Why I can't date Jewish men
By Tobin Levy
At age thirty, I've had four real boyfriends: Che Guevara, Jesus, G.I. Joe and, most recently, an anorexic-looking Troll doll with diminutive facial features and hair that stood straight up regardless of whether he'd been shaken.
"Is he Jewish?" asked my eighty-nine-year-old grandmother when Troll Boy and I started dating.
"His last name is Lord," I said.
"That's a holy name, isn't it?" she said, optimistically. He drove a Mercedes. She needed this one to be Jewish.
"Okay," I said, before hanging up.
I was raised to expect this line of questioning. When the answer was visually obvious, as it was with Che (actually an Argentinean who looked a little like the revolutionary, sans facial hair), the question came in a different form: "What's your name again?" When I was dating Jesus (my blonde-haired, blue-eyed college boyfriend, who my great Uncle swore looked like an unkempt Christ), it came in the form of a sigh, followed by a statement: "I'd sure hate to have to disinherit you for not marrying a Jew."
"Huh?" I said.
"What do you want to have for dinner when you come to visit?" she replied.
Who says old people don't get craftier with age?
Lucky for Grandma, G.I. Joe came and went before she had time to inquire about his faith or lack thereof. And, lucky for me, for the past few years, my siblings have provided her with a temporary distraction. First, my older sister married a Goldberg. Then, just when Grandma's attention had redirected itself back to my disappointing (a.k.a. Gentile) marriage prospects, my twin sister secured herself a Greenberg. Now that her wedding plans are under way, the phone is once again ringing:
"So . . . do you have any special friends?"
No, just a fuck buddy who lives three thousand miles away, but don't worry, the sex is amazing. "No, Grandma."
"Well, the Katz's grandson just got married to the nicest Jewish girl."
He's a creepy close-talker, and I'm pretty sure he's gay. "That's nice."
"Don't worry, I'm sure you'll find someone soon."
Much to the dismay of my parents and grandparents, all of whom are practicing Jews, the remaining singleton in the family has an aversion to Jewish men. I have yet to seriously date - or, for that matter, sleep with - a Rosenstein, Bernstein, Cohen, Horowitz or Leibowitz. No small feat when you live in New York city and your last name is Levy.
My friend Katy, an Episcopalian living in New York, can't understand this. She's exclusively dated Jewish men for the past three years. ("It wasn't something I planned," she explained. "It's just at the men I was meeting happened to be Jewish.") My friend Meredith, also an Episcopalian, married a Jew. And my friend Molly, a Catholic, is not only engaged to one but plans to raise their children as Jewish. "Gabe is proud to be Jewish - in a way that I've never been proud to be Christian," she told me. "I can't wait to share that with my kids."
My inability to date Jewish men, while not something I'm proud of, is not without its reasons. There is the puerile desire to rebel against my family's expectations, which seem as antiquated as arranged marriage. Love is love is love is my way of thinking: if I'm lucky enough to one day find it, I'm not going to throw it away just because the guy doesn't have a mezuzah on his door. As I have reminded my parents constantly, just because a Jew marries a Jew doesn't mean there any guarantees: their own marriage dissolved after nearly twenty-five years, and my childhood synagogue "lost" two rabbis to marital infidelity (theirs, not their spouses').
"It's not just about being Jewish," my father once explained to me. "It's about finding someone with a similar background."
This comment has always eluded me. I grew up in Austin, Texas, before the internet boom, before Michael Dell moved to town with all of his money, some of which built the city's first Jewish day school. When I was growing up, "Texas Jew" still seemed like an oxymoron. I went to a private Episcopal high school, where I attended daily church services and memorized the "Our Father" prayer in Spanish.
Finding someone with a similar background was never going to be easy. And if the boys at my conservative synagogue were any indication of what was out there, I didn't want to. At age twelve, fleshy Howard had acquired a nasty smoking habit and a wardrobe that consisted solely of oversized death-metal tees. Nate had the personality of a piece of marble, unlike Leon, a hyperactive, pencil-skinny kid with a Jew-fro and A.D.D.
Alan, one of the only other males in my class, was the only viable possibility. He was defiant toward our teachers (and Howard, Nate and Leon) in the way alpha adolescents are defiant toward authority figures and their weaker peers. His strong features and sinewy physique qualified him as attractive in both the Jewish and gentile worlds. He was also kind, at least always to me, and had an intoxicating swagger that only would be enhanced by the red sports car he got for his sixteenth birthday, acceptance into an Ivy League university, admittance into the top (non-Jewish) fraternity, and, upon graduation, a coveted job at a large financial institution in New York City. Alan was genetically destined to become the dashing, wealthy "money guy" he is today. But even at age twelve, I knew I never wanted to marry a money guy (though, to be honest, I'm still not sure what exactly it is that "money guys" do except live in doorman buildings and pay for dinner with credit cards that don't get declined).
