October 8, 2009
Issue: 10.09
Who Knew?

Something is wrong if my being Jewish is more appealing to gentile men than to Jewish men. Why is this so? One obvious answer is that, to them, I am exotic. Don’t laugh. The word exotic can simply mean “belonging to another part of the world.” And being from another part of the world, I don’t immediately remind them of their mother, ex-wife, or ex-girlfriend. As a matter of fact, I have found that many of these men hold positive stereotypes about “Jewesses” and are outright “Semiti-philes.”

In the past few months, I have been “courted” by several such men, who have tried (and succeeded) in impressing me with their knowledge of Jewish culture and history, as well as dazzling me with their command of Yiddish. Nu? Who knew?

I am tempted. Why? Because, sadly, the Jewish men whom I have been meeting don’t appear to like Jewish women. Without even taking the opportunity to get to know me, they assume that I embody every negative stereotype of the Jewish woman. Their perspective on Jewish women is as anti-Semitic as that of the media, who portray Jewish women more often as Fran Dreschers than as Jane Seymours (nee Joyce Frankenberg). When was the last time that a romantic comedy portrayed a Jewish man, a la Billy Crystal, falling in love with a Jewish woman, as opposed to a shiksa goddess, a la Meg Ryan? Too long.

But it’s not just Jewish men who are anti-Semitic; many Jewish women also hold less than flattering stereotypes of Jewish men (e.g., mama’s boy, nebbish). It’s a wonder that Jewish women and men can even be in the same room with one another, let alone date and marry each other.

This animosity was driven home for me a few months ago, when I held a workshop on writing a JDate profile. To say that the workshop was “interactive” is an understatement. I felt more like a referee than a facilitator. To be fair, some of this animosity had to do with the drawbacks of online dating, but I sensed that this problem went deeper. The women were angry at the men for posting old pictures, lying about their height and age and, to compound this, indicating that they wanted women at least 10 and sometimes 20 years younger. The men were angry at the women for also posting old pictures (and not including a full-length shot) and for lying about their age.

Underlying their anger was, I felt, not only a lack of respect for and trust of the opposite sex, but also of their fellow Jews. In speaking privately with some of the workshop attendees, I learned that they no longer cared whether they dated or married someone Jewish. As a matter of fact, most were tired of dating Jews and of being stereotyped and felt that they would have better success with gentiles.

I am starting to understand why they feel this way. Perhaps because, to gentile men, I’m an unknown, they do not approach me with any preconceived notions, except for their positive stereotypes of Jewish women and even of Jews in general. Instead, they take the time to get to know me, finding out that I am both similar to and different from their mother, ex-wife, or ex-girlfriend. Moreover, rather than experiencing my Jewishness as “oppressive” (think of the famous scene in “Annie Hall” when Woody Allen imagines how Diane Keaton’s family views him), they delight in my assertiveness, my Yiddishisms (responding with their own), and even my very un-shiksa-ish appearance.

Lest you be concerned that I have dated any of these men, I have not. Instead, I fantasize about asking one to develop a sitcom or to write a romantic comedy in which a Jewish woman is portrayed as beautiful and sexy, as well as intelligent, and is pursued by Jewish and gentile men alike simply because she is everything that a man could want. And the story wouldn’t have an unhappy ending, like that of Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in “The Way We Were.” Rather, it would end with a Jewish man and a Jewish woman falling in love with each other and living happily ever after.

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