My Single Peeps: Steve P.


Steve is extremely complimentary to women. They find him charming, even if the rest of us want to puke listening to accolades so saccharine. He’s an old-school charmer in the way that American men aren’t anymore. He’s like that Italian guy you meet in Rome who offers to take you on a private tour of the Colosseum because “a beautiful American girl shouldn’t be traveling alone.” The guys roll their eyes and then can’t understand how the girl actually jumps on the back of his Vespa. But she does. And we should all take note. 

He’s from Chicago — not Italy — and his values are Midwestern, whatever that means. I guess I know what it means, but I’m curious if it implies that those of us from the Coasts are jerks. Maybe we’re just more hesitant to be so openly sweet. If you’re dating Steve, he’s the kind of guy your mom would like, because he wouldn’t be embarrassed to pretend he mistook her for your sister. That kind of corniness isn’t done anymore, outside of bad TV and movies.

Speaking of bad TV and movies, he might have produced or written some of the ones you’ve watched. Though much more of what he’s done has been good than bad. He and his producing partner are doing extremely well right now. They’re on set filming a new TV pilot this week. One that I auditioned for, by the way. And didn’t get. So, clearly he doesn’t know a great thing when he sees it, though he tells me in earnest that “they went a different way,” and I believe him. Because of that whole Midwestern thing. He also tells me he’ll get me on the show if it’s picked up, so my wife can ease up on all the financial pressure. I’m going to be starring in my own series soon, Carrie, so leave me alone. Geez, lady.

Although Steve’s a Jewish boy, he doesn’t need a Jewish girl. I mean, his parents would say he needs a Jewish girl, but he’d say he needs a great girl. Having a Jew would just be the icing on the cake, and make for less fighting around Christmas time when she wants to chop down an evergreen tree and jam it into the living room. That being said, he’d probably let you. Because he wants you to like him; and most of all, he wants your mom to like him.

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to {encode=”mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com” title=”mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com”}, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

My Single Peeps: Jami R.


Although I’ve met Jami, 39, a few times over the years, it’s generally been when I’ve been auditioning, as an actor, for her, a casting director. And you can’t really get to know someone when you’re nervously reading for a part you want to book. So I was excited to turn the tables on her and ask her out on a date … a date for my single peeps. 

I’m quoting Jami here, but it’s pretty accurate — “I give really good date.” When I asked her why she was so good at dating she said, “I’ve been on some horrible dates, and I can still make it good. I make a game out of it.” If there’s no romantic spark, she’ll find a way to make it interesting — she likes learning about people. It’s the same reason she loves being a casting director. She loves to give people their first acting job — big or small. “I love finding actors I know will be big stars.” 

Jami was born in Denver, where her father runs a deli called Zaidy’s. “Whoever marries me gets free bagels and lox for life.” She’s still a food lover and searches for out-of-the-way restaurants and taco trucks. Recently, a guy took her to a wine tasting in Malibu Canyon and laid out a blanket, where they drank wine and ate from his picnic basket. “That was a good date.” She likes when men take the initiative in making plans, and she enjoys being active. She’s run 15 marathons, so don’t be afraid to take her on a hike. She loves a challenge — including the crossword puzzles. She wants a man who’s as driven as she is: “It’s not wealth that matters to me, but drive. But No. 1 is a sense of humor.”

She’s pretty funny herself. During the show “Mortified,” where people stand on stage and read from their teenage diaries, she described her trip to Israel this way: “I went there to discover my heritage and instead discovered I was really horny.” 

The week before Thanksgiving, she was driving in her Volvo to work out — a boot camp class at 5:45 a.m. — and was hit by a semi. Her car flipped three times, but she walked out of it alive. It’s put things in perspective for her about life. She got a new Volvo and challenged herself to do the work on it. So far — all with help from YouTube — she’s changed the anti-lock brake control module and the heater core. I ran upstairs last week to brag to my wife that I screwed on my own license plate, so I’m impressed.

As independent as Jami is, she’d like to be taken care of occasionally. “When I come home at night, I want to have someone to share my day with — good and bad — instead of my dogs.”

After her car accident, as she lay on the ground trying to make sense of what happened, the fireman standing over her said, “OK ma’am, do you have anyone to call?” She thought, “I have a million people to call, but I don’t have that person. I want to find that person.”

If you’re interested in anyone you see on My Single Peeps, send an e-mail and a picture, including the person’s name in the subject line, to {encode=”mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com” title=”mysinglepeeps@jewishjournal.com”}, and we’ll forward it to your favorite peep.


Seth Menachem is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. You can see more of his work on his Web site, sethmenachem.com, and meet even more single peeps at mysinglepeeps.com.

The Connector


I love my neighbor. Not, as it says in the Torah, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” But literally, I love him. It’s not only because he helps me with manly activities, like moving furniture, killing cockroaches and opening jars (how do single women do these things alone?) but because Eric is a real man of character.

Here’s the thing about being neighbors in a claptrap house, where the walls are as thin as silk: I can hear everything that’s going on. Like when his young son visits for a month, and he is staying up in the middle of the night with him because he has a bad dream. Eric is a real mensch.

He’s also not Jewish. So I decided to do what any nice Jewish girl would do: I set him up with my friend, Genevieve. She’s also not Jewish, so they should be perfect together. Ha! If only matchmaking were so simple. Yes, the truth is, their non-Jewishness is not enough to make them a match (see: my single status), but they’re both smart, attractive, earthy, intellectual and worldly.

Besides, at synagogue on the High Holy Days I discovered a couple I’d set up. I’d gone out with David, thought he was great but not for me — so I’d introduced him to Risa.

“I hope I get credit for this,” I tell them after shul.

But they can’t give me credit — only God can. It says if you make three successful shidduchim, three matches, you automatically go to heaven. And this High Holy Day season I was thinking that I’d really like an automatic pass. (“Go directly to heaven. Do not pass hell; do not collect $200.)

Three should be easy enough. I meet so many guys who just because they aren’t for me doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be good for someone. What if this is my purpose in life? What if the point of my meeting so many people is to serve as what Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, “The Tipping Point,” calls “The connector?” I feel heady with possibilities.

I decide to connect my ex, Ben, with my friend’s friend, Deb. Deb’s a smart, sassy lawyer whose really into good wine and food; Ben’s also a lawyer who likes the good life and always says he needs a woman who will not put up with his … with the behavior he pulled on me, and I put up with.

Then I visit friends in D.C., and I run into Sara, a woman who just moved there from Los Angeles. She’s into Jewish education and is really tall and slim. She’d be perfect for Marc, this guy I meet in synagogue who works in aerospace and is … really tall. OK, so I don’t know either of them so well (at all), but isn’t it better to be introduced to someone through a friend than through a profile that may or may not resemble their actual brick and mortar selves?

I guess not. Sara wants to see a picture of Marc before she commits to anything — even though she’s new to town, and Marc figured the least he could do was introduce her around.

Ben, my ex, did see a photo of Deb on her law firm’s Web site and is not sure he wants to take her out — this is after I’ve given him her number and told her he’d call.

“Is she a good listener?” he wants to know. “Are you?” I want to reply, but I know he isn’t.

“I don’t want a loudmouthed woman who is going to always be telling me what to do,” he says explaining a Jewish stereotype without actually using the actual word.

“I thought you didn’t want a shrinking violet, a woman who wasn’t going to let you push her around,” I say. He couldn’t explain it.

But Genevieve could. She thinks my neighbor is nice, but she doesn’t want someone like her ex-boyfriend; she doesn’t want to like anyone too much because she acts silly. She doesn’t want someone to like her too much, because it makes her nervous; she wants to be friends first with everyone because…

OMG! People are crazy! Is this how insane I sound when talking about my dates? As I watch these dramas unfold around me, I am yet again amazed by the complex nature of human beings; is it a complexity we bring on ourselves?

For example: Eric and Genevieve. After every date, I get the story from both of them — believe me when I say I ask neither. One night, at midnight, there’s a knock on my door. They come in, we hang out, they leave. Ten minutes later, another knock. It’s Eric. He wants to talk. But the phone rings. It’s Genevieve. Eric leaves. I talk to Genevieve. I go to Eric’s after.

“What should I do?” he asks me.

I don’t know what to tell him. Or Genevieve, who is freaked out because he likes her. Or my ex, Ben, who has now put me in the awkward position of not wanting to take my setup. Or the couple in D.C., who are interrogating me like I’m applying for a job with the CIA.

Why am I doing this again? What was the reason I yetna-ed my way into these people’s lives? I am beginning to think they are all single — we are all single — for a very good reason. And I’m not sure I’m up for dealing with other people’s mishegoss (on which the Jews have no monopoly.)

So I give the D.C. couple each other’s online profile numbers; I tell Ben to do what he likes with Deb; but I also tell her to not expect his call; and I tell Eric and Genevieve they’re on their own.

I don’t have time to worry about them anymore. I’ve got to find someone for myself.

A match made in D.C.?


