I'm Jewish. I was raised with the notion that I should someday marry another Jewish person, raise Jewish children and once and for all make my Jewish mother and grandmothers happy.
Yet, I know plenty of self-identified Jews who might as well be practicing a religion from Mars. I know many other Jews who gave up practicing a long time ago. Others still who never bothered. But they're Jews. We learned the same histories, went to the same summer camps and youth group conventions, ate the same foods, read the same books and watched the same movies. So I should choose my love from among these people and no one else, right?
In this world of abundance, overflowing with faces, spaces and dreams, it's a lot easier to fall in love with the finite than it is to give in to the infinite. In New York City, one falls in love five times before arriving at work in the morning. Fresh baked pastries, the ecstatic aroma of steaming coffee beans, the intricate graffiti, the music of the streets. This city -- and moreover, this world -- provides so many opportunities for love, it's enough to feel something, to feel anything, and just call it a day. Pick a love, any love. Call it your own.
We all struggle to meet the infinite love this world holds for us. Millions of people searching for that one person to share their thoughts, feelings, ideas with, to lift them up, to care for them. Millions of people find millions of things in their search, but how often is love found? What is it that we are looking for in another person? The right age? The right body? The right interests? Outlook? Prospects? Upbringing?
What about the right religion? More and more, we see religious dating sites growing in numbers and popularity. Yet, we also see people from different backgrounds and faiths joining these sites, hoping to find the right (interfaith) partner. So what is it about dating someone of your own faith -- or someone with the most admirable faith -- that makes these websites appealing? Why is religion often a "make or break" for finding that infinite love we want?
The foundation of Judaism is a belief in the oneness of God. There is only one God, and all creation comes from this singular source. In formal Jewish prayer, the lines that immediately follow the declaration of God's oneness are instructions: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." It is this all-encompassing devotion of which the narrator speaks in the "The Song of Songs," Judaism's most enduring love poem:
Stamp me in your heart,
Upon your limbs,
Sear my emblem deep
Into your skin.
For love is strong as death,
Harsh as the grave.
Its tongues are flames, a fierce
And holy blaze.
Endless sea and floods,
Torrents and rivers
Never put out love's
(Song of Songs 8:6-7, translated by Marcia Falk.)
Another pillar of Judaism is the Golden Rule: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to another person." In other words, give only your love to others because humanity is one rhythm tapping and stomping in time and only love keeps the song going.
But none of this makes a good case for keeping love within the faith. If God is one and love is infinite, why limit ourselves when it comes to choosing a partner?
Love doesn't work that way. It's not just a piece of the puzzle. It is the puzzle. I found my love in a series of synchronous moments and events that led me to a point where that infinite love -- the sort only my soul knows -- stood right in front of me. There was no one thing that made this love "right." Not age, not face, not body. Not interests, outlook, prospects or upbringing. Not even religion.
Sometimes, yes, finding love is easier in the structure of religion. But any system that facilitates and nurtures truth, beauty and goodness serves our quest for love. Music, art, humor, nature, friendship, religion -- all have love within them. The more we explore the things that make us deeply happy, the closer we come to finding that person who embodies our inner and outer faith.
Love is the pattern. It is also the fabric. Everything must come together to create the quilt.