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A Good Date Gone Israel

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07/31/2014

Ashley Kolpak photo

The other night I was enjoying a delightful date at a great pizza place in the Loop. In between sparkling conversation and stellar food (shout out to Pizano’s), something other than the cute guy across the table stole my attention. Flickering on big screen TV screen were the latest dispatches from Gaza.  

My demeanor shifted as I continued to stare at the reporter outfitted in sand-colored fatigues, trying to make out the specifics of what he was reporting. I quickly realized my faux pas and diverted my gaze away from the television. You’ve only been seeing this guy for a little while, I thought. Be true to yourself, but be cool.

So, delicately, I let loose what was running rampant through my mind. I shared that I am deeply pro-Israel, a little bit of my family’s history with the country, my feelings on the latest conflict, and so on and so forth.

He took a breath. A Chicago transplant via the Pacific Northwest, he said that I was the first Jewish girl he’d ever dated. I took the liberty of briefly going over the latest news and what I knew about the conflict escalation, emphasizing how important it is to read articles from various, qualified sources to make an informed judgment. I felt myself getting long-winded, but as I pieced together my thoughts, feelings and insights on this critical moment, I felt a sense of pride rising up that prodded me to continue explaining. Great date conversation – who knows? But Israel is an important part of me – I’m going to talk about it.  

I will never claim to be the perfect spokesperson, but I try my best to keep up on what’s going on, keep a cool head, while holding fast to my belief in Israel. It wasn’t really a test – but he passed with flying colors, so there.

Also, this is not the first time I’ve been on this end of a “you’re the first Jewish person I’ve met/dated/traveled with” conversation. I find the prospect of being someone’s first Jewish fill-in-the-blank incredibly interesting.  

I grew up in a very large Jewish community (Northwest Chicago suburbs, represent). When I was younger, I vaguely knew that growing up with so many Jewish friends was an anomaly. Studying abroad and later living in France introduced me to some amazing people – people who had never met or shared a close friendship with anyone Jewish. These friendships continually teach me not only more about other religions and perspectives, but they also encourage further exploration of what aspects of Judaism mean the most to me. Sharing Jewish traditions with others and discovering more about of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and more is enriching in so many ways.

I’ll never forget the conversations I had with my friend Abed, a Syrian living in France. We shared open and judgment-free discourse on issues in the Middle East rooted in honesty while remaining respectful. Our views could not be more diametrically opposed, but we share an overarching desire for peace and that is what matters most.  

Regarding anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and elsewhere, my heart aches profoundly. There’s simply nothing more to say. However, on both sides of the conversation, it is my deepest hope that the majority of citizens are searching for peace during this incredibly trying time.

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