One of the primary reasons many groups give for the limited availability of premarital counseling programming is the lack of available funding.

However, millions of dollars are spent every year in divorce proceedings, legal fees and mediation and, with that in mind, the federal government offers grants through the Administration for Children and Families’ Healthy Marriage Promotion and Responsible Fatherhood program, established under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

The initiative provides $100 million in grants for faith-based groups and individuals to administer programs that fall under at least one of the following eight categories:

  • Public advertising campaigns on the value of marriage and the skills needed to increase marital stability and health.
  • Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills and budgeting.
  • Marriage education, marriage skills, and relationship skills programs — which may include parenting skills, financial management, conflict resolution and job and career advancement — for non-married pregnant women and non-married expectant fathers.
  • Premarital education and marriage skills for engaged couples and for couples or individuals interested in marriage.
  • Marriage enhancement and marriage skills programs for married couples.
  • Divorce-reduction programs that teach relationship skills.
  • Marriage mentoring programs that use married couples as role models and mentors in at-risk communities.
  • Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested aid programs, if offered in conjunction with any activity described above.

In addition to information about the type of training an agency or synagogue intends to provide and their target audience, applicants must describe how issues of domestic violence will be addressed, and show that program participation is voluntary. The funding is available through 2010.

Many Jewish groups have yet to tap into these resources, because “they see it as a ‘Christian’ project” and might not agree with the government guidelines toward marriage and family, psychologist and author Dr. Joel Crohn said.

Those who oppose the federal grants argue that government-sponsored marriage promotion could encourage women to stay in abusive relationships by discouraging leaving a spouse in cases of domestic violence.

Proponents, however, say the programs can improve relationships by getting to the root of problems and encouraging couples to communicate, thereby reducing the incidence of domestic violence.

For more information, visit www.acf.hhs.gov/healthymarriage/index.html

Majority Rules


Let me state for the record: I am a trendsetter.

This just in, according to no less an authority than The New York Times. Based on their most
recent census analysis, more American women are living without a husband than with one.

Yes, that’s right: 51 percent of women in 2005 said they were living without a spouse, compared to 35 percent in 1950. Living without a spouse doesn’t exactly mean single in the traditional sense of the word, if there is a traditional sense of the word. Some are living with partners (“in sin”), some have been married and are now widowed or divorced, and some, like me, just haven’t married yet because women are marrying later in life.

Incidentally, in 2005, married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time.


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It’s comforting to know that at least I’m part of a majority.

So here’s what I’m wondering: If this trend continues, and, say, in a couple of decades the numbers shift so they’re the opposite of those in the 1950s, and only 35 percent of adults are married, what would the world be like? I mean, what would it be like for a nonmarried person?

You’d be at a meal with a group of people and everyone would be mingling with each other and having fun, and all of a sudden one man says, “We’re married.”

A silence would fall on the table, like in the old days, when someone confessed to being … single.

Finally someone would break the silence: “How long have you been married?”

“Ten years,” the “wife” would say.

Again the silence, and you are the one to ask what no one else could say. “But you’re so young! How old are you anyway?”

When it dawns on the crowd that the two are both 35 and have been married since they were 25, shock turns to disbelief, and the ice breaks. Everyone has questions. They’ve all forgotten their fun, single, happy life for a moment and turn to talk to this anomaly.
“Why do you think you’re still married?”

“I mean, are you even trying? Do you just stay home with each other?”
“Do you think maybe you’re too un-picky? I mean, maybe if you were more selective you wouldn’t be married.”

“God, it must be so hard for you to be married at your age,” someone would say, sort of sympathetically, but mostly inordinately relieved for herself that she’s not in that position.

“I think I may know someone else who’s married,” one man would add, trying to be helpful. Then he’d remember: “No, forget it, they split up.”

Soon, of course, the conversation would turn to fertility, as it always does in these situations.

“Aren’t you worried about your biological clock? I mean, you’re not getting any younger, and there still might be time to have children with other people. I guess you could always freeze your eggs — lots of married people are doing that these days, I hear. Why, this one friend of mine paid $100,000 in fertility treatments and got three viable eggs!”

And then everyone would be off, talking animatedly about doctors and sperm banks and adoption and how children these days are much better off than they were when we were growing up because there are so many parental units and families are so fluid and there’s so much less pressure to marry and to stay married and no stigma on divorce so kids can just focus on finding themselves and being good, productive people in good, healthy relationships.

Then some socially clueless person, who didn’t realize the conversation had finally taken its spotlight off the uncomfortable, lone, married couple, would pipe in, “I hear married people die younger than unmarried people.”

At that point you’d be able to hear the forks clatter to the plates, and everyone would be looking down, because even if that much-bandied about statistic were true — who researched those things anyway? It was like that urban legend in the 1980s, about a single woman over 35 being more likely to get killed by a terrorist than find a mate — was it really necessary to point it out?

Immediately everyone would start talking again — about the latest art opening, real estate prices, the upcoming ski trip to the Alps — anything to change the subject, because everyone would suddenly start to feel bad for the married couple, because really, it wasn’t their fault, exactly; it could happen to anyone if they weren’t careful.

And then they’d think back to an earlier, bygone era, back in the beginning of the millennium, say, in 2000, when married people were still the majority, and they’d thank their lucky stars for being born in such enlightened times.

Rabbinical marriage counseling works — up to a point


Rabbi Karen Fox remembers the moment when she decided she needed to pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology.
 
In the late 1980s, Fox, a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, decided to create a support group for several couples who had privately sought her out to discuss their fertility problems and the resulting strain on their marriages. By bringing those temple members together, Fox did what scores of rabbis across the country do daily: She tried to improve congregants’ relationships and lives by offering free counseling.
 
Problem was, Fox now admits, she didn’t really know what she was doing. Having received only the most basic training in marital and other counseling during her rabbinic studies, she lacked such vital tools as empathetic listening and a deep understanding of the form and function of families. Much to her chagrin, Fox could do little more than offer sympathetic words of encouragement.
 
“Just as doctors specialize, I think it’s important that rabbis interested in counseling study it and train for it,” said Fox, who earned her master’s in 1991 and later became a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Otherwise, they might not have a broad enough vision and a wide enough ear to understand what’s going on with a couple.”
 
Like other clergy, rabbis have dispensed marital and other advice to congregants for generations. With a deep knowledge of Jewish texts and values, they have long played an important role in helping couples headed to the chuppah learn how to incorporate God and Judaism into their lives. Those premarital interventions, spiritual and otherwise, often increase the odds for marital success by teaching Jewish couples how to make their union sacred and loving, rabbis and their supporters say. Overall, rabbis earn generally high marks for premarital counseling, which focuses on the rudiments of good communication.
 
However, critics say rabbis are less suited for long-term marital counseling, even though desperate couples with crumbling marriages often turn to them for salvation. Although rabbis can play a positive role in brokering a reconciliation in couples with relatively minor problems, they are generally ill-equipped, both educationally and often temperamentally, to grapple with spousal abuse, depression, bullying and other serious issues that can destroy marriages and souls. Untrained in these areas, rabbis can do congregants a great disservice when they fail to refer them to professionals for help, experts say.
 
“The rabbinate encourages pronouncements and directives, but counseling is about listening and hearing subconscious messages,” said Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, dean of the Rabbinical School and Chaplaincy Program at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. “So, if as an authority figure you tell someone what to do, you might curtail the process of emotional expression that is essential for a couple’s growth.”
 
Judaism considers marriage to be a holy union with partners entering into a sacred relationship with one another and God. Several texts enshrine institution’s centrality in Jewish life. Genesis 2:18, states: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” The Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 62b, says: “Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing and without goodness.” Midrash, Yalqut Shimoni, Ruth 606: “He who marries a good woman is as if he fulfilled the whole Torah from beginning to end.”
 
Given Judaism’s emphasis on marriage, it is hardly surprising that many rabbis offering premarital counseling infuse their sessions with religiosity. Rabbi Michael Menitoff, an instructor in the psychology departments at the University of Judaism and the Academy for Jewish Religion, said that when he worked as a congregational rabbi he would encourage couples to make their future home sacred by observing Shabbat and keeping kosher.
 
Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe said he also emphasizes the importance of Shabbat, which he calls “an opportunity to not be tyrannized by the modern world and to create a space in which personal interactions can exist away from the constant [inundation] of information and opinion and all the things with which we are bombarded day-to-day.”
 
In his nearly two decades as a congregational rabbi, Rabbi Mark Diamond would discuss the meaning and importance of Jewish wedding rituals before the big day. For instance, Diamond, now the executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis, would explain that the sixth blessing recited under the chuppah teaches that newlyweds begin married life with a clean slate and rejoice together. But the seventh blessing, Diamond says, suggests that Judaism also calls on partners to celebrate their individuality and give one another space to grow. Diamond’s point: Understanding the meaning behind Jewish marital customs gives couples a roadmap to better navigate their futures together.
 
