Love, Laughter and the Occasional Knishby Steve Hoffsetter May 31, 2011
By Steve Hofstetter
The phrase “marry a nice Jewish girl” is as engrained in Jewish culture as lox and bagels. From the time we’re children, we’re told to find a nice Jewish girl (or boy), in order to eventually produce other nice Jewish boys and girls. It’s really a forward thinking system.
Maybe that’s why the words “boy” and “girl” are used. We’re so young when we’re first told to date someone Jewish, encouraging us to meet adults would be creepy.
It’s really the entire premise behind JDate. If there were no overwhelming desire for Jews to meet and procreate with other Jews, then there wouldn’t be much need for the site. We’d all be on PlentyOfFish.com, wondering why most of the members look like they were extras on “Jersey Shore.”
A non-Jewish friend of mine was telling me about how his girlfriend is Indian, and how they’ve been dating for three years but he’s never met her parents. They want her to marry within their culture, and a white guy from New York doesn’t exactly fit the description.
When I commented on their racism, he said, “Wait, isn’t that what you did?”
In a way, he was right. I met my wife on JDate because I wanted to marry a woman from my own culture. What’s the difference between “Marry a nice Jewish girl!” and “No daughter of mine is marrying a black man”? Don’t those sound kind of similar?
This thought that I might be doing something racist hit me hard. My sister is black — which wouldn’t be very unique, except I’m white.
Because of this, I’ve spent a great deal of my life railing against racism and prejudice. I have jokes in my act about it. I’ve gotten into long debates (and less civilized altercations) with strangers over it. I even flew down to Arizona to protest SB-1070. Racism has always been an incredibly sensitive and important issue for me.
So why am I okay with “marry a nice Jewish girl?” It’s not often that I am left without a snappy comeback when challenged. But this one I had to think about. What my friend was saying made logical sense.
When Jewish parents want their son to marry the daughter of other Jewish parents, how is that different than an Indian family doing the same? Two white parents upset that their daughter is marrying a black guy? Two Texas parents who have forbidden their daughter from marrying anyone from Oklahoma?
Is it all intolerance? Or do we get a pass because Jews have been persecuted?
Conventional wisdom says it’s all right when Jews are pushed to marry other Jews because our religion could die otherwise. We’re not being exclusionary to others — we’re just including ourselves. They’ve tried to stamp us out so many times, it’s our right to be prejudiced.
Well, not exactly.
I realized my answer. As I’ve written before, I met my wife on JDate because I wanted to be with someone who shared a similar experience to mine. Who understood and respected my background. Who would go to shul with me during the holidays. Who got it when I talked about the guilt my parents laid on me, and the guilt I laid right back. You know, tradition.
Is it possible I could get the same from a Christian woman willing to convert? Sure. Is it likely? About as likely as finding a decent bagel in India.
When parents encourage their children to stay within their religion, it’s okay because that has to do with a belief system. When parents do the same based on race, it’s not okay because that has to do with irrational fear of something physical. Your skin color doesn’t define you as a person — but your religion often does.
Trying to find a match based on belief system is perfectly acceptable. If your parents forbid you to marry anyone who prefers “Superman 3” to “Superman 2,” well, that’s acceptable, too. Odd, but acceptable.
Well, not that odd. I wouldn’t want any child of mine marrying the kind of nut it takes to think “Superman 3” was a superior film.
I know my parents would prefer me to be with a giving and caring Christian woman over a murderous Jewish woman any day. But all other things equal (or even close to equal), they’d simply prefer me have someone I can share my culture with. And I agree.
Also, it helps that on our first date, my wife and I both ordered the exact same bagel.