Continuing the line

After squeezing into the teeny tiny lift [that’s elevator if you hail from the USA] in my friend’s apartment block in Jerusalem, I took a walk through San Simon park this afternoon.

San Simon Park, Jerusalem

Trust me when I say that it’s literally impossible to stand in the lift with one other person without invading their personal space. Petite in height and weighing in at about 47 Kg, I think it’s fair to say that no-one could describe me as over sized . Yet I have to simultaneously hold my breath, keep my arms firmly planted to my side and stand as still as a statue in order to avoid any hint of contact with my fellow lift traveller. It’s so comically awkward and I can’t help but be reminded of the years I spent navigating London’s tube at rush hour, where we perfect the art of standing uncomfortably close to countless strangers without daring to meet their gaze and managing to avoid even the slightest whiff of physical contact. Because we’re British and that wouldn’t be proper at all. I have to say that I didn’t expect those skills to come in handy while travelling in a lift in Israel with only one other person. I wonder why Israeli architects and builders feel it’s their duty to build microscopic lifts.

Anyhow, I digress. Rant over. As I said, I was walking through San Simon park this afternoon when I got to thinking. I realised that if I don’t have any children, then my grandparents on both sides will have no Jewish ancestors. I have only one sibling and five first cousins on my mum’s side, and only two on my dad’s, so my family is certainly not large. But unfortunately no-one has managed to produce Jewish offspring. Now, I can’t fault them, not at all, because I myself have categorically failed to live up to the task as well. Thus far anyway. But it hit me hard. I had better hurry up if I am to continue the family’s Jewish line.

My grandpa and grandma on my mum’s side were the loveliest people I have ever known. Bar none. It will always be a huge source of pain to me that I lost my grandpa when I was only seven. He was the kindest, sweetest man in the world and I adored him. Memories from that period in my life are few, but I will never ever forget watching my grandpa daven in the morning when I was staying round at my grandparents’ Ealing flat. I loved that time as it was so rare that I had time with him alone. He worked very hard and mostly I saw him at extended family gatherings on a Sunday, so I treasured those moments together, just him, me and whomever else may have been watching over us from above. It didn’t matter that we weren’t talking or playing. Friends were for play. Grandparents were for affection and simply being with. And just being allowed to watch him pray was very special to me. Mum told me that I was the only one whom he ever let watch him daven, and that was a huge source of pride to me. I adored my grandma too, and am forever thankful that she was in my life until I was 32. I am not doubting that they would love my brother’s and cousins’ children – they loved them, so of course would love their sons and daughters. But every member of my family would have to admit, if they are honest with themselves, that grandma and grandpa will feel more than a tinge of sadness – as they watch over us – if we don’t manage to produce one Jewish ancestor.

I knew my grandparents on my father’s side far less well, as they lived in South Africa. But I’m sure they too will feel the same.

Of all my relatives, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that my brother and I have the strongest Jewish identity. He happened to fall in love with and marry a non Jew. One can’t blame him for that. The heart wants what the heart wants. I’ve always been very envious of those who are able to fall head over heels in love so I’m certainly not going to criticize my brother for doing just that just because the object of his affection was not Jewish. He is a very kind and special soul, so I know he did what was best for him. And that’s good enough for me.

London may have the largest Jewish population in England, but it’s still a tiny proportion of London’s total mass of people. Unless you regularly attend synagogue and attend Jewish events it’s pretty rare to meet a Jew in everyday life, let alone a Jew to whom you’re attracted. Once I did meet a Jew at work. Once. At the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We were both on a departmental negotiation skills course and I remember that he was one of only 3 guys among 10 females. I completely ignored him throughout the three day course, and it was only after the course, the next day at work, that I discovered that he had asked one of the other females who knew me to find out if I was interested in him. I wasn’t. And that didn’t change when we both found out that each of us is Jewish.

My romantic history is eclectic, to say the least. In actuality I have been out with [romantically] quite a number of Jews since age 18, but only one has been during my times spent in London. Apart from that one, in my home City I have only ever been romantically involved with non Jews because I have never put in any effort to meet guys in London. I have simply met them naturally through my everyday circles; my social and romantic life in London has always been based around many different work social circles. And they weren’t ever Jewish. I have always felt in my heart that I will not end up with a Jewish guy if I stay in London.

In 2007 I left the Foreign Office [HM’s Diplomatic Service]. I loved it so much, but I left for personal reasons. Stupidly. It’s too complicated to explain here. I came to Israel, didn’t like it, tried to get back into the Diplomatic Service but couldn’t, so returned to Government Officialdom in London for 3 years [Home Civil Service not Diplomatic Service]. It didn’t replace the Diplomatic Service, and I got very ill and had to get away. So I spent some time in the US but unfortunately couldn’t get a work visa. I can honestly say that leaving the Diplomatic Service was the worst mistake of my life, but I have finally forgiven myself and am now in the right frame of mind to move into career pastures new. Even more importantly, for the first time in my life I feel able to settle down romantically. So I have high hopes for 2014.

My mum thinks that I am now too old to restrict myself to Jews – that being with someone for life is the most important thing – and if I find someone with whom I want to settle down, if he isn’t Jewish then so be it. After all, my children, if indeed I have, will still be Jewish and I can still bring them up as Jewish.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I feel about it….there is a significant part of me that wants to marry someone Jewish, my identity being as strong as it is. On the other hand, I do not want to be alone, to be without a life partner, and it is just so much easier to meet attractive non-Jews in everyday life without making any effort whatsoever. And, I hesitate to say this, but somehow it has always felt much easier to be with non-Jews, more straight forward, with fewer issues and hurdles to negotiate. I’m not the most straight forward person in the world so I feel much more comfortable with those who are.

Take my most recent Jewish romantic experience. And by recent I literally mean the last month or two. We definitely had feelings for each other on some level. And we are very physically attracted to each other. That’s for sure. But we seem to be incompatible. He can’t shake off the past. But we also seem to have very different aspirations. The past is completely and utterly irrelevant in my opinion. Where we come from and what has happened in our lives up to now is irrelevant. People can and do change. I know I have. But where we want to go does matter. And we seem to have very different paths in mind. I find that with non-Jews we tend to want to go down similar paths.

So there it is. Do I restrict myself to Jews despite the difficulties, and risk still being single in five years, or do I put my need for a life partner first? Those were the questions I pondered while wandering through the park this afternoon.

I wish someone wise would advise me. Perhaps grandma and grandpa will send me a sign.

About the Author
Melissa is a former British Diplomat and Aide to several Government Ministers. She now works for a large travel company while freelance writing on the side. In the Summer she will be studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Multimedia Journalism. Her base is currently London, but she travels frequently to Israel, the US and wherever her work and/or life takes her. Felines and acting are some of her passions.
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