In the bad old days, rabbis received scant counseling training of any type in the seminary. That meant they relied on little more than gut instinct when advising couples on how to grapple with issues such as alcoholism and infidelity. In recent years, observers say, rabbis and rabbis-in-training have received better pastoral counseling education. The Academy for Jewish Religion, for instance, now requires rabbinical students to take two counseling courses, which, among other subjects, address such topics as the power of active listening, the therapeutic process and crisis management. In recent years, the Board of Rabbis sponsored a series called, “The Rabbi as Counselor: Issues & Challenges,” which dealt with issues ranging from marital counseling to infertility to mental illness and depression.
 
The improvements notwithstanding, congregants coming to rabbis with serious marital and other problems have often come away disappointed, said Rabbi Abner Weiss, former rabbi at the Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.
In a 1999 survey of more than 200 Jews at Beth Jacob, University Synagogue and Valley Beth Shalom, Weiss found that the majority of temple members who had gone to rabbis and licensed professionals for advice found the marriage counselors, psychologists and social workers to be more helpful, although the majority of Orthodox congregants preferred going to a rabbi.
 
Despite rabbis’ good intentions, some temple members complained that clergymen had betrayed them by using their personal dramas as the basis for sermons, Weiss said. Others said that even if rabbis respected their privacy, too many temple members saw them going in and out of his/her offices for counseling and gossiped. Finally, many groused that rabbis knew far less than the trained professionals.
 
“When there’s a real problem, what’s really required is a good referral,” said Weiss, himself a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Rabbis often can’t recognize what’s really going on in a relationship and should be honest enough to say so.”
 

Book review: The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide


Divorce attorneys. Are there two dirtier words in the English language? Thoughts of them conjure up images of circling human sharks, cold-blooded assassins and profiteers feasting on the misery of others. Turning to them for suggestions on how to stay married would seem about as useful as seeking out Donald Trump for tips on humility or former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair for advice on journalistic ethics.
 
Sometimes, though, the conventional wisdom misses the mark. Drawing on interviews with 100 prominent divorce attorneys nationwide, author and former practicing attorney Wendy Jaffe has written an interesting and illuminating work called, “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide to Staying Married.” Apparently, those with ringside seats in divorce court, a place where couples venture to shred their wedding vows and one another, have a special insight into how not to behave in marriage.
 
In her book, Jaffe outlines how to diagnose and treat myriad union-killers, ranging from no-sex marriages to infidelity to unrealistic expectations. Beyond that, she argues that many couples who end up in divorce court could have, and should have, worked harder to save their unions.
 
In Jaffe’s view, marriage, except in cases of physical or verbal abuse and untreated drug and alcohol addiction, is worth fighting for. She argues that the fact that about half of all marriages in the United States don’t last is less a reflection of widespread incompatibility than an indictment of a disposable American culture that encourages folks to trade in their old-but-perfectly good cars, computers and, yes, even spouses for newer, fresher models. All too often, Jaffe argues, mates in the process of shedding their significant others come to realize too late that they’ve made a terrible mistake, especially when children are involved. The grass might appear greener elsewhere, but that, like a waterhole in the desert, is often only a mirage. The proof: Two of three second marriages end in divorce.
 
Jaffe’s starts her book detailing all the ways sex can kill a marriage. Why start with sex?
 
“It is rare that someone who is having good and regular sex will come to me for a divorce,” says Miami family law attorney Maurice Kutner, one of several lawyers Jaffe quotes.
 
Couples having infrequent intimate relations should beware, Jaffe warns. Sex, she writes, is an integral part of most marriages, and its absence augurs poorly for their survival. There are myriad reasons why married couples’ love lives can cool, including familiarity and the exhaustion of parenthood. Still, a no-sex marriage is far from the norm. As Jaffe notes, just because married spouses have stopped making love with one another doesn’t mean they have stopped making love.

Take the case of Steve and Linda, one of several case studies Jaffe sprinkles throughout her book. The couple married in their mid-20s, had three kids in six years and moved to the ‘burbs. To the outside world, they appeared to have the perfect union. However, behind the smiles, Linda felt increasingly disconnected from her spouse, and her interest in intimacy dwindled markedly with the birth of her children. Over time, Steve also became more disenchanted, especially after his wife rejected repeated requests to discuss her waning drive with a gynecologist. Steve eventually left a “shocked” Linda for a work colleague.
 
So what to do if sex begins to vanish from the bedroom? Jaffe suggests the road to recovery begins with recognition.
 
“Even if sex is not important to you,” she writes, “you have to realize that it might be extremely important to your spouse, and that it is a significant cause of divorce.”
 
Throughout the book, Jaffe encourages readers to consult a therapist. She also offers a helpful list of reference books readers might want to peruse.Infidelity is another sex-related marriage-killer with which Jaffe grapples. On the upside, she argues persuasively that many marriages can withstand cheating. If both spouses figure out what caused the straying and address the problem; if the victim spouse can forgive the affair; and if the adulterous husband or wife truly recommits to the marriage — a lot of ifs — the couple might salvage the union. On the downside, Internet chat rooms and dating services have made it easier than ever for bored spouses to find a playmate.
 
Many marriages, Jaffe writes, are in trouble even before they begin. That’s because one or both partners bring unrealistic expectations to the altar.
 
Couples who expect the romance and fires of passion to burn indefinitely set themselves up for their marriage to flameout. Similarly, men and women who believe marriage will magically transform their significant other are deluding themselves. Her insane jealousy won’t suddenly vanish, just as his verbal abuse and alcoholism won’t disappear. The bottom line: What you see is generally what you get. A caveat, though: People often do change over the course of a marriage, for better or for worse, Jaffe says.
 
Even those who’ve never married, as well as people considering getting hitched for the second or third time, could benefit from “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide.”
 
Jaffe and the attorneys she interviewed counsel against getting married at a young age. A little life experience, they argue, allows a person to grow up and figure out what they want from themselves and from a prospective spouse. It is no surprise, Jaffe writes, that Oklahoma, despite its location at the heart of the Bible Belt, has the second-highest divorce rate, according to 1990 stats. The reason: One of the lowest average ages for first marriages, at 22 for women and 24 for men.
 
As for remarriage, Jaffe warns against the “clone syndrome.” That is, finding a new spouse with a similar personality to the person just left behind. To avoid making the same mistakes again and again, such as repeatedly hooking up with alcoholics, Jaffe suggests seeing a therapist to “understand why your marriage broke down and how your selection of your spouse played a part in it.”
 
Jaffe’s book makes a surprisingly good read, considering that many lawyers tend to write in a turgid, tangled legalese. Still, Jaffe does trip up a few times.The lawyer in her devotes an entire section to prenuptial agreements. She argues that men and women with substantial assets need to protect them. Rational?

Marriage Conversion Rate Proves Low


Low conversion rates among intermarried Jewish families continue to plague those working to reverse the demographic downtrends in American Jewry.

Fewer than one-fifth of non-Jews who marry Jews convert to Judaism, according to a new study distributed by the American Jewish Committee.

The “Choosing Jewish” report, which interviewed 94 mixed-marriage couples and nine Jewish professionals in the Boston and Atlanta areas, also painted a bleak picture of Jewish involvement for those who do convert.

Many converted Jews — 40 percent — are described as “accommodating Jews-by-Choice.” They come to Judaism because they are asked to do so, and allow others to determine their level of Jewish observance, the report said. Jews in this category often have profiles of Jewish involvement similar to moderately affiliated born Jews.

Another 30 percent of converted Jews are identified as ambivalent Jews — they continue to express doubts about their conversion and feel guilty about beliefs or holidays left behind, according to the report. Their children mirror this ambivalence by thinking of themselves as half-Jews.

The report qualified only 30 percent of converted spouses as “activist Jews,” or those who identify deeply with the Jewish people and Israel. These Jews often are more committed to Jewish practice than are born Jews, and their children are virtually indistinguishable from children whose parents were born Jewish.

The findings, compiled by Brandeis University professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, have widespread implications for a community grappling with the reality of mixed marriages.

According to both the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey and surveys by Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research, the U.S. Jewish intermarriage rate is between 40 percent and 50 percent.

The American Jewis Committee (AJCommittee) hopes the new data will create a road map for greater Jewish involvement among converts and intermarried families.

The breakdown of converted Jews by category shows that we should “not treat converts as an undifferentiated mass,” said Steven Bayme, the AJCommittee’s director of contemporary Jewish life.

Instead, he envisioned a sliding scale of Jewish involvement, ranging from those with a low level of affiliation to those who are highly involved.

“We should not see conversion as the end of the story,” he said. “What we’re really aiming for is converts who enrich the Jewish community through Jewish activism. We need to enlarge the pool of activist converts.”

But that requires a proactive approach.

First and foremost, Jews need to “wave the banner of inmarriage,” advocating Jewish partners whenever possible, he said. In cases of intermarriage, Bayme described conversion as “the single best outcome.”

“We need to be up front about our preference for conversion,” he said.

To that end, he talked about the role of rabbi as the “nurturer of would-be converts” and the need for Jewish family members to “be clear about values and objectives.”