Still, once I was on the East Coast, guys like Nate, Howard, Leon and Alan seemed to be everywhere, along with legions of women vying for their affection. My first year at Barnard, I met dozens of orthodox Jews who were pining exclusively for my Hebrew schoolmates' doppelgangers. With their long denim skirts that doubled as chastity belts and no-sex-before-marriage-crushes, they were as foreign to me as I was to them.
"Why do you only date Jewish men?" I once asked Naomi, a stunning orthodox redhead who lived across the hall.
"Because," she said, as if it were the most asinine question on the planet, and left it that.
Her answer, devoid even of dogma, stunned me. My kind of faith involved taking ownership of a particular history, but it was not going to dictate whom I chose to date. Sophomore year strengthened my resolve, and senior year sealed the deal. That year, I met countless Jewish guys who were socially savvy and fun to be around, but each one seemed as unattractively predictable as the next: for their first three-and-a-half years in school, bong hits, beer pong and gentile girlfriends were embraced as harmless-yet-essential experimentation. Then, once the job interveiws began, their drug use and gentile lovers were compartmentalized into memories of their "crazy youth," and they did what their parents expected: stop fucking around, stop fucking shiksas and start looking for "nice Jewish girls" to marry.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, whenever a wedding invitation from one of my Jewish guy friends arrived in the mail, I envied him. What I didn't envy was the seemingly robotic way in which every single one of them eventually adhered to their parents' prescription for life. I'd eaten bacon with these guys. Bob Marley and Kind Bud were the only gods I'd seen them worship. When they were logging on to JDate or exchanging their High Times subscription for Heeb, did they ever stop to ask themselves why?
In all fairness to my college buddies, it's not only their lack of inquisitiveness that I resent, but also that of my non-Jewish friends in New York who've tried to set me up with "a nice Jewish guy." Not once has anyone tried to set me up with someone outside that category.
For years, I believed this was more about appearance than any values. I've been asked by strangers in more than half a dozen countries - Argentina, Spain, Thailand, East Williamsburg - if I was Jewish. And the question, which always comes out of nowhere, reminds me that regardless of what or how I believe, I look different from most people. I look like a religion. On the few occasions that I've heard the words, "Really? But you don't look like a Jew," they were offered as a compliment. How can facial features represent the vagaries of something so private as one's faith? I don't want to date Jewish men simply because we make the most visual sense together.
That said, seven years after moving to New York (a city that boasts more Jews per capita than any other in the U.S.), it's clear that the social inclination to pair Jews with other Jews isn't solely or even primarily about looks. First case in point: the continued existence of professional matchmakers, or modern day yentas. Take this passage from "What's Love Got to Do With It?", this year's Valentine's Day cover story in The New York Times Magazine:
Professional matchmakers match exteriors. They have a finely honed ability to instantly classify people anthropologically, according to socioeconomic type, and pair them off accordingly. Matchmakers believe that people should stop their agonized search for soul mates. Half of literature concerns the perils of falling for a soul mate . . . And these tales always end badly, with disgrace and death, so that the normal order of society is restored. The new matchmakers take a traditional approach. They believe that people do and should marry within their tribes.
So Jews should marry "within their tribe" to maintain "social order"? I never realized my romantic fate had such potential. I'd envisioned familial controversy, sure, but social chaos? That's a new one. And while we're on the subject, why is the featured matchmaker always described as a "comically exaggerated version of a Jewish mother?" Why, in this article, does Jewish seem to be the prime example of a commonality necessary for the perfect match? And why do most of the female clients mentioned come off as silly little caricatures of the Jewish-American Princess, the Prada-loving prima donna who wants nothing more than to marry rich and live in a penthouse on the Upper East Side?
It's the perpetuation of the belief that Jews are only interested in marrying other Jews, and it extends well beyond print. Hence JDate, "the largest Jewish singles network" online. Its mission, as stated, is "to help strengthen the Jewish community and ensure Jewish traditions are carried on for many generations to come." I've never tried it. I concede that there's nothing entirely wrong with faith-based online dating - if religion is a deal breaker for you, going to qiran.com or catholicmingle.com makes it that much more likely you'll find your type - but doesn't the very existence of JDate promote the idea of Jews as an endangered species, sort of like pandas and ocelots?
The truth is that Jews constitute roughly 2.2 percent of the U.S. population. That's about six million people, half the number of Jews estimated worldwide, and nearly the total number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. For me, these are daunting figures.
