Seeking Hebrew School Dropouts
When I learned that I would have the opportunity to write a column for the JT, I promised some close friends (bubbies and mamas) that I would use one piece to help them help me in the search for my beshert. It has not been easy for this rabbi to carve out space for any sort of meaningful dating experiences here in Baltimore, despite feeling like a C-level celebrity every time I walk into Starbucks at The Quarry. I would like to report that perhaps due to gender, generational shift or some unknown other cause, the rabbi card seems to intimidate or confuse rather than to attract.
At the risk of using this public space for something other than its intended purpose, I hereby dedicate the next 450 words to all the people in my life who tell me I should be just as passionate about finding a nice Jewish guy as I am about working to strengthen identity and community among my generation of Jews. It is to show that in addition to hiccup after hiccup, be it JDate, blind date or no date, I’m seeking to redefine the search to find someone special amid the day-to-day of life as “the rabbi who walks into the bar.”
Perhaps the challenge starts with the concept of that nice Jewish boy. Generation Xers and millennials have incredibly complex identities. We’re artists, musicians, athletes, radicals and traditionalists all at the same time. In the midst of our busy routines, we seek to give time to each of these parts of our selves, accepting that we can rarely find everything in one place. I go to shul and then I leave in order to go to the best oneg in town, where I can be among my community in joyous celebration — at the 8X10 for a funky get-down. I build relationships with people in both places.
I have to admit that despite my passions and commitments to the Jewish tradition, I’m more likely drawn to a Hebrew school dropout than the boy sitting in the front row at shul. My JDate profile suggests that I am looking for someone who is religious about the Ravens and his family but perhaps ambivalent, even if knowledgeable, about his Jewish experiences to date, yet spiritually inclined. On the one hand, it proves that I really am a part of the demographic I serve. On the other, it comes as a surprise when people in the community suggest they know “a great guy” and the only thing we have in common is that we are both Jewish professionals.
A few weeks back, as we were setting up the mobile sukkah outside Mother’s for happy hour, I said the following to Cham City Tribe’s new program associate: In the beginning I planned things I would want to attend knowing I might be the only one to show up but hoping that others would share an interest and decide to show up, too. So far, we’ve been real successful in that approach, and people come to bars, to shul and to the sukkah, and in many cases they come back for more. I guess this also ought to be my approach to partnership: to build my life in a way that I want to live it, hoping someone will show up and go along for the journey. In the meantime, if you know any nice Hebrew school dropouts, this rabbi is in the market.
Rabbi Jessy Gross runs Charm City Tribe, a program of the Jewish Community Center.