In addition, Bayme advocated raising children in an exclusively Jewish household, because attempting to combine religions would be “a disaster Jewishly.”

Edmund Case, publisher of Interfaithfamily.com, which encourages Jewish connections in the interfaith community, took issue with several of these premises.

“I think there is a real danger in promoting conversion too aggressively,” he said. “If we stand at the door, a lot of people might not come in.”

Case said that accepting intermarried non-Jews who don’t convert — not just those who do — should be paramount.

“The way to have more Jewish children is for interfaith couples to get involved in Jewish life,” he said. “It’s important to see intermarriage as an opportunity and not as a negative or a loss.

“I think its important to communicate a message of welcome,” he continued. “The message we need to send to [intermarried] non-Jews is, ‘We’re grateful to you and happy to have you just as you are.'”

Case criticized the lack of money allocated to such interfaith outreach — less than $3 million a year between Jewish federations and family foundations, he said.

Bayme said “it’s a bit premature” for the AJCommittee to recommend any policy changes based on the report but that the group will discuss the findings at several upcoming meetings.

 

Conservatives Focus on Intermarrieds


Stephen Lachter didn’t know what to expect when a friend dragged him to a men’s club meeting at his Conservative synagogue five years ago.

“My father was in a men’s club, and to me, it was guys sitting around playing pinochle and volunteer ushering,” he admitted.

Instead, Lachter was surprised to see “interesting people having serious discussions,” and he “fell into a session on kiruv,” or outreach, to intermarried families. “I said to myself, this is something shuls need to be talking about.”

Today, Lachter is a kiruv consultant, a lay leader trained to reach out to intermarried families in his Washington congregation. He’s part of a nationwide program run by the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, which is aimed at making Conservative synagogues more welcoming to their non-Jewish members.

The initiative comes at a time when the Conservative movement is concerned about declining numbers. The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has consistently been ahead of the Conservative movement in reaching out to the intermarried.

That groundwork is bearing fruit. Last December at its biennial convention, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism announced its own kiruv initiative, advocating a more open attitude toward members’ non-Jewish spouses, while still holding conversion as the preferred goal.

The document, which has been distributed to Conservative congregations around the country, doesn’t go as far as the Men’s Club kiruv initiative, but it’s a big step in the right direction, said Rabbi Chuck Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

“Four years ago, we set our goal to put kiruv on the Conservative movement agenda within five years. We did it in three and a half,” he said.

In the past three years, the Men’s Club organization has held seven training seminars for lay leaders and now has close to 40 kiruv consultants working in Conservative congregations around the country. The consultants set up kiruv committees at their synagogues and organize discussion groups with intermarried couples, their parents and grandparents.

At Kiruv consultant Lachter’s congregation, “people have come out of the woodwork,” he said. “How do you talk to your child who is interdating? We don’t have that language. How do grandparents deal with their grandchildren, teaching them what Judaism is without treading on toes?”

The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs also has organized rabbinic seminars for interested Conservative rabbis on the assumption that kiruv consultants have to work closely with their rabbis to be effective. More than 120 rabbis have taken part in such seminars, including about 30 at a gathering held recently at Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom.

In its April 2006 edition, the federation’s Kiruv Initiative states its position as “in favor of conversion if possible,” while recognizing that many non-Jewish spouses “lead Jewish lives and raise Jewish families” even if they don’t convert themselves.

“The [federation] favors meeting these people where they are and assisting them in making Jewish choices,” the document concludes.

That’s a subtle distinction from the United Synagogue position. Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the United Synagogue’s executive vice president, spoke diplomatically about the federation approach.

“Anything one can do to encourage people to identify more clearly as Jews is good,” he said. “It’s not the approach we’re using, but it’s hard to be against an attempt to reach out to people.”

Rabbinic and lay training seminars are planned for Cincinnati and Anaheim in November, with more to follow next spring. This winter, the federation will begin an online evaluation of cultural change in the congregations taking part in the program.

At the Berkeley gathering, some of the rabbis, including Netivot Shalom’s Rabbi Stuart Kelman, were part of the Tiferet Project, a four-year effort that culminated with last year’s publication of “A Place in the Tent,” a booklet that urges the Conservative movement to adopt a more welcoming attitude toward intermarried families.

“For me, it’s not even a question,” Kelman said of the kiruv consultant idea. “One of the reasons there’s no bimah in my congregation is I’m trying to create a congregation that is accessible. I don’t think the rabbis can do it themselves; the best way to create cultural change is to empower lay people.”

Many of the rabbis have practical concerns: Their members are intermarrying, and they don’t want to lose them.

Rabbi Chai Levy of Marin County’s Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon noted that the most recent statistics in the county show that 90 percent of children ages 2-5 in families that identify as Jewish have a non-Jewish parent.

“The future of my congregation is, obviously, intermarried couples,” she said. “I have to think seriously about these people.”

 

Singles – Imperfect One and Only


Sometimes, just for fun, I look at the singles ads. I play a game of wondering which one I would respond to. The answer is a resounding zero. That’s because they all sound too perfect, which makes me think they’re lying.

When a man describes himself as “Looking for someone who can indulge their longing for fine dining, travel and theater,” I suspect the reality is more like warm beer, dirty underwear and reality TV.

I have a friend who answered one of these “too-good-to-be-true” ads. They met for brunch and she knew right away it wasn’t going to work out because he glanced at the menu and then said, “So, do you want to split an order of toast?”

She said, “Why don’t you have the whole order, and I’ll just split?”

I can’t say I blame her, although in general I think single people have totally unrealistic expectations of perfection in a mate. I fixed up two friends of mine, and they seemed to be getting along fine. Then the woman told me that she didn’t think the relationship was going to go any further, because he didn’t own any classical CDs, just jazz. I told her she should be looking for a partner, not a clone. And there’s nothing wrong with jazz: It’s not like he had a collection of polka music! She could go to the opera with her girlfriends. Fortunately, she listened to me, and they are living happily ever after.

I don’t envy anyone who’s playing the dating game: It can be nerve-wracking and heart-breaking. As for me, I was never very good at the quality men admire most in women, which is keeping your mouth shut. If I disagree, I voice my opinion. I just happen to believe the world would be a better place if everyone would just do what I tell them. Plus, I only laugh at jokes I think are funny. So I guess I don’t fit the standard profile of someone who wants to please men.

So there I was on a blind date one February, meeting a man who needed his Green Card, which is why we got married in April.

My friends thought I was taking a big chance, that he might disappear as soon as he got his papers. That was more than 40 years ago, and we’re still going strong. Truth be told, sometimes we’re going weak — but at least we’re still going. In this game of singles, you just never know.

My husband, Benni, seems to like me just the way I am — even though we argue constantly.

If I say it’s too cold in the house, he says “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

If he says no one’s dressing up for the party, I say, “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It’s become a knee-jerk reaction — even when it makes no sense. Once, I was telling some friends what a wonderful father Benni is, and he interrupts me, “Oh please, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The Danish philosopher S?ren Kierkegaard said, “Marry or do not marry, you will regret it either way.”

But the Larry David of existentialism was wrong. I do not regret it — even though we have our differences. In my performances, I want to make people laugh, but here’s a more serious song I sing for couples like my husband and me. We’re like most married people I know — including the jazz vs. classical friends I fixed up.

We seldom have heart to hearts,

We rarely see eye to eye,

But when we’re hand in hand,

It’s grand that he’s my guy.

I like Broadway, he likes jazz,

He wants simple, I need pizzazz.

There’s only one thing on which we agree,

I like him, and he likes me.

He likes home, I like out,

He’s kinda soft-spoken while I tend to shout,

The future looks grim, our chances are slim,

But he likes me and I like him.

He washes the cars, he opens jars,

He keeps the books and feeds the cat,

He doesn’t bring flowers or valentines,

But I’ve learned to read between the lines.

He keeps me safe, he keeps me sound,

I’m not myself when he’s not around,

We’re as different as two could be,

Still I love him and he loves me.

We’re day and night; we’re black and white,

Still I love him and he loves me.

The good news? When it comes to finding the love of your life, all you need is one.

Annie Korzen’s latest show is “Straight From the Mouth,” at the Acme Theatre every Thursday through March 16. 135 N. La Brea, Los Angeles. $25. For information, call (323) 525-0202 or visit

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Dated


You know how Harry Potter has a scar emblazoned on his forehead from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Dan has a big T for Trouble on his, marking him as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Dated.

Let me start in the middle: I go to this party at an awful place in Santa Monica, in some dark and crowded and loud basement bar, and I feel like I’ve accidentally, anachronistically stepped into a college party circa 1992 except that everyone here is old — by old I mean my age — and it’s hard to have a proper conversation.

Of course you don’t go to a bar for proper conversations — I’m not that old — but you can hardly see anybody or anything except the mosh pit of bodies swaying in 2-by-2 dancing/flirting/making-out duets. Maybe it’s just one of those nights when I feel terribly left out of everything no matter where I go. (I’ve just come from a Shabbat dinner with lots of married couples and kids — try finding an outfit that fits both these occasions.) Or maybe it’s Dan.

