In response to My Jewish Dating Problem.
The so-called singles crisis storms on unabated with lay people, community leaders and matchmaking “professionals” alike pointing fingers and laying the blame on every conceivable factor. Howard Kleinman speaks to his own dating struggles and the experiences that ultimately led to his marriage to his wife, Jewish not by birth but by choice. In his personal reflections he muses over the role the wider community played in his conflicted romantic life torn between the Jewish women he sought out in the name of Jewish continuity and the non-Jewish women he felt an attraction to.
Kleinman faults the communal pressure to marry within the tribe for keeping his guard up, barring real emotional connections with Jewish women and letting guilt fester to extinguish any hope of building relationships with non-Jewish women. There are myriad reasons attributed to prolonged singledom - too much choice, too little choice of “quality” singles, the overbearing Jewish mother, ascetic piety, the Rabbis, materialistic aspirations, the age gap, emotional immaturity of men, women wearing too much makeup, women refusing to undergo cosmetic surgery, colored tablecloths. With reasons so varied and far-fetched it’s a wonder that global warming and unicorns haven’t been included in the laundry-list of blame.
All of these disparate elements are in fact linked together. They all fall under the heading of external factors. They are all reasons that lie outside of ourselves. Assimilation and Jewish continuity have been a concern for the Jewish people since Abraham sent Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac not from the women of the land of Canaan. It may be easy to blame the most infamous of cultural stereotypes, Jewish Guilt but I believe Kleinman exposes a deeper struggle and that is the one of knowing, revealing and being your authentic self.
Blame-gaming, finger-pointing and the ensuing guilt has bred a culture of victimization. We feel it’s out of our hands and have no control, pointing to the system that has failed us. This is not limited to the dating world. Ingrained victimization affects every facet of our lives from faulting our weight management battles to a genetic predisposition to attributing poor job prospects to economic policies. In every instance where we don’t see a positive change, a single kvetchy breath absolves us of responsibility and we relinquish our innate power to the powers that be. If it’s someone else's fault then I am not to blame and if I am not to blame then there’s nothing I can do about it. I am powerless. I am a victim. When you are a victim, wrought by guilt, your authentic self, your shoresh neshama is clouded over barely accessible to you and certainly hidden from your potential soul-mate. One can register on every dating site, attend every singles event but without true inner reflection, healthy self-love and nurturing self-compassion you are essentially hiding from your prospective spouse in plain sight.
I see a tikun in the words “ואהבת לרעך כמוך”. In this pasuk we’re often so focused on loving the other without truly exploring what it means to love ourselves. Children grow to adolescents in increasingly distressing homes with parents embroiled in their own romantic and marital rows. To be sure, one may be hard-pressed to find models of self-love, parents and mentors with acute self-awareness striving for continual self-growth.
Each of us is imbued with the divine spark, a G-dly soul. It is that very spark that suffuses our very being with innate power, innate strength to turn inward and encounter our most authentic selves. It is that G-dly light that breaks through the layers or guilt we allowed to break ourselves into victimization. By nurturing our innate divine soul we can return the power to ourselves and release it from the hands of the matchmakers, the communal expectations and the white tablecloths. Self love brings down your guard to reveal your true self so that when you do meet that like-hearted soul you are truly available. You can be seen. Self-compassion and self-love cultivate deeper, truer love of another. These are the tools that will foster lasting marriages and strong families devoted to building an eternal Jewish home, a bayit ne’eman b’yisrael.