They involuntarily galvanize in me a sense of obligation - to the past, to tradition, to victims of the Holocaust, some of whom are distant relatives. I assume that, by marrying within their faith, many of my college friends were fulfilling a similar sense of obligation.
And yet there is something obscene to me about marrying or dating out of responsibility.
Trying to make sense of it all is exasperating. So, I did what I often do when I embark on a journey (or personal essay) so circuitous that collapse seems imminent. I called my mom.
"Mom," I asked, "why do you want me to marry a Jewish guy?"
"Years ago I had a conversation with myself," she explained. "I thought, if you had to choose for your children between a man that loved them truly and a schmuck that happened to be Jewish, what would you recommend? And I'm pleased to admit that I chose the former. What's important to me is that you're all happy and in loving relationships."
As they say on Family Feud, good answer. I pressed her: "But why did you have to have that conversation with yourself in the first place?"
"It was just something that I faced up to and verbalized to myself," she said. "Yes, there are parents out there for whom the Jewish-ness of their child's partner is paramount, and I think it's bullshit. At my worst, my most rabid Jewish self, I would never have said you must marry a Jewish guy. It's too obvious that there is plenty of goodness out there that is not Jewish. So give me some credit here."
"So what if I end up with a non-Jew?"
"I would say to you, that's great, I'm happy, I love you and the person you love, but now you have to do even more work to figure out who you are and how much of that you retain and pass down. I would assume that someone who really loved you would love you for who you are, and wouldn't try and make you into someone you aren't. There are so damn many negotiations when you're with someone, it's pleasant to have as few as possible. If you're not having to negotiate how to spend Christmas, and Chanukah and Easter each year, it's one less thing to worry about."
My head is pounding, and she hasn't even mentioned kids.
"Plus, if you marry someone who isn't Jewish and you have children, what will you do?" she said. "Or do you say, 'We're not raising our children with any religion at all?' At some point, you have to pick and choose."
What I don't have the energy to tell her is that, in some respects, I already have. If, one day, I have children, I will not raise them as agnostics. Nor, during the holiday season, will I decorate the house with Christmas trees and menorahs and Kwanzaa dolls and pentagrams. Will I subject them to Sunday school classes filled with Howards, Nates and Leons? To be honest, I'm not sure. But whomever I end up with, assuming I end up with anyone at all, will not be the kind of person who has a finite position on all things religion. It's a prerequisite.
That said, having recently gone on a date with a techno obsessive who doesn't have the stomach for gory horror flicks (I recently paid $10.25 to see Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes), I'm still a long way from settling down. I suppose I could hit up a sperm bank, knowing that Grandma would spend the rest of her life figuring out how to explain that one to her friends, or I could take the gentler route and do as my mother said before she signed off from our conversation: "Don't look for a resolution here; that will make you crazy. Just enjoy the trip."
But since I never much enjoyed the trip in the first place, I'll settle on a third option: I'll resolve not to be resolved. It's certainly not the conclusion I'd hoped to come to while working on this essay. I'd hoped, at the very least, to write myself into a state of indifference - toward my family's expectations, toward any lingering sense of marital obligation, toward anyone and everyone who thinks I should be with a Jew simply because I am one. Instead, it seems that I've come full circle.
Yet I'm not exactly back where I started either. By beginning this, previously dreaded conversation - with myself and, yes, my mother - about the complexities of faith and relationships, I'm able to approach my love life and spirtuality with a little less anger, and a little more freedom. n°
Misc stuffs3 minutes of Ringo on The Simpsons ~
Ringo himself voiced his own character, and the storyline is simply delicious. It's so Starkified. We need to see much, much more of this droomer fella!!!
~*~ ♥ ~*~
For the media behind the following cut, please copy the desired url then paste it into your browser's address space.
If I posted them as links, they may show as link-backs on their server, and I just don't want that to happen, considering the PID-based source. However, the vids and clips are nice.
Firstly ~ Mal Evans takes home movies on a trip to Africa in late 1966, and other places.
http://www.jojoplace.org/Shoebox/Magical_Mystery_Trip.rm(The eppylover refuses to install realplayer or any of its evil minions into her computer. So, this one has so far been unwatched here. Enjoy if you can play .rm files. Let me know if you see Eppy anywhere. I'm inclined to doubt you will.)
Secondly ~ A Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd with The Beatles (audio file).
Did you know this was P.Floyd recording with our guys?
Thirdly ~ Speaking of Pink Floyd, here they are in the early years, in a video called Arnold Layne.
And a Brian smile, just because I can. ~
Today's Stephy Comic!