I met Dan a few weeks ago at an awesome party downtown. It was held on the entire floor of an industrial building on Spring Street, where a dozen or so artists were showing their work — mostly photographs and paintings but with a couple of jewelry and clothing designers interspersed. The lighting and the ceilings were low in a way that made everyone look more scintillating than they might in a retro basement bar in Santa Monica. Of course, it could have been the flutes of wine or the chocolate truffles. Or could it really have been Dan?

I wasn’t even looking to meet someone. I was actually dating someone else.

Which is why Dan and I could talk like normal people, and not single people on the make, dressed up in our best costumes and our most sparkly personalities, working furiously to obfuscate our skeletons beneath endless layers of jaunty jingles. So we talked about — what else? — relationships.

My one-two analysis: Dan has commitment-phobia, candy-store syndrome, and/or model rocket-scientist disorder. The thing is, like with milk or eggs, he can predict the exact shelf life of his relationships, but he goes for it anyway, pretending it’s real because he wants the comfort. He’s the guy that, out of the blue, when things were going perfectly well, says that things are not going well at all and disappears like he’s in the FBI Witness Protection Program. Dan is like many of my male single friends — friends I swear I’m going to dump because of the pain and torture they subject on womankind.

On that particular night, Dan’s problems didn’t bother me, because I had someone else. But then a little while later, I didn’t.

So when Dan called a few weeks later to invite me to this party in Santa Monica. I remembered his periwinkle eyes and his scruffy brown hair and the way he constantly touched my arm for punctuation. I said yes.

I finally locate him among the throngs, and we start talking. The problem is, we continue our conversation where we left off a few weeks ago: He regales me with his dating problems. How this one girl in Northern California is outdoorsy and smart but she lacks passion. How this other girl in Los Angeles is an aerobics instructor with an awesome body but not an intellectual.

“I want someone who is smart and challenging and has interests and is Jewish,” he says. “Is that too much to ask for?”

“Me!” I want to say. “Me! I’m smart, I’m Jewish, I’m passionate, I’m outdoorsy, I’m cool. What’s wrong with me?”

But I know: We’ve entered the friend zone. I’m like the fat girl in high school that boys confided in but never dated. Except that in high school I was the girl that everyone dated and didn’t confide in. So, I don’t know what to say when Dan points out the hot waitress. Okay, it’s hard to ignore her: fake boobs, butt tattoo, nimble waist that is so out of place in this dump — but am I such stuffed cabbage that I have to hear about the next entrée?

I’ve always heard stories of couples who were friends before they started dating, or people who claimed to have married “their best friend.”

But how is that possible? How can you see a person stripped of all their games, their pretensions, their public face, and still go through with it anyway?

Even in the darkness of this alcohol-drenched room, I can see Dan clearly: I’d never get anything more than an extended one-night stand that seemed like a romance. And he’s told me way too much about his technique and the endgame.

So I said my goodbyes and left Dan to go after the hot waitress. That’s what friends are for, right?

 

How to Keep Your Love Alive


I’m smiling a lot these days because I’ve recently fallen in love. Starting over at 56 years young, it’s unlikely that I’ll experience a golden anniversary, but I’d really, truly like to enjoy and adore one special person for the rest of my hopefully long, healthy life.

With the divorce rate in this country still shockingly high, I wondered how it’s possible to stay in love for many, many years.

But then there are the examples of:

Joan and Harry Gould, married 51 years;

Ruth and Herb Forer, married 55 years;

Janet and Jake Farber, also married 55 years;

Millie and Mike Hersch, married for 58 years;

and Marjorie and Rabbi Jacob Pressman, married for 63 years.

There is much that we “young” folks can learn from these devoted partners who have succeeded at keeping love alive, year after year after year.

Couples who have created a partnership and life together consistently talk of the effort involved. Yes, some relationships seem easier than others, but all say it takes time, energy and a true willingness to face whatever comes along on their journey together.

“It’s a lot of give and take, just like in business,” Jake Farber said. “If you don’t have that, you won’t have a lasting marriage.”

“I think you have to be patient and flexible,” Janet Farber said. “Compromise is so important. One time you give in a little bit, and the next time the other person gives in. Everyone has times where someone in the family is having problems, or there are emotional difficulties, but you try to communicate and get through the hard times.”

Rabbi Jacob Pressman has counseled many couples over the years, some of whom, he said, have “stayed together miraculously. I notice that as the years go by and they stick it out, the differences begin to melt away and they begin to be more like each other and grow closer. And they have a mature love. They’ve gotten over some of the pettiness of some of the differences in life. Now their lives are more the same and the controversies are minimized.”

This shared commitment to face challenges and keep communicating through difficult times seems to be such a critical aspect of keeping love alive. In his book “Becoming Partners” psychotherapist Carl Rogers writes about threads of permanence and enrichment in relationships. One element he explores is dedication — not to a marriage contract, but to a continuing process that the partnership goes through. “The commitment is individual, but the constant, difficult, risky work is of necessity work that is done together,” he writes.

The Forers, both 75, met when they were 16, and got married when they were 20 years old. The constant work that Rogers writes about is familiar to Herb Forer.

“There’s no perfect person,” he said. “We all come into our relationships with our own warts and shortcomings and our own strengths. On any given day in a marriage, anybody could say, ‘What do I need this for?’ But then you realize the things that bother you are silly. You have so much more in common and so much fun together, and those difficult days pass.”

And the Forers’ know about difficult days. Their relationship was severely tested when they lost their first child at 10 months old. Herb and Ruth were both 25 at the time, but the tragic loss led to a conscious decision about how they would live as a couple.

“We vowed that we’d work together to fulfill the type of life we wanted — to not blame each other, not find fault, or let unimportant things upset us,” Herb Forer said. “We agreed to discuss things openly and communicate. And we decided to focus on the real priorities in our life and our common goals, rather than using the strains in life to separate us.”

Along with common interests and commitments, couples who create a successful life together seem to really support each other’s individuality and growth. Rogers writes, “When each partner is making progress toward becoming increasingly his or her own self, the partnership becomes more enriching.”

Joan and Harry Gould, who are both psychologists, agree. “Keeping yourself vital and interested in the world is the primary thing,” said Harry Gould, who is 81. “You can’t just look to the other person to keep you inspired. If both people are thinking about their own lives and development, it enhances the relationship.”

Joan Gould appreciates the fact that both her husband and their relationship are constantly changing. “I discover new things about Harry that I never knew before. It would be boring otherwise. He is a different person at 80 than he was at 40 or 50. He’s changing and I’m changing. Consequently the relationship changes and grows,” she said.

Rabbi Pressman sees his marriage to Marjorie as a constant source of stimulation and fun. “We’ve always entertained each other,” he said. “We’re both rather clever and bright, and we admire that in each other, so there’s a freshness about our lives almost all the time. We laugh together at the same things. And we surprise each other so there’s ever a new personality and yet the same personality. We didn’t have any mid-life crisis; we’re still juveniles.”

“When my husband retired and it was the first time he could take a weekend off, I’d arrange a weekend away,” Marjorie Pressman said. “Sometimes I’d surprise him. I’d just tell him what to pack and we’d go down the coast and stay at a hotel and just have a good time together. We’ve been really blessed. I don’t think either of us expected to live this long but here we are. He just turned 86…. I’m a little younger.”

Looking back with amazement at the many years they’ve shared seems a common theme for these couples.

“Being married this long came as a surprise to me,” Millie Hersch said. “When we were first married, I worried about what I’d talk to him about and figured it wouldn’t last very long. But the years have just gone by.”

When a love lasts for many, many years and people grow old together, there seems to be a shift in what is most important within that partnership.

“It’s a lot better for us in retirement, when there are minimal pressures on us, and we just face life together as a team,” Herb Forer said. “We don’t take ourselves seriously. We take what we do seriously, but not ourselves. We listen to each other and try to anticipate each other’s needs and try to make each other as comfortable as we can and do for each other. We’re just having fun.”

But having a relationship that lasts many years can also mean facing difficult challenges, and making adjustments with age.

“The aging is a whole new time of life,” Harry Gould said. “We haven’t been each others’ physical and psychological and mental helpers before. There’s a sense of becoming a parent to each other at times. That’s new. Some people get frightened of the changes they go through as they age, and it might cause them to pull away and withdraw in their marriage. But it’s so important to talk about your feelings. Talk about how this new time of life is for you. Talk, talk, talk. Share yourself.”

Besides the challenges of aging together along a shared path, these couples have all discovered new ways of loving.

“The senior caring about each other is different than courtship and honeymoon. We take care of each other at this point, not out of duty, but out of a profound love,” Rabbi Pressman said.

I’m inspired and moved by these stories of heartfelt, lifelong devotion. Whether you are renewing an existing relationship or starting a new journey in love as I am, these couples can give us hope that someday we, too, will look back in celebration over many years of keeping a precious love alive.

