Jewish Dating in Poland
The founder of the Jewrnalism Organization. For the last 10 years she has been closely working with the Jewish community of Poland and particularly of Krakow.
The idea for this text had been maturing in my head for a couple of years, when in New York, at a meeting surely, I was listening to the conversation of some local Jews, aged about 30, who were complaining, oh dear – that despite the great number of people available they could not find themselves a partner. According to my observations, this state of affairs seems common there, which I find quite interesting from a sociological point of view. I took it upon myself to have a closer look at this phenomenon by comparing it with the Polish reality. Initially, I asked myself a basic question. Do Polish Jews have this same problem? Or perhaps quite the opposite?
There are few Jews in Poland, this is an indisputable, rather sad fact, which cannot be challenged by even the most optimistic calculations. According to general estimates there are roughly 150 thousand people who can seek „the right to resettle”, but most of them have no clue even who their ancestors were. Because either no one told them, or simply did not want to, because „it’s for the better”. To be more specific, Jews who identify as such are even fewer and here we assume a number of around 20 thousand, which is a drop in the ocean compared to 36 million Polish citizens. Then how does one meet someone, make love have and children... not an easy task!
Polish Jews suffer from a lack of potential partners in their own community. We are afraid of fading, losing our tradition and community! Jews should form couples, it is more convenient for everyone, mainly because of cultural, religious and social reasons. The small minority of us, who were raised Jewish from a young age, had contact with Sunday schools, communal trips and Sabbathons or summer camps, formed a bond with one another. Each year, the same children playing, sometimes arguing, were effectively forced (in a good sense) to form long-lasting friendships. Now, as 20-somethings, we can share many stories about each other, some true, some invented. But they exist among us and will surely bond us for years to come. One thing is certain, we have known each other almost forever.
However, there are still many in the Jewish community in Poland who search for an identity having found out about their heritage. There are also people who at the age of 20-something were told by someone, „listen, you’re a Jew!”. With that comes a certain re-evaluation of ones own person in society, reality itself – it can be difficult for them, though necessary, therefore it should be made easier with a „soft landing” in this newly discovered world. People like this then find out about the existence of organized Jewish communities. In joining them, they take a journey into the unknown, everything seems intriguing and exotic at first.
What connects all of us? The number. People aged 25-35 are so few, one could easily say that in Poland we all know each other. I will tell you a couple stories...
Wrocław: Magda, aged 27. Energetic, intelligent, very well organized Jewish activist, fulfilling a notable function in the „Jewish establishment”. No partner. How can this be? I forgot to add - attractive. Due to the positions she holds – yes, they are several because Magda does not settle for less - she travels all over the world, though lately most to Isreal. She speaks English well, which facilitates her contact with Jews from all over the world. How is it possible, that she has been single for quite some time? Ever since she broke up with her non-Jewish partner several years ago, she has been looking for happiness in life. Asked if her potential boyfriend’s heritage is important to her she answers, „I used to not pay attention to it, but ever since I am active in the Jewish world, I have decided that it would be good for the next man to be Jewish”. When I try to reveal the specific reasons, she says „it may be a need to be understood in what you are doing and the will to share it with someone, who can understand it and not just accept it as if – oh, she’s found herself a hobby.” She admits herself that there is no one in Wrocław, her home city, who could be the right person for her. She would not mind having a partner from abroad, as long as it’s not a long-distance relationship. Just that is a problem in itself.
