About a year ago I went on a Bumble date. It wasn’t my first, I had been on a few before after moving from Tinder and I even tried my luck at J-Swipe just so on the odd chance my parents asked, I could tell them I gave it a shot. So after many dates I didn’t really have any expectations for this one.
After he suggested we go to a place called Continental Deli, specialising in meat and cheese, me being vegan of 4 years not wanting to be difficult politely said sounds great for a drink. But after a quick google search, with the words “vegan” and “Newtown”, he suggested what happened to be one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney.
I didn’t over think what I was going to wear, had a small amount of makeup on and I wasn’t nervous, I was just calm. He was funny, made me feel relaxed and completely at ease. It was almost like hanging out with a friend until we kissed and that definitely changed everything. A few months passed and we were still together, enjoying each other’s company, teaching one another and every day I am learning about what it means to be in a relationship.
From the beginning, I wanted to share what was important to me and ask that he do the same. For me that was simple, it included the two major lifestyle choices that help shape my identity, veganism and Judaism. Both that were known to him but not really engaged with in depth. It makes sense, he grew up in the Central Coast, a few hours out of Sydney where maybe a handful of Jews live (probably retirees) and veganism is slowly pushing through the cracks of mainstream café’s and resturants.
He grew up in a small family, wasn’t raised any particular religion but looked forward to a Christmas lunch every year with loved ones. Of course I had to be at the complete other end of the spectrum. I came not only from a Jewish family but a loud, ethnic, boisterous and big Jewish family. His first Jewish event was Passover. To say diving into the deep end was an understatement. I would better describe it as belly flopping with your eyes closed. It was so far removed from what he knew back home but I tried and continue to try to educate and involve him in that part of my life.
Judaism is something I was born into, I didn’t have a choice and in that sense it became habit and routine. I was raised having Shabbat dinner every Friday night, celebrating the chaggim (Jewish high holidays) every year with my family and using Judaism to facilitate many milestones in life from birth to marriage to death.
I guess it is hard when I have nothing to compare it to, as this is my first relationship, but it has been tough. Being Jewish is something I have known since birth and I think at times I have forgotten how hard and foreign it is for someone who has never experienced anything like it let alone met a Jew! It has taught me patience and understanding but ultimately it was and still is incredible hard to sympathise when Judaism comes so naturally to me and is engrained in my identity. It’s important to mention that being involved with my youth movement, Habonim Dror, challenged and shaped my sense of Judaism. I quickly realised I didn’t identify with the traditional orthodoxy of my family or Reform Judaism that I learnt from my high school.
So where did that leave me? Secular Humanistic Judaism, a small but fast growing sect based on tradition and ritual but removing or at least downplaying the role of God in prayers and everyday life. The idea of creating something meaningful for you as an individual and within a community as a whole.
Nevertheless, I chose to date a devout atheist and Christopher Hitchens worshipper which led to countless debates and arguments. Most of the times these arguments would leave me in a quiet angry mood or exhaling deeply but until now, I didn’t realise how much I need them.
Being raised as a traditional Jew, I did many things because they were customary or had a familial pull but after undertaking a journey where I discovered that Secular Humanistic Judaism was more up my alley, I began to reassess my beliefs and traditions.
Enter our heated arguments. These talks we share not only let me reaffirm my beliefs and identity as a Jew but it also challenged me to really think about certain traditions and customs I follow purely out of habit rather than fulfillment and meaning. It’s in these conversations that I begin to chip away at my foundations and question what is actually important to me but most vitally, as I move forward in my life how can I create meaning in a Secular Humanistic sense. At first this was a process which I could undertake myself but now I look to involving my partner in a loving, inclusive and most importantly, comfortable way.
I have a feeling these conversations will never end and for that I am grateful. Life should never be stagnant and if it is, it means we are not progressing or growing. What would my Jewish identity be in 5 or 10 years’ time? I have no idea, but I hope that it has grown in meaning. Without being challenged and asked these questions, what’s the point of having this part of my identity at all?