Ellie Kahn is a freelance writer, owner of Living Legacies Family and Organizational Histories and producer of “Meet Me At Brooklyn & Soto.” She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net and www.livinglegaciesfamilyhistories.com.

 

Wedding Bell Oops!


Last time I saw Barry, he was dressed as an egg at a Purim party, so I was excited to run into him last month at a birthday party.

This time, for better or worse, he was wearing pants.

“Barry, what’s up? I haven’t seen you in forever. How’s life? How’s work? Ohmygosh, how was your wedding?”

“The wedding? Yeah, um, that whole wedding thing didn’t happen exactly the way I thought it would. Mostly because it didn’t happen at all. She called it off three weeks before the ceremony.”

Doctors at Cedars-Sinai are still trying to remove my high heel from my mouth.

I should have known better than to ask. I should have learned from Greg. Or Shannon. Or the nine — yes nine — other people I know who have called off their weddings. I should get them together to start a support group or form a minyan. Canceling a wedding has become that common these days. Just because a couple gets engaged, doesn’t mean that they’ll get married. It just means they’ve registered at Macy’s.

It no longer surprises me when couples don’t make it to the chuppah on time. Or at all. Which is why I keep the tags on my new cocktail dress and write “save the date” in pencil. I don’t run to reserve a hotel room in the “Rosen-Levy” block or pound the pavement for a “plus guest.” It would be rude for me to bring a date to the big event when the groom no longer has one. And yes, it always seems to be the groom who stands alone and the woman who says, “I don’t.” I mentioned this runaway-bride phenomenon to my current guy, Scott, over dinner at Denny’s last week.

“That’s because guys think about marriage a lot more than women do — we’re the ones who have to ask,” he explained. “And we don’t ask ’til we’re absolutely sure. Do you know how hard it is for a guy to pop the question? Do you know how long it takes for us to think we might possibly be ready to even start thinking about it?”

I’m beginning to get some idea.

Scott’s right, though. We’re talking about men — they spend a month choosing who to draft onto their fantasy football team. So they’re going to do a lot of soul searching and thinking — and drinking — before they decide whom they want to marry. Then they have to get up the courage to do a little thing called propose. All the girl has to do is say yes.

And we always do.

‘Cuz every girl wants to be a bride. Maybe that’s the problem. Girls fantasize about their wedding, not their marriage. I doubt my friends know if they’re wearing their hair up or down for their first week as a Mrs., but they know where every tress will be on the big day. They’re not cruising the newsstand for InStyle Marriage, but they wait by the mailbox for Modern Bride.

That’s why when some girls realize there’s life after honeymoon, that wedding gets canceled faster than a new fall sitcom dud.

Dating, proposal, shiny ring, big dress, bigger hair, saying “I do.” That’s the order. That’s how it’s supposed to happen. That’s the flow chart. So girls go with the flow. But you can’t go with the flow when a relationship gets this serious, ladies. Preseason dating is over.

Perhaps it’s just too easy for a woman to change her mind after she’s said yes. Maybe we should be required to back up our answer with a contract or a guarantee. Maybe a pinky swear. Or the bride should put her money where her heart is. Reception halls ask for a nonrefundable deposit — why shouldn’t the groom?

I’ve never been engaged, so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to walk in a bride’s Vera Wang shoes. I don’t know how people who aren’t right for each other continue dating to the point of engagement. I don’t know if they failed to recognize their doubts or just chose to ignore them. I don’t know how much it hurts to call off a wedding. I don’t know when saying “I do” became so last season.

I do know it’s a troubling pattern, though, especially because it’s affecting my love life.

Canceled weddings are not good for us ladies-in-waiting. The worst thing about this broken engagement trend, besides the $50 I waste on each engagement gift, is the single-man snowball effect.

When a guy gets dumped by his fiance, his friends start to doubt their own relationships. The more guys entertain these doubts, the longer they wait to propose. The longer guys wait, the fewer girls who are getting engaged. What I’m saying is: It’s my friend Barry’s ex-fiance’s fault that I’m still single.

Actually, that’s not what I’m saying — it’s not entirely about me. A woman should not wed a man she doesn’t want to marry. That would be wrong. But a woman should only get engaged to a man she does want to marry.

Let’s start with the very word: engagement. It means commitment. It implies true love. There should be no take-backs. He didn’t give you his letterman’s jacket, his fraternity pin or a mix tape. He gave you a diamond engagement ring. He gave you his heart.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I truly believe an accepted proposal should lead to a puffy white veil, Shevah Brachot, a broken glass and a lifetime together.

So when that special someone — the right someone, not the maybe someone — proposes, I’ll say yes, and I’ll mean it.

Final answer.

Because I know that when a guy does get down on one knee, he’s not asking “Will you wedding me?”

Carin Davis is a freelance writer and can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Dead Right


 

I met Bob and Susie at the end of a float plane trip deep in the Alaskan wilderness. Most of the year they live on a 40-foot boat surrounded by nothing but forest and water. There are no roads and it’s 100 miles by plane to the nearest neighbors. Occasionally, fisherman will fly in to spend the day halibut fishing.

During the fishing season, Bob and Susie never know on a given day whether or not they will have company. Most days they are alone with nowhere to go but 40 feet of boat.

Bob is tall and wiry with leathery, sunburned skin and hands scarred and rough as wood cut against the grain. He smells like halibut and diesel. Susie is thin with dirty blonde hair streaked with gray and sparkling blue eyes. She has a kind smile with lines of weather and age cut deep in her face. She smells like halibut and diesel, too.

After an hour or so of uneventful fishing, I can’t help but ask Susie and Bob the obvious question: “How do you guys make this work, just the two of you alone for months with only 40 feet of boat? How do you stay married?”

“There’s just one simple thing we cannot do if Bob and I want to stay on this boat and stay married,” Susie said. “We can’t keep score. You can’t have a relationship, you can’t live in the present, you can’t have love if you keep score.”

I think about Susie’s answer as I ponder this week’s Torah portion. After all God has done for them — plagues, a splitting sea, manna from heaven — Moses is a few hours late coming down from Mount Sinai and the Israelites lose faith in him and in God. Frantically fashioning a golden calf they proclaim, “This is your God O’Israel.”

I don’t know about you, but if I were God, I’d be pissed. And, of course, God is. But it doesn’t take long for God to forgive. Before we know it, Moses is back up there on the mountain receiving a second set of tablets. After all, this week the Torah reminds us that God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness….” Apparently, God doesn’t keep score.

It’s hard not to keep score. We all do it. In his book “The Scorecard: the Official Point System for Keeping Score in the Relationship Game” (Owl Books, 1997) author Greg Gutfield makes fun of how couples keep score. For example:

On her birthday you surprise her with:

A. Beautiful diamond earrings (+75 points)
B. A bread machine (-25 points)
C. Your new girlfriend (-400 points)

It’s a funny book, but in truth there’s nothing funny about keeping score in a relationship. I see it in my office all the time. Husbands and wives who argue by pulling old grievances off the dusty shelf of memory to hurl at each other like emotional grenades. Brothers and sisters who cannot forgive each other for simply leading different kinds of lives. Grown men and women who act like little attorneys, each providing evidence from months, years, even decades past, for why they were the wronged party, how they were dealt the greater injustice, why they are right. Sound familiar?

Maybe you are right. Maybe your brothers or sisters have hurt you more than you have hurt them. Your children are ungrateful. Your parents are too demanding.

When I was 15 years old and my father was teaching me to drive, he told me something I have never forgotten. He said, “Always remember that you can be dead right.” What he meant was that even if I had the right of way, even if the law was on my side, I could end up dead if I wasn’t careful. It’s true on the road and it’s true in our families. If we keep score, we lose even if we win. Do we really prefer being dead right over having a relationship with the people we love?

Then there is the world at large to consider.

Two merchants in a large town were fierce competitors. Their shops were across the street from each other. The sole method each man had of determining the success of his business was not daily profit, but how much more business he had than his competitor. If a customer made a purchase at the store of one merchant, he would taunt his competitor when the sale was complete. The rivalry grew with each succeeding year.

One day, God sent an angel to one of the merchants with an offer. “The Lord God has chosen to give you a great gift,” the angel said. “Whatever you desire, you will receive. Ask for riches, long life or healthy children and the wish is yours. But there is one stipulation. Whatever you receive, your competitor will get twice as much. If you ask for 1,000 gold coins, he will receive 2,000. If you become famous, he will become twice as famous.”

The angel smiled. “This is God’s way of teaching you a lesson,” he said.

The merchant thought for a moment. “You will give me anything I request?” he asked.

The angel nodded.

The man’s face darkened. “I ask you then to strike me blind in one eye,” he said.

Israelis and Palestinians, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children: Is life about winning by wounding — winning on points but losing peace and love in the process? We who know the score so well ought to know, too, that Susie and God were right. It’s best to live in the present — compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness.

Steven Z. Leder is a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the author of “The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things” (Behrman House, 1999) and “More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul” (Bonus Books, 2004).

