February 6, 2003
Good Jew, Bad Jew
He was the kind of guy you would take home to your mother. He was Harvard educated, well-mannered, spent time with the elderly and held an executive position at a major network. He had traveled the world, written a few books and was shopping for a home. And naturally, he was Jewish. This was the pitch I got from the mutual friend that was going to set the two of us up on my first blind date ever.
Recently single, I was ready to jump back into the dating pool, or at least dangle my feet in. These last months were relatively self-indulgent and selfish -- which is typical for the romantically frustrated: I decided to give it a shot. Anyhow, I figured it would be "good practice" just in case this dating thing was more difficult than I remembered.
David was pleasant on the phone, and I was pleased when he offered to take me to dinner, as opposed to that wimpy "coffee date" narishkeit (foolishness) that was sweeping the city (like you need a jolt of caffeine on top of first-date jitters). So I dusted off my first-date dress and gulped down a glass of wine before he rang the bell.
Over a leisurely dinner we talked about our insane relatives, traveling to Vegas and the recent Jewish holidays. He told me how surprised and honored he was when he was called to carry the Torah during Yom Kippur services. I was duly impressed -- and kind of embarrassed when he asked, "Where did you attend services?"
"Um, well last year I went to the Beverly Hilton."
"What did you do this year?"
I flashed back to that day. I'd skipped services and sat around on the couch doing a television marathon. My Jewish friends were all off atoning, and the non-Jews were at work, and it seemed like especially bad form to ask them for a lunch date. I was stuck in limbo, alone. If that was not pathetic enough, throughout the day I would find myself suddenly in front of the cupboard munching on a handful of Cheerios, not even knowing how I got there.
"I didn't quite get my act together this year," I muttered, sheepishly.
My date looked at me with sudden understanding. He realized at that moment; he was out with a "Bad Jew."
There are certain levels of "Jewishness" -- and I am not talking about Reform vs. Orthodox. Among all of us, there are millions of ways that Judaism can influence and affect our lifestyles. And when you are a young Jew dating another young Jew, you really never know what you are going to get. Clearly, this guy was a real mensch -- I had never heard of anyone so young asked to carry the Torah. And I was the shmuck. He had probably never heard of anyone snacking on the day of atonement. I quickly looked at down at my plate to make sure I wasn't eating veal parmesan.
I wanted to explain that I hadn't always been a "Bad Jew," and for a while there, I was really much better. But it was hard to tell someone all of this on a first date, so I just let it go. But the truth of the matter is, that during my previous relationship, I was more involved in Judaism than I had been in my entire life. And when the relationship ended, so did the services, the Shabbat dinners and the other religious traditions we had participated in together. All of that went adrift along with so many other things lost in what I referred to as "the divorce." I lost family, I lost friends and, although I did not lose any religious faith, I certainly lost practicing the traditions.
The book of Genesis states, "Lo tov heyot adam levado" -- it's not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and maybe it was referring to the practice of Judaism. Making Shabbat dinner, going to synagogue, celebrating the holidays -- they're not impossible to do alone, but they're much, much easier to do when you have a partner in crime. And after you lose that partner? It's easier to do marathon television.
As for my date with the mensch -- there were a million ways this guy and I could have been incompatible -- for all I know he could be a vegan, dog-allergic, right-winger that snores heavily. Or he could have been dreamy. I never found out because we did not see each other again.
Months later, I am still left wondering how "good" of a Jewish girlfriend I could make someday. Do we really judge each other on as "good" or "bad" Jews when we are dating? What if I continue to neglect the seriousness of my religious heritage -- as I have been doing most of my young dating life? Or, what if I sign myself up for more classes, did some studying, joined a group?
Certainly, we date to find our match. We date to find love. We date to find companionship. But we also date to find the one we will spend the rest of our days with. Someone who we could share a life with, build a family with and carry on to keep our family traditions alive.
And perhaps the question we should ask is not how good a Jew one is, but how good would they like to be?
Lilla Zuckerman is the author of "Tangle in Tijuana" (Fireside, May 2003), the first book in the "Miss Adventures" series. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.