“Hi, I’m Hannah, I’m Jewish – nice to meet you.”
I don’t actually start all first dates like that. In fact, if anything, it’s almost the opposite of what I’d do. I never like to assume the worst in people, especially if I’ve gotten close enough to someone to feel comfortable dating them. However, the J-Word tends to get a somewhat unpredictable reaction.
Growing up, my parents were very relaxed about my dating choices, in comparison to a lot of my Jewish friends whose parents made Judaism a prerequisite. As long as I was happy, I could be with anyone I wanted. I embraced this freedom, dating people from an array of backgrounds and belief systems, and found it incredibly eye-opening, having grown up largely in the Jewish bubble. However, I always had a level of anxiety about sharing my own religion with others. As I grew older and more serious about relationships, this came into fruition. It was my first ever long-term relationship, we’d been together for around six months, and everything seemed to be working in the eyes of the naïve 16-year-old girl I once was. Over a discussion about splitting money for pizza, the words: “That’s a stingy Jew thing to do,” tumbled out of my then-boyfriend’s mouth. Initially, I thought he was joking. I wished that he was joking. But as he sat there beginning to describe how it’s an inherent characteristic of Jews to be stingy and that I couldn’t help it because that’s who I was, I realised that he was being shockingly serious. Not only that, but it became clear that he didn’t class his views as problematic or anti-Semitic – just factual. I wish I could say that this was the final time I encountered this type of discrimination in a romantic setting, but unfortunately, this was just the beginning of a journey faced with adversity over a large part of my identity.
A pivotal moment for me came in my most recent long-term relationship. We’d been together for nearly two years, and despite his parents having never met any Jews before, they were endlessly understanding and inquisitive. I’m proud of my Jewish identity. I enjoy having Friday Night Dinner with my family; I tend to keep all the festivals; and although my relationship with my own religious beliefs fluctuates, I enjoy being a part of an incredible community. I want to feel that I can share my love of Judaism with my significant other. And although this appreciation isn’t compulsory for other family members, I was excited that his parents took such an interest. However, during our second Christmas together, this idea of safety and comfort in my own identity came crashing down. Following an anti-Semitic comment his dad made over dinner, despite apologising for upsetting me, he continued to make comments along the lines of: “I would make this joke, but Hannah wouldn’t get my sense of humour.” At this point, I realised that explaining the nuance of generations of discrimination, and the weight of passing anti-Semitic comments that have become seemingly acceptable or even endorsed in today’s society, was near impossible to explain to people who haven’t encountered diversity first-hand.
From one extreme to the other, some people I’ve been on dates with are so overwhelmed that there’s a tendency to almost fetishize. Comments such as, “I’ve always wanted to date a Jewish girl,” don’t make me feel seen or appreciated, but more like a museum attraction or something to tick off of a bucket list. Equally, the reaction of “Oh, you’re Jewish,” is confusing, upsetting – and honestly, I’m tired.
The more experiences I have, the more appealing it seems to date exclusively within the Jewish community. Although both of my serious long-term relationships have been with non-Jews, it’s devastating to build a connection with someone to then only be faced with discrimination. Of course, maybe I just make poor choices when it comes to romantic partners, but it’s a shame that even in the 21st century, I have to conduct myself with such vigilance out of fear that I’ll be judged based on my identity. I’ve always tried to make an active effort to educate others on the unacceptability of anti-Semitism and its role in present day discrimination, but if people are hostile towards learning or unwilling to try and understand my perspectives and lived experiences, there’s only so much that I can do. I’m still coming to terms with the weight of my religion in the relationships I consider pursuing, but nothing will detract from the pride I feel about being Jewish. If people can’t deal with the J-Word, then they simply aren’t worth my energy.
Illustration by Tilly Binucci.