Three years ago, I went on my first date with my Jewish boyfriend. I obnoxiously toasted “l’chaim!” and pounded him with questions about his Bar Mitzvah theme, and what really went down on his birth right trip to Israel. I marveled at the normal size of his nose, the fact that he was neither a doctor nor a lawyer, and the fact that he happily treated to quite an expensive dinner, no hesitation noticeable. In an effort to save you from the same mistakes and misconceptions I suffered, here are a few tips.
1. Brush up on simple Yiddish.
For instance, if, when you walk into a room, you hear his mom whisper “chaz” under her breath, she is not actually so drunk that she thinks your drop-dead gorgeous and is slurring through calling you hot. She has actually just called you a pig. But, if your boyfriend asks if you want to snuggle up for a “schluffy,” that just means he wants to cuddle and nap with you. Tread lightly when it comes to the Yiddish, mensch.
2. Keep in mind that his mom will inevitably be tough to please and exceedingly protective of her son.
So yes, when you schmutz up your skirt at Passover and start to schvitz, she will notice, and she will endlessly mock you internally, now, and then to her son, shamelessly, later. Also, it is likely your new man calls his mom at least once a day. She may still do his cooking, cleaning, and laundry. I am not saying you should condone this, I am just saying, don’t be alarmed if this is the case when you first step in.
3. Food is very important.
Bagels, lox, schmear, noodle kugel, charoset, challah, and hamentaschen are all great. Do not be afraid to take plentiful helpings. Gefilte fish, however, I would steer clear of during my first Passover.
4. Holidays are all about celebrating survival.
Oil lasting eight days, defeating the evil Pharaoh, Esther outsmarting the dumb king, taking that unleavened bread and hightailing it to safety. The Jewish people are smart; they are survivors. Why not celebrate that?
5. People will start asking questions about converting very, very soon.
Will you be converting to Judaism? Will your children be raised Jewish? Don’t know? Figure it out fast. Bubbe is going to ask. And she will not be placated by a smile and a nervous laugh.
6. There is a lot you don’t know.
Before you start ignorantly inquiring what’s with “those little hats,” why all of the food in his Zayde’s fridge is stamped with a “K,” why all the mirrors are covered, why his brother violently stomped on and crushed a glass at his own wedding, or why his parents have an odd knick knack hanging on the top right side of their front entryway, pause to remember that Judaism is a rich, beautiful, historical culture. The former are all things you can ask your new guy about respectfully; just don’t bring shrimp cocktail to your first Shabbat dinner at his mom’s, and you’re already starting off on the right foot.