated and pondered this question and finally came up with my answer. I want my daughter to remain the proud, independent Jewish woman that she is and to be able to share a life with somebody who would respect, honor and love her. I want her to be with someone who will treat her with kindness and support her dreams. This may or may not be someone of the Jewish faith. It would be hypocritical of me to forbid her to interdate or express disappointment if she does so. I decided to talk seriously with Erica and tell her exactly what it was that I wanted for her.

As I pondered when and how to have this conversation, I realized that talking to my daughter while we’re both in the car works very well. We’re each held captive; no one can easily leave a moving car. Words seem to come easier without the distractions of the Internet, telephone or television. So, one day as we were driving to the mall I broached the topic in a nonchalant manner. Erica tried a pre-emptive strike and quickly said, “I know what you think. I should only date and marry someone Jewish.” I responded that I did want her to remain connected to Judaism, but when it came to dating I wanted her to be in a relationship with somebody who respected her and treated her with kindness. I explained that being mutually supportive and loving was important in a relationship. Erica was quite surprised and pleased. These were the things she wanted for herself, too. Since then Erica and I have had more conversations about this topic–especially about the traits and values she holds important.

The teenage years are for learning–learning how to break away from families while still maintaining ties, how to trust oneself and how to trust others. Dating is a learning experience. Our children need to learn how to navigate relationships; they need to learn what values are important to them, how to express themselves, and how to treat others the way they wish to be treated. Through dating, they will also learn whether or not a Jewish partner is important to them.

Paula Yablonsky

Paula C. Yablonsky is the co-editor of TechKnowledgies. Paula lives in western Pennsylvania with her husband, Mark Gibbons.