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Dating, Shavuot, and the Big Questions of Life

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June 6, 2024
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When I was single, I wanted to be married, more than I wanted almost anything else. I had a great job and terrific friends, but the only cure for my marriage fever was getting a ring on my finger from a man whom I trusted to love me for the rest of our days. 

But as all singles know, dating can be disappointing and sometimes disastrous. Awkward silences, personality quirks, or having your date ask, “What’s the weirdest thing you have in your closet?” probably spell doom. For me, the most common date-killer was the inability to have sustained, meaningful talks. I still remember the torture of sitting across from a date and wracking my brain for something to ask or say, to jumpstart a dead conversation.     

The first evening when I went out with my future husband, Jeff, conversation flowed so easily that I forgot we were technically on a date. Feeling that I had just met an old friend for the first time, I did the unthinkable and ordered spinach quiche, despite the risk of spinach landing between my teeth. No sane woman would do this if she really thought it was a first date. 

We talked easily about our experiences in Israel, favorite authors, and stories about our childhoods. He made me laugh for the right reasons and we seemed to have similar life plans. Yet after a few weeks, I feared doom again when he began lobbing the Big Religious Questions of Life: How often did I think about God? Did I think the Torah was true? Did I think that Jewish law should change according to the times, or did I think I should align my lifestyle with Jewish law, even when it was out of step with the prevailing culture?

Whoa! No one had ever asked me questions like that before, not even the rabbi or teachers at the Conservative synagogue where I grew up. When we met, Jeff was exploring traditional Jewish teachings and practice for the first time. He genuinely sought my views on the subjects, but I was immediately out of my depth.

Was I obligated to begin thinking about God and keeping mitzvot? Once I gave them serious consideration, it could be bye-bye Maria’s eggplant parmigiana and so long Saturday shopping with my girlfriends. His questions unnerved me, and forced me to face my own ignorance and prejudice against traditional Jewish teachings. Jeff was too thoughtful, kind, intelligent, and handsome for me to simply say, “You’re too religious for me. Nice knowing you.” 

We never lacked for conversation, but more and more of it centered on Judaism, which sometimes got on my nerves. Couldn’t we just talk about the movies, like normal people? These deeper conversations became a wake-up call. I did want a Jewish home, with children who wanted to stay Jewish. But with assimilation running rampant, I realized this was a pipe dream unless I had more skin in the game — and probably a little less skin for the outside world to see. I didn’t want to disappear as a Jew or have my kids disappear as Jews. 

After joining Jeff in his weekly Torah classes, I was abashed to discover how relevant ancient Jewish teachings were to my life. Over dinners, on long walks in the city and near the beach, and on the phone, we talked and debated. We also managed to have fun, and slowly navigated our way to agreeing to a baseline of Jewish observance after marriage. Nearly three years after that first date, I had my ring, my man, and something I didn’t expect: My spiritual heritage.

We are about to celebrate Shavuot, which is considered a marriage between God and the Jewish people. Standing as one people, we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai

We are about to celebrate Shavuot, which is considered a marriage between God and the Jewish people. Standing as one people, we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, secure in God’s promise that even through hard times, He would never leave us. 

A life of religious commitment and connection to God isn’t always easy. It requires sustained effort, and, as with other intimate relationships, the emotional connection may ebb and flow. We’ve had many individual “divorces” between Jews and their Judaism, but today, under the pressures of antisemitism, more are coming home. And God remains constant, here with us, even though unseen, looking forward to our next conversation with Him.


Judy Gruen is the author of “Bylines and Blessings,” “The Skeptic and the Rabbi,” and several other books. She is also a book editor and writing coach.  

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