 

Why the Web Wins


 

I know you’re not gonna believe this, but before Internet dating sites, couples actually used to meet “offline” — out in public — often by chance: at parties, dances, supermarkets, museums, bookstores. No, really! But like the Tyrannosaurus rex, the Edsel automobile and Steven Segal’s career, offline dating is seemingly on its way to extinction. Oh, sure, a few couples occasionally meet offline, as God intended, in the course of their daily lives, much like our pioneer ancestors, but they’re just lucky and we resent them. Just because they didn’t have to pay $25 a month, post a photo, write a profile and proceed to meet hundreds of people with whom they felt less chemistry than Dick Cheney and Barbra Streisand on a tunnel of love ride, must they rub their joy in our faces?

More and more singles are meeting via Internet dating sites. There’s gotta be a reason for that.

In fact, there are exactly four reasons why Internet dating beats the pants off offline dating. (And please forgive me for that image — I blame it on a literary wardrobe malfunction).

1. Comfort Level. You can check out prospective dates from the comfort of your home, wearing nothing but your bunny slippers and “Just Do Me!” boxer shorts. OK, I’ll speak for myself. But how great is it that you don’t have to shave, shower, get dressed, drive someplace, be hit on by people in whom you have no interest and then drive home, feeling that you’ve spent a large chunk of time with no noticeable results? It’s enough to make a guy swear off dating completely and decide to simply date himself. (I’ve found I have an amazing amount of things in common with myself, and, not to get too personal, but — I’m always in the mood.)

2. Information Level. Knowledge is power, and when you date online, you have access to substantial information about your prospective dates before you even contact them. It might take you two weeks to work up the courage to ask out that supermarket cashier, only to find out that she’s a) married, b) gay or c) a smoker who’s just invited her mother to move into her place to help care for her four hyperactive kids. Whereas with online dating, much is revealed through the person’s profile, photos, the initial phone call, hiring that detective to do a background check and searching for every mention of their name on Google or local bathroom stalls.

3. Security Level. Once, at a yard sale, I was hit on by a woman who was clearly attempting to turn on the charm. I don’t blame her. She had no way of knowing that her combination of attention deficit disorder, skin surface resembling a topographic map of the Appalachian Mountain chain and a dog that barfed on my sneakers is generally not my cup of tea. My point here is that with online dating, you choose whom you want to pursue romantically. Not that you don’t make mistakes. Not that people don’t misrepresent themselves. But at least you don’t have that queasy feeling of having to deal, at any moment, with a surprise visit from Typhoid Mary, or her sister, Restraining Order Rhonda.

4. Quantity Level. We all know that meeting one’s soul mate is a numbers game. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince or princess. And by then, you’ve got so many warts on your lips, you’re lucky if your royal partner will have anything to do with you at all. At least with online dating, that process is sped up. You can browse through literally hundreds of profiles of romantic candidates in one evening, if you so choose. Contact 10 of them, not hear back from four, talk to six on the phone, rule out three, meet three for coffee, like one but she doesn’t like you, are liked by one but you don’t like her, and the one you agree to meet for a second date informs you a few days later that she’s decided to get back together with her last boyfriend. Just try accomplishing all that with offline dating!

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net

 

To Tree or Not to Tree


 

For the first time in my adult life I’m dating a Jewish girl.

Her father’s Catholic — an Italian — but according to my

rabbi, “She’s all good.”

(Maybe he didn’t use those exact words, but something to that effect.)

Carrie and I bicker but never have any real fights; that is not until Christmastime. She was raised with Christmas in her house. Chanukah was a pool they may have dipped their toes into out of some traditional obligation, but it was Christmas that they jumped into cannonball style.

Their house is covered in multicolored lights and adorned with cheap plastic Santa wall hangings. A gargantuan Douglas fir, rivaling the one in the center of The Grove, is squeezed in between the ceiling and floor. And gifts wrapped in red and green piled three-deep high surround the tree as if out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Her childhood memories are filled with Christmas as the happiest day of the year.

Then, she started dating me. And, like a Jewish Scrooge, I decided over dinner to let her know there would be no more Christmas. Well, at least not for us. I said that if we ever moved in together she would need to get used to the fact that there would be no Christmas tree in our house. She looked like she would drop her pork chop.

“I was raised with Christmas!” she said. “And I want a tree in my house.”

“I know,” I answered. “But, I wasn’t. And if we’re raising our kids Jewish why would we have a Christmas tree?”

“Because I like Christmas.”

“But, you’re Jewish!”

“My dad’s not.”

“But, you are. You were raised Jewish for the most part, you don’t believe in Jesus, why would we have a tree?”

“It’s got nothing to do with that,” she explained, quickly losing her patience. “It’s an American holiday.”

“Look, Carrie. You’re Jewish and I’m Jewish. What the hell are two Jews going to do with a Christmas tree?”

Two weekends ago we had to stop by her parents’ house she could pick up something she left there. Her mother proudly showed me the decorations on their tree and excitedly clicked on all the little lights strewn about the house.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she exclaimed. She opened the front door. “Look at this wreath I made. I made it by hand.”

I smiled, uncomfortably. Ironically, it was Carrie’s Catholic father who saw my discomfort and said, “Some Jewish house, huh?”

Carrie’s mother once told me that when she married her husband she was very excited to have her first Christmas tree. She had been raised in a WASPY Long Island neighborhood and had hated feeling like an outcast. So, she looked forward to finally having a Christmas tree just like everyone else.

I suppose I understand her feelings — Christmas always looked like so much fun when I was a kid. We were inundated with music, TV specials and movies that showed families gathering together around the Christmas tree, tearing open gifts and singing uplifting songs. The plain menorah and a crappy song about a dreidel was no competition.

I tried to explain to Carrie that for most of us assimilated Jews there is something important about growing up without a tree.

We basically fit in with our non-Jewish friends and colleagues, and are careful not to stand out too much as Jews.

But, one time a year it becomes evident that we are different. Our houses are not decorated, we don’t have a Christmas tree and when people wish us a “Merry Christmas” we debate whether or not we should say, “Well, I don’t celebrate Christmas but thank you, anyway.”

“Once we allow ourselves to start appropriating another religion’s traditions in order to fit in with our neighbors, we have compromised who we are,” I told Carrie. “By taking away the wonderful things that separates us from non-Jews, it only damages us.”

Carrie’s mother joined in on my side, telling her daughter that it would be a little silly for us to ever have a Christmas tree in our house.

“I married someone who wasn’t Jewish, so it would be wrong for me to ignore my husband’s traditions,” her mother said. “But you are both Jewish and going to raise Jewish kids. You’re not going to celebrate Christmas. Instead, you can celebrate that other holiday — you know, the one with the candles and the spinning top.”

Carrie looked at me with resolve. “Fine, we won’t have a tree. But, I’m going to my parents’ house on Christmas.”

“Fine with me,” I answered. “If you need me, I’ll be at the movies.”

Seth Menachem is an actor and writer who lives in Los Angeles.

 

Getting Married? Get ‘Creative’


 

“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book, a Hands-On Guide to New & Old Traditions, Ceremonies & Celebrations” by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer (Jewish Lights Publishing, $19.99).

Synagogue or sailboat? Bride and groom or same sex? Orthodox or interfaith?

Whatever your leanings, if you want a Jewish element to your wedding or commitment ceremony, have I got a book for you!

“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer helps couples tap into their creativity and design the wedding that really suits them. Kaplan-Mayer inspires readers to honor their own comfort level of style, taste, emotional and financial resources and Jewish observance.

How do you and your partner begin to decide whether to have a ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract) in gender-neutral language, or in the 2,000-year-old traditional text? Or, what if you’ve never even heard of a ketubah?

What if your life partner, like Kaplan-Mayer’s husband, is rooted culturally in Judaism and spiritually in Buddhism?

Or, perhaps of lesser import, but also problematic, are klezmer and Motown mutually exclusive forms of entertainment?

Where should you compromise, and when do you stand firm?

Kaplan-Mayer acknowledges the infinite range of her readers’ situations and then, amazingly, finds a common ground to respectfully guide them through the planning and personalizing of their Jewish wedding.

After her engaging introduction and general orientation, Kaplan-Mayer presents a step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter process for making choices about a wedding. With logic, intuition, inclusiveness and savvy, she demystifies this intimidating concept for her readers.

Each chapter deals with a particular custom or ritual in three ways:

First, down-to-earth explanations and translations from Hebrew establish a baseline grasp of the custom or ritual for the couple.

Second, a series of thought-provoking questions seeks to instill in the couple a strong sense of themselves before they consider their options. While the author embraces incorporating the expectations of family and friends into the wedding, she wants the couple to have a firm grasp of their own boundaries before they start to consider pleasing others.

Third, the chapters’ themes are illustrated through the author’s personal examples and other couples’ stories.

