Erica Brown

A Voice For Jewish Singles

I’m about to enter a parking garage. The static is just starting on the radio when I put the car into reverse and park. One of my favorite songs is on, and I wasn’t prepared to lose it in a car garage: Freddie Mercury’s “Somebody to Love.” I cannot actually write those words without hearing his unusual, high-pitched, magical voice singing the lyrics. Because I stopped just to listen to the song, I heard it with increased intensity.

I know that Freddie Mercury was not referring to the Jewish singles’ scene when he wrote this song. I also appreciate that he might not have been every Jewish mother’s dream on JDate. Yet the lyrics create a certain kind of compassion and dialogue with us that should make us willing to answer his question in the affirmative. Yes. I will find you somebody to love. Or at least I’m going to try.

“O, each morning I get up I die a little,” Mercury sings. Not all of us appreciate the wound that some single people feel because, try as they might — and sometimes they’ve been trying for years — they feel that each rejection is another opportunity that has died. A little of themselves went along with it.

“Take a look in the mirror and cry.” And sometimes that pervasive disquiet, the sense that there isn’t a match out there, fills people with acute anxiety. A friend I know described an enchanted single life that would have been really terrific had she known that she wasn’t going to spend a life without a partner. Self-doubt takes over: Am I loveable if I have not found somebody to love?

“I work hard every day of my life.” Just when the pain creeps in, there’s another voice that says not to look desperate, to keep it inside because it doesn’t have a place in the community conversation. I am strong. I work hard. I can go it alone. Even though the God of Genesis tells us it’s not good for humans to be alone, we may try to convince ourselves that we’re not lonely, just independent, when we can’t find that right someone. A lot of singles have shared with me the additional hurt when someone tells them — often a parent — that they’re not working hard enough at dating or are just too picky.

“I have spent all my years believing in you, but I just can’t get no relief, Lord!” Being single for a long time has prompted many to leave the fold or traditional observance. It’s hard to be single in a faith-based community or any community where family is upheld as a central value. Our Jewish organizations are filled with children and young couples, a nuclear family image that can be visually daunting and off-putting for singles. “I hated going to shul,” said a friend of her single years. Believers may put this question to God: “I am a religious/cultural Jew. I want to be married and raise a family, just like I thought You wanted of me. Why are you punishing me?” We underestimate the spiritual pain of being single and being Jewish.

So what are you doing to help those who want to be married — to find their somebody to love? Everyone needs to lavish attention and adoration on someone. Some of us make excuses for not setting people up: I am not good at it; I just don’t know anybody; I don’t have time; I don’t want to change our relationship. This isn’t my issue.

Wrong. If you live in a community this is your issue because it’s our issue. Make a list. Write down the single people you know. Remember: This is not only about young singles but anyone widowed, divorced or never married. If you can’t come up with anybody, then open your eyes wider.

For her 25th anniversary, a friend celebrated her own marriage by asking friends to come over with a list and description of the single people each knew. In every round we described one person to see if anyone thought there might be a potential match. We followed up by inputting the information into a computer program to save and use it as more such circles met and collaborated. She cared enough to spread the love.

Not everyone wants to be set up (Drop “fixed up”; no one is broken.) For those who do, it’s hurtful when others, especially friends, have done little to help. Make an effort. If it’s not a perfect match, you both got information for next time. Who knows? Someone might walk down an aisle and build a Jewish family simply because you picked up the phone.

We all need somebody to love. Thanks for the reminder, Freddie.

Erica Brown, whose column appears the first week of the month, is the author of “Seder Talk: A Conversational Haggada.”

About the Author
Dr. Erica Brown is the Vice Provost for Values and Leadership at Yeshiva University and the director of its Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks–Herenstein Center. Her latest book is Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning (Maggid Books).