A Family Affair: Keep the faith, not the boyfriend

Finding Mr Right is proving impossible for Janine Warner, 27, particularly as her father, Keith, 57, insists that he must be Jewish
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The Independent Culture

Ben, my boyfriend, is not Jewish and I know my father hates it. I think he may even be in complete denial about us being together. I've had plenty of non-Jewish boyfriends in the past who he's known about. But now that I'm nearing an age when people tend to think more about marriage, I think it worries him.

He needn't be concerned, though. While I may have friends and boyfriends of all ethnic backgrounds, I've learnt that it wouldn't be worth it to marry out of my faith.

Friends often say, "What would you do if you fell in love with someone who wasn't Jewish?" But I wouldn't let myself. Love, as I've been brought up to believe, has to be about sharing values and core beliefs about where you come from. In any case, my whole life has been focused around my family. Every Friday night, for instance, my mum and dad, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces all go to my grandparents' house for the eve of the Sabbath. How could a non-Jewish boyfriend fit into that?

I admit that my dad is strict, though, and I feel a huge relief that I live my life as he'd like me to.

My grandfather - the head of the family - believed we should only know Jewish people, so I started out at a Jewish primary school, and even at my non-Jewish secondary school all my friends were Jewish. We went to Jewish youth groups and did the usual teenage tour of Israel.

But at 19 years old I suddenly got very frightened. I realised that if I stayed on this conventional path, I'd wind up in a Jewish marriage before I wanted to, completely ignorant of other ways of life. So I went off to America for a couple of years where I started a life that had nothing to do with Judaism. When I came home, I returned to it but the experience gave me a feeling that it was my choice rather than something that was forced on me.

I do not, however, have a clue where I'll find a Jewish guy when I feel the need to get married. I know Dad would insist on his family and my family all getting on really well because "family" is so important.

Mind you, because I think my parents know me better than I know myself, I'd believe them if they thought that someone wasn't right for me.

Leeds itself is the next problem. I know every Jewish person in my age group - we meet at the synagogue for festivals and we've grown up together. When I look at them, I see them in school uniform. Nothing would give my parents more pleasure than if I met a Jewish guy right now. When they met, they were engaged within six weeks; that's how they think it should be.


There's nobody that doesn't get on with. She's everybody's friend. As far as I'm concerned, Ben is one of those friends. No more, no less. My wife knows Ben's parents and even they agree.

In any case, provided it's not on a courtship level, I don't mind that my daughter hangs around with people from varied backgrounds. I do it. I think it's healthy and, in addition, we don't have much choice. When I was a kid, the city of Leeds had 20,000 Jews. Now there are just 9,000. They have either died, moved away or married out of their faith. So if we didn't mix with non-Jewish cultures, we probably wouldn't know many people at all.

I have to admit that I think times spent with other Jewish people have something particularly special about them. Everyone is prepared to help out everybody else; everyone is welcome in anyone's home; everyone makes an effort to get to know each other. Sadly, I just don't see that happening in other cultures. That's why I supported 's decision to go abroad all those years ago. I knew that through spending a lot of time with other ethnic groups, she'd come to realise and appreciate that.

But while it truly breaks my heart that there are hardly any of us left in Leeds, it's not the only reason I believe so strongly against Jews marrying non-Jews. It's also that the teachings and beliefs of Judaism are central to our lives and central to any marriage. Nevertheless, I don't feel I've been terribly strict in laying down rules on this issue to my daughter. I feel for , because she is unlikely to meet a guy as quickly as in other cultures. I think there may even be as few as 50 Jewish boys of her age in the whole city. It's a shame because a lot of the people who I'd have thought were suitable for her move to London where the jobs with the real money are.

I often think my daughter assumes I'd like to see her married tomorrow, because of my somewhat old-fashioned views, but that's not the case at all. I'd rather she waited, if that's what it takes to meet the right person. Indeed, knows that he and his family would have to get on with me. I wouldn't mind so much if marriage weren't on the cards but if it were, I'd have no hesitation in discouraging her from being with someone who I thought inappropriate. I simply want what I believe to be the best for her.

and I often scream at each other but the bottom line is that we're close. She's very much her daddy's girl. Perhaps that's why she doesn't get many boyfriends.

Interviews by Kate Hilpern

and Keith feature in `Love In Leeds', on Channel 4 on Wednesday at 9pm