My life is plagued by questions... What are you doing? Who are you with? When will you be back? When are you going to finish your uni work? When are you going to be training? What are you eating? When am I seeing you? (From my mother as I just moved out of home)
But the question that gets me flustered the most is this...
“Oh honey! You FINALLY have a boyfriend... that's fantastic! Is he a nice Jewish boy?” asks everyone.
“Um... well... not really... I mean he is nice... but he isn't... Jewish” I reply sheepishly. And then I remember that I love him and he loves me and I say with more enthusiasm “Actually, he is the nicest guy and I love him, and no he is not Jewish, but he appreciates my Judaism more than anyone else I have met and I'm okay with that”. And then the conversation generally dies.
In Sydney, Australia, our Jewish community is predominantly Orthodox. I was brought up in an Orthodox house, had my Bat Mitzvah at an Orthodox synagogue, competed for swimming in Jewish competitions, and attended an Orthodox Jewish school for 5 years of my life. When I became a little older and my sport became more serious (my games were Friday nights), I decided that I loved my Jewish culture, but the religious laws were not going to fit in with how I wanted to live my life. My mum cooked bacon, I was active... very active... on shabbas and due to my uniforms, couldn't cover my skin for modesty. I started to feel as though my observance of Judaism wasn't “good enough”, and started to pull away from the community.
It wasn't until I finished school and spent 6 months living in Israel playing sport that I realised how much I loved the country, it's people and the language. I learnt Hebrew, played in the Netball National League (and WON!) and did Gadna (army training) and genuinely felt like I belonged in the country... I called it 'home'. The thing that struck me was that these people felt no pressure to be religious, or conform to the society in which they lived... they just lived... proud of being Israeli, proud of being Jewish, and proud of who they were. I wanted that. I wanted to be like an Israeli.
I carried this cultural love, and religious appreciation, through the rest of my travels and back into my life in Sydney, where I joined AUJS and became first President of my campus, and then National Campaigns Coordinator... and I still played my sports on Friday nights.
Recently, however, I have been hearing more and more people telling me that I need to consider what I am doing with my life and my boyfriend... because he is not Jewish. Well, here is my stance.
I am not religious. Due to the mere fact that I am athlete, I can never be religious, and now that I am in the National Development Squad playing Rugby Union in preparation for next year's Olympics, I don't think I am going to be quitting. My Judaism plays a HUGE role in my life, from the community I interact with, to my values and my ethics, to how I interact with people, and even where I travel, and I give numerous hours per week to my community as a volunteer. To me, this makes me a fantastic Jew, as I am doing something to better the community in which I live.
My boyfriend is an incredible man, and he respects my Judaism. He is currently reading “The Case for Israel” by Alan Dershowitz, and frequently calls me to tell me that he has corrected somebody on a fact they had wrong about Israel, and how “people shouldn't make judgement until they know the whole truth”. He loves Jewish food, comes to my Jewish dinners and celebrations, and is trying to learn how to say “I love you” in Hebrew JUST because he wants to.
To me. This is perfect.
I would prefer to end up marrying someone who understands and respects my religion, makes me happy and tries to incorporate my beliefs into our life, rather than someone who happens to be born Jewish, takes it for granted, and wants nothing to do with either the culture OR religion.
I understand that for men this can be slightly different, however we as a community should EMBRACE the idea of having new members within our ranks! The more people we educate about this gorgeous and inspiring religion, the more people will stand by our side, G-d forbid, if anything ever went wrong. We need to open our doors, and our hearts, to those who are not Jewish, but are keen to learn. We need to make sure that those who don't marry Jewish are not lost in a sea of “marrying out” propaganda, and these families know that they have a community that will back them up and be another family. The sooner we understand this need, the sooner we will recover an entire cluster of families who have left because, like me, didn't feel like they fit the mould of an “Orthodox Jew”.
I am a proud Orthodox... um wait... reconstructionist... hmm not quite...reform.... actually... I AM A PROUD JEW and I will marry someone that appreciates me as a person.
Together, let's change the dilemma of “marrying out” to the opportunity of “marrying in”.
Ashleigh Werner is studying a combined Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with majors in international business, business law and Spanish the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia and is currently National Campaigns Coordinator for AUJS.
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