I fell hard for Colin Edwards— a smoldering, blonde Australian— during a week-long Lifeguard/Instructor course in the Poconos. It was a few days prior to the beginning of my job at an Orthodox summer program, and I was obliged to complete the rigorous training course in order to fulfill the requirements of the position. It was the summer after my first year of college, for which I lived at home and commuted daily, and I was hesitant to embark upon a journey to a place where no one knew me, where they'd hardly ever uttered the word "Jew."

I was different After a few challenging hours at the course, I found that I had to work hard to create a feeling of importance in the small Jewish commandments I was fulfilling in this secular, relaxed, camp-like atmosphere. I didn't have to wear a Jewish star on my neck to feel different or separate. I was different. I ate my own special food. I got up earlier in the morning to pray in secret, whispering the words while constantly trying to avoid an unwanted and curious audience. Does it really matter if I dress modestly? I wondered on my second day, as some of my new acquaintances and I hit a local mall during time off. I picked a new mini-skirt and a tiny tee shirt, something I would never feel comfortable in at home where the standards were different. But here- even in this new outfit, I was still overdressed.

That night, after whispering the bedtime prayer of the Shema, I felt like that old philosophical riddle, "If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" I was alone, without a community, a support system, a rabbi- or any other Jew- and wondered if my actions really made any impressions? Did it matter if my religious life was entirely centered around myself and G‑d, with actions performed without ceremony, secretly, and there were no expectations to fulfill between myself and others?

I didn't intend to like Colin, to dip my toes into the forbidden waters of dating a non-Jew. After all, I grew up deeply religious my whole life, in strong deference to the traditions imparted from my parents and grandparents. I would never have anticipated making decisions that would disappoint them. I could never bring a non-Jew home to my parents' Shabbat table, and ladle chulent on his plate, or be wed to a man who wouldn't be able to instill a love of Judaism, especially when my own could occasionally use some support.

When we met, I pondered the chances of "Edwards" actually being a Jewish last name- perhaps his ancestors had changed it from Edvardstien post-war when they fled Europe for Australia? But the more we conversed, the more I realized that he had no interest or belief in religion, but respected me for mine. Yet respect wouldn't suffice. What I really craved was a man with an intellectual approach to Judaism, a man who would fall asleep sprawled across a couch with a Torah book on his face, someone who could explain the meaning of Jewish concepts and ideas. This was not, and would never be, Colin.

He had no interest in religion Yet Colin was exotic and exciting, and was interested in me. We laughed a lot together, his head tipped back, long blonde locks tangled with chlorine and sweat. And sometimes when I would breathe, I could detect a faint note of Polo Sport, or some other typical manly cologne. He was occasionally mysterious or melancholic, sitting alone, away from our loud group of friends during our time off, and I liked to imagine that he was bemoaning the fact that we had only a few days left in each others' presence, or that we were too different to end up together. There was a visible spark of attraction, flirtation, a mutual obsession. People were constantly asking if we were a couple.

"Would you ever marry someone who wasn't Jewish?" Colin asked me one night, his tanned face illuminated by the moon and hundreds of visible stars overhead. We were sitting close together on a grassy patch, our legs almost touching. I longed to inch closer, but held back.

"No," I said. "I wouldn't."

"But what if you fell in love with someone who wasn't?" he asked. I wanted to say that I already was, but couldn't divulge that truth. If I didn't formulate the words, maybe it wouldn't really be true. Words have a way of giving a moment credibility, of bringing a thought into reality, and I couldn't admit that to myself, much less to him.

"I won't. I can't," I said, more to convince myself. I wondered if he believed my words, because I didn't. And I knew he was asking because he felt the tension between us. I felt his radiant green eyes on me all day long during our lectures, and the way he paused in between the sentences he whispered to me, visibly memorizing every aspect of my face. I thought about him all the time. "For me, there can't be any love when there is no similar background, when we don't want to be in the same place in life, when we aren't going in the same direction. When we both don't feel connected to G‑d in the same ways." Colin nodded solemnly, dejectedly, and we never spoke of this again.

We are a summary of the choices we make As humans, we are a summary of the choices we make, of every action and positive deed performed. Colin and I were composed of different elements and stood continents apart. If I did attempt to bridge the gap, to ignore our impenetrable differences, I knew I would never feel connected in a very deep way. He would never shudder in humility on Yom Kippur or cry until his soul was wrung dry on Tisha B'av, the greatest day of mourning for the Jewish people. And though these are minutia in the larger scheme of G‑d's intentions, I just didn't believe we'd ever be viewing the world with the same lens. He had no desire to believe in G‑d or live with any form of religion in his life, and that was not something I had the right or desire to change. And yet I knew I could never start a family in a veil of conflict, or bring children up in a home where Judaism was not viewed as infallible, and the center of their lives.

That night, alone on my top bunk, I whispered Shema, tightly blanketed by the thick darkness of the mountains, and wondered how Colin would draw a meaningful closing to his day, how he would enwrap himself in safety in the midst of a G‑dless night. I thought of my grandmother who, decades earlier, lay motionless on a wooden bunk in a concentration camp and prayed for salvation using the very same words I was praying. Tradition, culture, I am blessed. I cannot disappoint.

I was disappointed but also relievedI was disappointed, but also relieved, when the week drew to a close, and it was time to say goodbye to Colin, and the other friends I had made. I knew that our heartfelt and tearful "goodbyes" were forever. I would have to silently allow my feelings to shrivel and wane, to cradle the broken pieces of my insides. But at least I hadn't done anything I would regret. And though we briefly corresponded over the summer, each of us at our respective camps perhaps grappling with our emotions, we eventually moved on in our lives and in our quests for love, for understanding. I returned to the smiling faces of the people I respect in my life, of those who invest every beating moment into my well-being, and am thankful for every tender moment in which I can make them proud.

I found the situation challenging— being in an environment where there was no real feeling of being Jewish, and any inkling of spirituality and connection to G‑d had to be forged from within my own being. It scared me that things would have or could have progressed had we been in our summer course longer. It was overwhelming that I had been capable of developing feelings for someone so wholly inappropriate for me. And it made me wonder what would happen if I were put in another similar situation, perhaps on a college campus or living in a secular community; how easy it is to make a choice and step away from a life of spirituality that I'd committed twenty years to building.

Now, as years disentangle us, I barely remember Colin and that summer experience. But I remember feeling scared and sad, and the myriad of contradictory emotions that plagued my mind. I don't even think what we shared was love, or anything remotely close to it. There was no real depth, no reason for the passion we felt, other than superficial attraction, a juvenile crush, or maybe even boredom. And the way camp-time is so unlike real-time, ticking by as if each minute in the skewed reality is really an hour. It was wrong, we were wrong, on so many levels. As I reflect back to that time, I look up to the Heavens and thank G‑d for allowing me to see that and for giving me the strength to stay true to myself.