In the insular Jewish world there is constant buzz around the so-called shidduch (marriage) crisis, where Orthodox are single despite wanting to find a mate.
This marriage worldview manifested itself in a recent letter, published on the Jewish news site Shmais, in which an anonymous “older single girl” describes her shame and depression for being unmarried.
The stigma of singlehood is rooted in conformist values that lack individual expression. It is sacrificing the individual for the sake of family and community.
The letter is addressed to her “Married Friends.” She starts by describing herself as a nebech – a pity case. She then details the pain and frustration of being single and without children.
She mostly refers to her married friends as a reference point for the ideal life she is lacking. She never discussed why she wants to be married and have children – but only about the life she sees others living.
Marriage is sacred and beautiful. Children are the greatest blessing. But it is harmful when a society conveys the message that you must be married to be happy.
It tells people they must conform to be happy. They must have kids. They must be married. Otherwise they will be miserable. In reality, happiness comes from within, not external factors like marriage.
If you can’t be happily single, you can’t be happily married.
Let’s face it. Unless you send your child to a Jewish day school, Camp Ramah or Brandeis University, there is a high chance that he or she will become romantically involved with a non-Jew. While I appreciate Jane Eisner’s concerns in For 2013, A Marriage Agenda, she does not address some of the fundamental issues as to why non-Orthodox American Jews choose to marry non-Jews or do not get married at all.
Intermarriage is a deeply personal affair for American Jews, as most of us have a close relative or friend who has married out of the faith. If Eisner takes a look at the personal lives of major non-Orthodox Jewish donors and lay leaders in the United States, she will find that many of them are themselves married to non-Jews, or have children who are married to non-Jews.
How can she expect American Jewry’s “so-called leadership” to fight the battle against intermarriage when many of them have married out of the faith or have intermarried children? We are talking about people’s lives here, so a Jewish leader aggressively fighting against intermarriage will most likely risk hurting their intermarried children, friends and relatives. Like it or hate it, it is much easier to focus on Israel than to discuss an issue which so personally affects each and every one of us.
One major reason that only 50% of non-Orthodox Jews are married by age 31 for women and by 34 for men is that it has become prohibitively expensive for the middle class to raise children in the United States. A recent government report found that on average, it costs $235,000 for a middle-income family to raise a child from birth to age 17, excluding college, which can cost another few hundred thousand dollars. This figure does not take into account sending one’s child to a Jewish day school, synagogue membership, Jewish summer camp, Hebrew school, bar/bat-mitzvah, and so on.