When I return to Boston in exactly three weeks, I will have to answer to three different kinds of people: the people who will yell at me for spending ten months in an “apartheid”/“oppressor” state, the people who will ask me when I will be getting a “real job,” and the people who will be asking me if I met someone in Israel or if I am engaged/married. My Kol Voice Fellowship has taught me how to respond to the first set of people. My experiences I have had here in Israel are ones I wouldn’t trade and if it meant not having a “real job” for a while, I am okay with that as I pay my bills, taxes and am not on welfare. The third group of people, well, they are not the ones I am prepared to deal with. And if I learned anything after coming back from my Birthright trip almost two years ago, it won’t matter if it’s ten days or ten months in Israel—these people who bug me about my love life or lack thereof are relentless and won’t ask me about anything else.
Over the past nine months, people, for the most part, have been silent when it comes to the few men who have entered into my life here in the Holy Land. They were silent during Birthright, too but not when I came back. As I mentioned in my “Nice, Jewish Boy” post last year, no one cared what I did, saw or ate in Israel; they just kept asking me if I met someone. When I wasn’t hearing “Don’t die!” from people when I mentioned I was going to move here for ten months, all the other comments were about me coming back with a Jewish husband. I remember on my birthday last year receiving perfume from my friend, Jenna. She said she got it for me in hopes of me finding a “sexy, navy man.” When Jacob, the oldest of the three children I was nannying for last year came back from a trip to Israel with his parents, brothers and grandmother, he came up to me, almost in tears, saying he was sorry he couldn’t find me a sailor husband. You are a little boy, Jacob—don’t hold this weight on your shoulders! I have spoken to my grandparents a few times since I’ve been here and the first question my grandmother asks me is if I “found a doctor [to marry].” If only these people knew that even if I wanted to find myself a husband here, the rules regarding marriage here make it extremely difficult.
Based on what I’ve read about getting married in Israel, it would be very difficult for me to get married here unless I underwent a formal conversion to Judaism. Being an Agnostic Jew, this is not something I want to do. My mother is not Jewish, which only adds to the problem. My understanding is that if I were engaged to an Israeli, we would have to get married in Cyprus or use the Paraguayan consulate in Tel Aviv and would have a common-law marriage, but this still would not give us many of the rights that are given to Jews who are married by the Rabbinate here. I can understand why the rules haven’t changed—Israel is the only Jewish state in the world—but the world is evolving. Jews are evolving. Most of the Jews I have met in Israel—American, Israeli, Russian, etc.—are not religious. They pay taxes. They have done their IDF service, either voluntarily or due to compulsion. They want to live with the person who makes them happy and potentially have children. Shouldn’t they be allowed to do so? Isn’t a half-Jew, a quarter-Jew or someone who is Jew-ish better than none at all? With so few Jews left in the world and us in the tribe still under the threat of attack, maybe we should band together and accept who wants to be in the tribe instead of kicking them out. Other groups sure aren’t going to protect us. We are all the others have.
I have never given much thought to marriage in my life. My parents didn’t have a happy marriage and I was relieved when they divorced because their fighting lessened. I was terrified of getting married because statistics have said that as the child of divorced parents, I am more likely to get divorced myself. If I wasn’t thinking about my parents’ marriage, I began to think of marriage in the LGBT community as my state was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage over a decade ago. The sky still stands, the world didn’t burn and Massachusetts gained revenue. I never understood the outrage over same-sex marriage, particularly the arguments that LGBT people ruined the “sanctity” of marriage, because the last time I checked, straight people were doing just a fine job of that themselves. Of course, I can’t place all the blame on straight people—marriage, when it was created outside of religious bodies, was nothing more than a government contract that made it so women only had to give themselves to one man in order to survive instead of having to resort to prostitution. Marriage was nothing more than glorified prostitution. It wasn’t about love. Marriage, and I can only speak for America being American, isn’t even a religious thing. In Massachusetts, as long as the two adults, heterosexual or homosexual, are eighteen and consenting, pay the fees and get a license and a witness at City Hall, they’re legally married. Atheists can get married. A Jew can marry a Catholic. No one needs to book a religious place to get married. When I see these exemptions for religious people in same-sex marriage bills, I have to laugh. No reverend, priest, rabbi, etc. will ever be forced to marry someone they don’t want to. I could be engaged to a Jew in the States and a Reform temple has every right to refuse me their temple. Religious places can refuse straight people, too. I, for one, don’t think it’s necessary to get married by a rabbi; this is why the Justice of the Peace exists at City Hall. Marriage in America is far from perfect—this is to be expected when no one knows the history of it—but I will give America credit for separating civil and religious marriages and giving me the freedom to marry someone Jewish, Catholic or nothing at all.
Would Israel really suffer if civil marriages existed? I doubt it. America, while claiming it has the separation of church and state, remains a Christian nation. Even still, America has given me and other women the freedom to marry any man over eighteen that we want to. I believe it is important to have a Jewish state and I will defend until the day I die Israel’s right to exist. The thing is, Jews come in all different types and many are not Orthodox. Don’t they deserve the chance to enjoy the financial benefits and security that marriage provides them? Someone who is part Jewish is still a Jew. Being a “full Jew” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good person. I’m not one to give America credit in many places, but I doubt Israel will get weaker if civil marriages are allowed to fully blossom. We need to keep the Jews we have, however Jewish they may be. If they are contributing to society and want to get married and have a bunch of Jewish babies as both Birthright and Masa have encouraged of me and my friends, why not let them?
For now, Israel’s archaic marriage rules are somewhat helpful when I will have to shut people up back home about why I’m not married. Interestingly enough, when I think of the men who have entered my life here, there were two who I could have seen myself being married to someday. One was an American and one was an Israeli. Alas, it was one-sided with both of them, but I do not regret the time I spent with them. And, had the Israeli asked me to stay here, I would have.
So for now, while I dread the questions that will arise in three weeks about why my ring finger has nothing on it, I will do my best to hold my head high, scoff a little, and just do what I need to do for me. Maybe someone will come along someday but if they never do, that’s totally and completely okay.
*There are the days where I think this will be the only way I will ever wear a wedding dress.*