Ania is walking down the streets of Warsaw. The click of high heels can sometimes be heard, as she hurries to one of her burlesque shows. Ania a.k.a. Betty Q was the first burlesque dancer in Poland. She divides her time up between shows, teaching dance classes and managing her troupe. Not very tall, with thick, dark hair, a light complexion and a bit of vintage make-up she resembles a doll. Single since several years, with some gaps. She entered the Jewish community when she was about 20 years old. She quickly advanced to become employee of a large Jewish organization. Today she is „just” an activist with quite the artistic soul and wonders when she might find luck in love. „Before I became active in the Jewish community I was with a non-Jew, but as soon as the first Taglit came I realized how difficult it will be to combine my „new” life with the „old”, Ania says. „My ex-boyfriend saw my new interests as a temporary whim, while I was searching for my identity”. After years of her activity in the community and temporary relationships which never turned into anything deeper, I ask her, does she consider being with a non-Jew or more generally, with a person who does not even have a Jewish background? I wonder if it makes sense for a young, talented and attractive girl to spend one of the most beautiful periods of her life alone and constantly searching. Ania is quite steadfast in the matter, however. She says that sometimes her friends call her a racist. She does not see any reason for which a Jew should have to look for a partner outside the Jewish community. Though as she remarks, that is often the case. When she finds someone she likes it suddenly turns out he is with a non-Jewish girl. Ania is not religious, neither is Magda, in fact. Why then such a strong desire to look for a partner in the „community”? As Ania states frankly, „so that my children do not have an identity problem like in my family and so that there is a bond of understanding between us. It is really important to not become exotic for your boyfriend, that’s not what it’s about. It’s important to have common interests you can share with each other, to not look for compromise. I don’t like compromise.”
Though it may seem odd to readers from „across the pond”, in Poland there is a good deal of filo-semitism in some circles. Currently in Warsaw, the capital of Poland and also its most opinion-forming center, it is very fashionable to have a friend in the Jewish community. The trend has even reached Polish celebrities, who want to be seen at Purim balls. One is not surprised then, by the searching women’s fears of becoming unintentionally exotic.
Currently there is quite a strong trend among young Jews to search for partners from the Jewish community, which is not just connected with the possibility of openly expressing your identity and belonging. Unfortunately, the current generation of 25 year old Jews mostly comes from families that have split up, where they did not find the proper role models of mutual understanding between parents. When in the early 80’s one of them sought their roots, joined the newly formed organizations, thus finding themselves in a completely new world, loaded with new content, expressed through form, religion and culture. Their non-Jewish partners, quite understandably, felt intellectually and culturally excluded. This sort of „non-invitation” to the new reality of their husbands or wives often led directly to conflicts, lack of trust or effectively a parting of ways. Not many such marriages stood the test of time. Children from these relationships, currently young professionals, prefer to wait quietly, not giving up their search, rather than build a life with someone who won’t quite want or be able to understand their complicated identity.
In Poland or other post-Communist countries, Jewish identity is complicated, marked by the previous era. The problem is not just religion, a feeling support for Israel, a new culture or language. The Polish Jew is often one who does not speak Hebrew, knows little about Judaism, has not been taught, but strongly supports the Israel state as the essence of what being Jewish is. He does not travel there each year and has no intention of moving there permanently, because it is not his mental homeland, rather a spiritual one. He was not raised Jewish but made a conscious choice. It is worth noting, that this person also has his other I, which was irreversibly formed in the reality he was raised in. One cannot get rid of it, and it is pointless after all! It is impossible to change oneself in a day. He engages in discussions about God, cultural events and Sabbath suppers, often says he is not religious. Constantly conflicted, with other members of the community, he does not miss any conference or Limmud because he wants to see everyone. He is searching for himself and will be doing so to his death. It is hard to stand in between two different worlds, it is painful, however when destined by history to such a life, one must cope with it.
It is easy to get lost in this complicated reality. Ania knows so from experience. Her mother, a Jew, was not raised as such, but in the spirit of atheism, was baptized and took first communion two days before her wedding. Ania’s father was criticized many times in his hometown, for marrying a Jewish woman, but at the time it did not matter to him at all. The situation changed when ten years ago Ania and her mother discovered a Jewish community for themselves in Warsaw. Then even the father’s own family became their great opponents.
