Those are the compositions of young Jewish couples in my immediate circle of friends and colleagues, and I think it’s quite telling.
You see: If you are looking to date a Jew in Europe, chances are pretty good you’ll end up with someone from a different country. You might even consciously consider the entire continent of Europe your dating pool.
My own first venture into this was the annual Bnei Akiva “Eurovision Song Contest” – A Jewish spin on Europe’s beloved kitsch fest, bringing together teams of 15 and 16 year-olds from all around Europe to spend Shabbat together, and then compete against each other on Sunday morning. That’s where I met my first boyfriend – A cute Italian guy that I didn’t actually talk to at the event, but managed to find on MSN Messenger later on (and who luckily remembered me, and was able to type basic English). For my other Swiss friends, it was a summer camp with Belgians, Italians, and Austrians, or a Jewish student skying camp organized by Swiss, Italian and Hungarian students. And for my friends from Central Europe, Szarvas summer camp, gathering kids and teenagers from Central Europe, the Balkans and beyond, was the place for, ehem, intercultural Jewish identity building.
Language barriers weren’t really an issue. Communication magically fell into place, even though, at best, most people had had two or three years worth of English classes at that point in their life. But little can stop teenage love, as you probably remember very well from your own days at summer camp.
Back in public high school, it was somewhat of a novelty to have a boyfriend from a different country, but this being the early days of the internet made it all gloriously possible. For several months, we chatted away on MSN Messenger (I remember discussing Rihanna’s “Pon de Replay”), and he told me about some new thing called “Skype”, which he pronounced “sky-pee” with an Italian accent (yes, that was adorable). I didn’t manage to install it, though, so we stuck with MSN. But alas, despite our long chats and him visiting me in Switzerland once, the whole story puttered out after a couple of months. But to be clear: The reason for our break-up was not the fact that he lived in Rome, and I lived in Schaffhausen. Distance was definitively not to blame.
And so I merrily continued with long-distance, border-hopping relationships, and I only stopped to reflect more deeply about it when one day, while talking to some friends from university, I realized: I had never had a boyfriend from Switzerland, let alone my hometown. My non-Jewish girlfriends were in shock.
Most Jewish communities in Europe – with some notable exceptions like Paris, London or Berlin – feel like a village. Chances are extremely high that you went to the same Jewish kindergarden, Jewish school or Jewish youth group as any other young Jewish person in your community. Sure, some people were lucky enough to fall for someone from their own community, or perhaps the neighboring community. And sometimes, people moved to town. I will never forget the excitement when one day there was a new kid from Germany in our youth group. But for most of us – if it was important to us – it was just obvious from the start: If you want to date Jewish, you don’t date local: You date European (and Israeli).
Jewish organizations, more or less consciously, help this along by offering a broad range of international conferences, parties and seminars. These activities are international in nature mostly because of the small size of many Jewish communities. They tackle all kinds of topics relevant to young Jews in Europe, but if you put lots of young Jews together, friendships (definitely) and love (sometimes) results. That is a welcome side effect (or explicit aim, depending on the event). I myself, for example, met my Swedish fiancé at Matara, a program for Jewish educators at Limmud UK, and the majority of my best Jewish friends are not from Switzerland. I know for a fact that generations of international Jewish couples met at my organization’s annual Summer University, which has been bringing together 300 to 500 young Jews from all over Europe for a week of fun and learning for over 30 years now.
The EU, Erasmus and EasyJet play their roles as well. Young Europeans are on the move across Europe. We are the so-called “Erasmus Generation”, which refers to the EU-wide study abroad program that has helped millions of young Europeans spend a semester or two in a different European country. This program, since its inception in 1987, has had consequences such as an estimated 1 million children born to “Erasmus couples”. Furthermore, the free movement of workers is a fundamental right guaranteed by the European Union for EU citizens, which means: As an EU citizen, you can look for a job and move anywhere you fancy – or love – within Europe. In addition, the boom in low-cost airlines offering at times insanely cheap airfares within Europe has made it quite possible to see your partner every other weekend, or even more frequently.
So to sum up: Dating long-distance isn’t littered with as many obstacles as it used to be. Us being the plugged-in Erasmus and EasyJet generation makes this all actually possible, and not that crazy – Although, to be crystal clear: Long-distance relationships are hard and connected with strain and heartache. Obviously nobody prefers it over dating locally, but if you hang out at a lot of international Jewish events or you’re looking to date Jews in Europe, it is so often part of the package.
In part two, I will be talking to my friends about their take on international Jewish dating. So stay tuned, and keep an eye on “Voices from Europe”!
Jane Braden-Golay guest edits “Voices from Europe” for Jewcy this month. When she is not busy wading through cheesy pictures to illustrate this article, she is the president of the European Union of Jewish Students in Brussels, Belgium. Follow her on Twitter @JaneBradenGolay.