It was my sophomore year and a group of us were gathered in a dorm room, teenage bodies splayed across beds and chairs and floor. Since hiding in that tiny, crowded room wasn’t really an option, I just sat still, hoping no one would notice me. Day school, Jewish camps, Israel, shul every shabbat. If left to my own devices, would I still choose to keep Shabbat? I was spending my time studying languages and African history, living in an International Studies dorm where diverse backgrounds and cultural experiences were the norm.
I don’t recall exactly what prompted the conversation, but someone asked a dorm mate, an Indian national, to talk about the possibility of arranged marriage. “To assume that the person you are meant to be with happens to be from your ethnic group. And it might have worked, if not for my close friend who announced to my horror, “Leah will only date and marry Jews.” Despite all of my attempts to be seen as a left-leaning, color blind, student of the world, I had just been called out as a bigot. When I got to public high school, it was in a town that was more than fifty percent Jewish. I was, and remain, an unabashed liberal who prides herself on valuing difference and tolerance.
For the first time in my life, most of my friends were decidedly not like me. I had chosen my university over others closer to home because I had watched as friends and relatives went off to Columbia or Barnard and then came home every other weekend.
I found a home at Hillel and in other Jewish organizations, but in my dorm, I was one of only a few members of the tribe.
Then an old friend suggested I go out with her boyfriend’s brother.
Would they have had an answer for those dorm mates of mine, staring me down like I was waving a confederate flag?After college I dated a number of different Jewish guys and started to hone in on what was truly important to me. I made a conscious decision to go where my Judaism would have to be my choice and my responsibility. That last question turned out to be the hardest one to figure out. Or they went to Brandeis with a cohort of fifty of their closest friends from summer camp.
A nice looking Israeli asked me out in line at the kosher bakery.
After a couple of dates, it was clear that his personal religion involved serious worship of cash.