Tadek, aged 30, is one of the brave ones, a Warsaw resident who works in the media. It is hard for me to describe Tadek’s marriage in a way that he would not call racist. I would say that Tadek, who is Jewish, is the husband of a Catholic. For Tadek, such divisions are repulsive. He believes in the simple truth that if you love someone it does not matter what their heritage is. Religion is not that important either. He states, „I never thought of looking for a wife through any sort of Jewish institution. I never had any problem with my wife not being Jewish, apart from not being able to take her to Taglit”. Tadek was not raised in the Jewish tradition, he is not religious and has no intention of forcing anything on his child. He claims the child will choose its own path, which seems most suitable. Just like the father. Tadek did not think that the decorum of a civil union service was dignified enough, so for his religious wife-to-be he agreed to get married in a church. The Catholic Church allows a mixed marriage. Tadek’s wife prayed to her god, while he made a completely non-religious vow before the priest, who based on the Concordat took on the role of a state official. Tadek describes his wedding, „Of course during the mass I did not kneel or say the prayers, I did not receive communion. Additionally I arranged for an acquainted priest, who has a positive attitude toward Jews, so even the sermon was not too bad”.
The situations described so far feature non-religious people. There are more people in Poland who do not uphold the laws of Judaism. However, there is a small group in the Jewish communities in Poland who lead their lives in a conservative, orthodox manner. Obeying the rules of the Sabbath, prayers during the day and major holidays, keeping Kosher, are just a few elements of Magda’s lifestyle. Religious, a citizen of Poland, she left for Israel in search of a simpler religious life and her other, religious half.
Magda, a member of the Jewish community in Kraków, went to Israel because potential partners in Kraków were either not religious or not suitable because of age or sexual orientation. It was difficult for Magda to find someone with whom she could „share common ideals and views on life, being Jewish”, among this handful of men. Magda does not condemn her friends who grew tired of the constant search and finally decided on a relationship with a non-Jewish person, but she always went by firm principles in the matter. During our conversation she said,
„I think that in relationships like that [mixed], being Jewish [especially religious] is not viable in the long term. The partner has no opportunity in that situation for development and to fully follow their religious path, a Jewish education for the children, the full expression of their own identity. Children from a relationship like that have no clear identity model and it is almost certain they will become involved with a non-Jew, and the grandchildren often have nothing more to do with Judaism and Jewish culture”.
A move to Israel did not guarantee Magda (34 at the time) anything, to be honest. It was just a chance, which properly taken advantage of, brought her happiness. But not everything was so rosy from the start. Magda met her husband through a Jewish dating site. They kept in touch for a few months, but when she decided to visit him, he did not seem eager to marry initially. Magda then got a taste of shidukh dates, which she went to persistently for quite some time, but as she said, love conquered. She became the happy wife of Eran, a man from the Internet, with whom they approached toward marriage for two years and several months. During her Internet dating history however, she also experienced men proposing after the first two dates.
For me, someone firmly rooted in European culture, the first question that comes to mind concerns the cultural differences and the way spouses from two different countries communicate. Raised differently, based on different norms and social values, surely they must run into obstacles in understanding each other. Magda does not see that many differences, because her husband is Ashkenazi, and his father comes from Poland.
„The only things that cause problems for us are language [we do not understand each other’s Hebrew] and my husband’s religious minhagim [customs], which are completely different from mine, I do not always understand them and it’s not always easy for me to adapt”
After having used dating websites such as Frumsters, Dosi Date, Isawyouatsinai, 2 becomes 1, Magda leads the life of a happily married woman and preschool teacher, who can freely express her identity and religion. She has never thought of leaving for America, nor does her husband think of moving to Poland. Israel has become her new home.
Each of the people described above was born in Poland and each of them is marked by a strong sense of Jewish identity. Each of them found their own way and each made a conscious choice. To live religiously or to not pay attention to the set order and norms? To live in Poland or Israel? Go with what is modern or with tradition? Be more Jewish or more Polish with a Jewish background? These and other questions arise for every Jew in Poland, the one who knew of his heritage since being a child and the one who found out when he thought his whole life was already planned. One thing is certain, what all these people have in common is a desire to find oneself among the wide choice of today’s post-modern world, which constantly forces us to make choices, declarations and evaluations. It could seem sometimes that we have found all the answers and that there is nothing more to imagine in life, but still – a single kiss can turn our world upside down and open up a whole new spectrum of questions and answers.