Not-So-Nice Jewish Boy

When Israeli producers came to America to audition Jewish men to star in “Nice Jewish Boy,” their upcoming Bachelor-type reality show, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. After all, who better than me — a commitment-phobic, ardently secular, anxious, heavily medicated, pale glass of short Jewish water — to represent the American way?

This could be a chance for me to make a real difference in Israeli-American relations. I began to fantasize about my very own harem of glistening Israeli chicks in sweaty army fatigues, and all that we could do to and for one another in the name of world diplomacy. I’d learn invaluable lessons that only these gorgeous Israelis could teach me: how to shoot an Uzi, how to chain smoke and how to have zero respect for someone’s personal space. I, on the other hand, would pass on such valuable American skills as: driving a block away to Starbucks to spend $3 on a cup of coffee, how to say the words “excuse me” and, most importantly, how to apply underarm deodorant.

So, after my initial inquiry and some e-mail exchanges with the producer, I received a phone call from the show’s production coordinator in Israel at 6 a.m. No. You heard that right. Six. In the morning.

So anyway, in my groggy, disoriented state, the production coordinator (who we’ll call “Galit”) gave me my flight information. Coming to, I finally asked Galit, “So, who’s picking me up from the airport, and where will I be staying?”

There was dead air on the other end of the line. Then Galit responded: “Emmmmm, you can take a taxi, no? And, emmm…. We cannot put you up. OK?”

The thought of being stranded in Queens at 1 a.m. had me suddenly wide awake. Galit sensed my panic, and said that she was going to check with the producers, and that she would call me back in a half hour (read: 6:30 a.m.). Before getting off the phone with me, however, she asked if I could call some people in New York and see if they wouldn’t mind putting me up. I told her that I’d call everyone I knew. She hung up. I went back to sleep.

A half hour later, the phone rang. It was Galit: “Did you find anyone to put you up?”

I deadpanned, “Nope. I called 20 of my closest New York friends. Everyone’s all booked up for the summer.”

This clearly went over her head as she pushed on: “Not to worry, because I am a magic worker! I got you a hotel to stay! I work magic, no?”

Now we were talking! Clearly, all that needed to have happened was a little negotiation on my part. It looked like my American capitalist negotiation skills had trumped her primitive shuk haggling.

Galit said cheerfully, “We’ll put you up for one night at the Howard Johnson. This is good, yes?”

Emmm, no! Any hotel that is more famous for its flapjacks than it is for its, well … hotel, I’m gonna have a problem with. I don’t care how good their breakfast is — 11 hours of flying for six hours in New York was a deal that I was not going to make. There was some more dead air on the other end of the line.

“Hello?” I asked.

And then, out of the blue, Galit said six words that absolutely floored me: “C’mon, what angle can we work here?”

Angle! What angle can we work here? I was appalled. How about the angle of human decency? Or, an angle that doesn’t involve maple syrup and butter? I told Galit that either they were going to fly me out, pick me up and put me up for two full days, in a non-pancake-themed hotel, or I wasn’t coming. Period.

Well, my good-old American tenacity worked, because she finally acquiesced. Well sort of. Because when I landed at JFK on Friday night, there, of course, was no one to pick me up. The next morning, after showering, shaving, gelling, and sucking in my gut, I was off to meet the producers of the show.

The questions were probing and personal, and mainly focused on my past relationships. Here is a quick sample:

Israeli Producers: What sorts of things do you do to relax?

Me: I like to drink a little.

Israeli Producers: (Blank Looks)

Me: Um, well, okay, more than a little. Oh yeah, and I frequently like to get in touch with myself….

Israeli Producers: (More blank looks. And then….) What’s the most expensive gift you’ve bought one of your past girlfriends?

Me: You’re supposed to buy them gifts?

Israeli Producers: (Additional blank looks.)

Me: Does dinner count as a ‘gift?’

Israeli Producers: (See above.)

Me: (Slightly uncomfortable, and then taking a bold swing.) I gave them the gift of … the joy of being in my company?

That’s about where they wrapped up my audition. The next day, I flew home to L.A. with a promise from the producers that they’d let me know the following week if I made the cut. A month has passed since, and I still haven’t received any 6 a.m. telephone calls. Not that I’m waiting by the phone for an answer or anything. I mean, who’d want to be on some stupid reality TV show where 20 women fight over you? Not me, that’s for sure!

God, I’m pathetic.

Anyway, a week ago, I read in the Jerusalem Post that a “nice Jewish boy” had finally been chosen. Apparently, his name is Ari Goldman, and he lives in Manhattan where he runs a highly successful vintage comics enterprise. In other words, I lost out to a guy who collects comic books for a living. I always knew I’d rue the day my mom threw out my Green Lantern collection. I hope you’re happy, mom. The Green Lantern could have gotten me some serious tuchus.

Jonathan Kesselman created and directed “The Hebrew Hammer.”


Part Memoir, Part

For the next few weeks, you will be hearing about girls and sex. “Oprah,” “Leeza,” “Charlie Rose,” The New York Times, even The Jewish Journal — media great and small will focus airwaves and inches on a topic that, while hardly new, rarely gets serious, sustained attention.

You’ll be hearing about it because Naomi Wolf wrote about it. The best-selling author of 1992’s “The Beauty Myth” has just released her third book, “Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood” (Random House, $24). Part memoir, part polemic, part socio-anthro-historiography, the book talks about how American girls experience sexual awakening, and how society can do a better job of helping them.

There have been dozens of other books that have covered the same or similar ground (Wolf credits most of them in her bibliography), but Wolf has a knack for shaping the various voices into a mostly coherent, highly readable set of arguments.

With heart. The heart comes from Wolf’s memoirs of her own sexual development. Growing up near the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the tail end of the Sexual Revolution, the author, now 35, recounts her and her friends’ own gropings — pun intended — toward womanhood in a culture that offered few definitions of being a woman beyond losing one’s virginity.

“Men were deciding for us if we were women,” she writes. “Heck, teenage boys were deciding for us if we were women.” (Much of Wolf’s decision making took place during summers abroad in Israel; “Promiscuities” gives new meaning to the phrase “Israel Experience.”) In all, these personal recollections form the book’s most moving passages.

They are joined by Wolf-the-cultural-critic’s discussion of how society has come to devalue women’s sexuality. As she points out, there is a great, debilitating power in terms such as “promiscuous” and “slut,” which punish women for exploring what Wolf posits is, in fact, a much more powerful feminine libido.

Wolf-the-activist weighs in at the end with suggestions on how women can take control of their sexual destinies. Among them: Go on retreats with other women to pass on wisdom; develop rituals to mark and respect sexual growth; and join girls with older women/mentors to whom they can turn to ask questions about anything, including it.

There is, in fact, a lot going on in “Promiscuities.” Sometimes, the effect can be jarring. Just when Wolf’s memoirs pick up steam, for example, she veers off to discuss a turn-of-the-century Danish sex manual or Emma Goldman’s sexual liberation. At other times, the polemicist plows forward, leaving the larger picture in the dust. Doesn’t society’s ineptitude at sexual initiation afflict boys and young men as well? Isn’t a larger discussion in order here?

But here’s where Wolf succeeds mightily: in touching nerves. You will find quite a bit in this book to side with, react to, debate, reject, admit. While Wolf’s greatest successes as a writer may lie in the future with more personal essays, it’s hard to deny her current power as the instigator of a crucial national conversation. — R.E.