“The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” offers techniques for crafting everything from the chuppah to the gift bags for out-of-town guests. It encourages exploring every angle of the wedding ceremony from the music to the level of spirituality. It recognizes facing squarely the inevitable challenges in the planning process. It continually reminds the reader to remain joyfully centered around the big picture and the future.

The appendices alone contain a wealth of information, particularly for unaffiliated couples.

Appendix I, “Books and Online Resources,” leaves no stone unturned with Web sites and books on: weddings, invitations, ketubah artists, Judaica, music, interfaith resources, Israeli products and much more.

Appendix II, “Wedding Planning,” has three sections: a one-year organizational timeline with each countdown division subtitled, including Jewish issues, creative planning and practical concerns. There’s a wedding task checklist and even instructions for developing a wedding Web site.

Appendix III covers alternative Sheva Brachot (Seven Blessings).

Kaplan-Mayer states early on that “The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” is intended to be a “secondary resource,” and she refers the reader to other books for more intensive study of the historical meanings of Jewish wedding customs and rituals.

But a deeper understanding of Judaism doesn’t appear necessary to make fine use of the book. Inclusive and current to the max, “The Creative Jewish Wedding Book” seems to stand on its own as an invaluable planning mechanism for just about any two people intending to share a life together.

 

No Rush


Lately it seems as if everyone I know is interested in me getting married. In fact, the person pressuring me the least is my girlfriend,

Carrie. She’s still working on her independence, having recently moved out of her parents’ house for the first time.

Like many women, Carrie looks forward to wearing a wedding gown, but she needs more time to work on her growth as a woman. At least that’s what I’ve been telling her in the hopes it buys me some more time.

Recently, I had Shabbat dinner at a couple’s house — Chasidic friends in their early 20s with a newborn. While the wife was burping her baby, she asked when Carrie and I were going to get married. Her husband quickly joined in.

“Why?” I asked. “What’s so great about being married?”

The baby spit up onto her shirt as her husband fielded the question; only he did so in a very Chasidic fashion — no answers, just more questions: “What are you waiting for? Why are you so scared? Will you pass the gefilte fish?”

“What does marriage offer me?” I asked him. I tried to explain to him the difference between our situations. He is a Chasid who avoids shaking hands with a woman in order to avoid getting excited. When he met his wife, he was expected to avoid touching until marriage. So, marriage came fast. I, on the other hand, am dating Carrie, who, being the woman of loose morals she is, allowed me to not only kiss her within the first week of dating, but also to hold her hand. Three years later, we’ve gone so far I can now hold the hands of other women. “So what’s the rush?” I asked him.

My friend looked at me pensively, sat quiet for a moment and then said, “Seriously, I’m still hungry. Will you pass the gefilte fish?”

One day, Carrie’s grandmother pulled me aside. “Do you planning on marrying Carrie?”

“I don’t know, lady” I answered. “We’re not really up to that.”

“Well you better get up to it, funny guy. I want to see great-grandkids before I die.”

“And I want you to live a long time, so for you I’m going to hold off,” I said.

She shook her head and walked away muttering to herself.

Why would anyone in Carrie’s family want her to marry me? I look decent enough and am occasionally funny but I’m a 30-year-old struggling actor, getting by on the bare minimum, and living in a rent-controlled apartment in Silver Lake. On paper, I sure don’t sound that great. I don’t think I’d do too well on JDate, where women decide whom to date based on a picture, career choice, yearly income and a list of my hobbies, which oddly enough include going to restaurants and listening in on other people’s conversations.

Carrie spends three to four nights a week at my apartment. We have a great relationship. Sometimes we bicker too much, but I love her and I’m pretty sure she loves me. The thing is, the nights she isn’t with me I don’t really mind. In fact, I enjoy having the nights off. It’s not that I’m unhappy in the relationship — I just like my freedom. I don’t have other women sneaking over in the middle of the night, but I like the feeling that I could if I wanted to. I’ll probably never act on it, but I want the option. Even though I have no interest in dating anyone else, I’m still a little frightened by the idea of dating one person for the rest of my life. So, maybe I need a little more time. Is that bad? Is there something wrong with me because I’m not ready to be married? I feel like I’ll know when it’s time. I’ll be a little more settled in my career and hopefully be ready to have children — or at least a houseplant.

So if Carrie and I are both not ready to buy into marriage, why is everyone else so interested in selling? Are they getting commission?

I once knew a woman who got wrapped up in some cult-like business seminars — Anthony Robbins kind of stuff where she kept paying more and more for these seminars and then would hold meetings where she would try to recruit other people to join. She invited me to one and I went there already knowing there was no chance they were getting me to sign up. But she begged me and I gave in out of respect for her. Midway through the introductory course I realized something. These people, who were charting their happiness with multicolored markers on gigantic pieces of paper that sat on easels, were not trying to convince me to join because their lives were now so enriched. They were convincing me to join because they needed to convince themselves.

My married friends are all newly married and, therefore, are still getting used to the idea. By convincing me, and others like me, to go down the same road as quickly as possible, it validates their decision. And it’s not necessarily a bad decision — just one I’m not ready to make. I’m sure as they grow more comfortable with their decision the less they will feel the need to convince others to do likewise. And who knows — by then I might be ready to go down that road with them. As for Carrie’s grandmother, well, she just wants to see a baby. I can get one for her on the black market within a week.

I picked up the phone and called Carrie. “I just wanted to say I love you and I’m glad we both agree on how things are going. We care deeply about each other but aren’t in a rush to get married. We have plenty of time and can take things as they come.”

“Well,” she said. “Don’t get too comfortable.”

Seth Menachem is an actor living in Los Angeles. You can currently see him on TV hawking such fine luxuries as fast food, beer and cellular service.

Teshuvah for Two


There’s nothing more romantic than a cantor’s serenade, a symphony of grumbling stomachs, and an oversized sheet of dry honey cake.

Which is why I might invite new guy Austin to spend Yom Kippur with me.

Austin and I met last month on a great blind date. He’s cute, he’s kind, he had me at shalom. Together, we’ve motored through the top 10 romantic things to do in Los Angeles: a hand-held stroll on Venice Beach, a moonlit flick on Santa Monica Pier and a quiet night at home — just us, his friends and "Madden Football." So what’s left to do but join 1,000 starving congregants for an all-you-can-pray buffet?

Yom Kippur can really light a fire under a new relationship. Not that I’m supposed to light a candle, brush my teeth or, for that matter, bathe on the holiday, but personal hygiene aside, a girl can really work it on the holiest of holies.

Take the religious-casual dress code. (I don’t follow the whole Yom Kippur practice of wearing white for purity. Who wears white after Labor Day?) It’s no coincidence the High Holidays coincide with London’s Fashion Week. Yom Kippur is a great excuse to dress up for my guy. I’ve got a long skirt and some pleather shoes, which are guaranteed to knock his tallis off. It’s hot. OK, maybe not, but after 25 hours of fasting, my stomach’s so flat I’d look svelte in a kittle.

And tag team teshuvah can really bring two people together. I’m sorry for the sins I committed against you, with you, and … why is there no air conditioning in the sanctuary? Good times. Tapping my chest during Al Chet will draw Austin’s eyes to the right place. And I can put my head on his shoulder during the rabbi’s sermon, the board’s building fund appeal and the sisterhood’s announcement of every upcoming event from now ’til Purim. Who wants to hear about tot Shabbat when the sun set 15 minutes ago?

As for break fast, they should change the name of this happy meal to the flirt n’ fress. Forget beer goggles; it’s all about hunger goggles. Know how everything in the grocery looks good when you shop on an empty stomach? Well, women all look good when men flirt on an empty stomach. If you’re the one to hand a Jewish man his first plate of post-fast food, you could be his mate for life. My future with Austin may be sealed with some Tam Tams.

Still, holidays are a straight up DTR (defining the relationship) issue. Spending YK together could take us from zero to couple in three Amidahs. Are we ready for that? Are we even a we? By inviting Austin to services, he could feel I’m moving the relationship along too quickly. Machzor, than marriage, then kids — oh my! But in not asking him, he could feel hurt, left out or wonder if I’m blowing another shofar. Most singles face this life or date decision at Thanksgiving or New Year’s. But I’m looking at a Day of Atonement dilemma. Do couples that pray together stay together?

According to the Homeland Dating Advisory System, holidays can catapult a couple into risk-level red. You can’t just do dinner and a Musaf. It’s complicated. Do we hit his shul or mine? Who pays for the tickets? And what if he learns of my past sins? Carin, you got some ‘splainin to do.

There’s also a rumor his mom wants him home for the holiday. If he stays in Los Angeles with me, I’ll be forever known as the girl who stood between him and his mother’s brisket. That’s never good.

To be honest, my past fast dates haven’t faired well. A few years ago, this guy Ezra took me to — I kid you not — Tisha B’Av. On a Saturday night. He said it would be better than dinner. I don’t know about better, but it was certainly cheaper. Our date consisted of sitting on the floor, mourning the Temples’ destructions and observing the post-service fast. Ezra was upset about the Temples, but elated that the date cost him nothing. Twice on the way home he mentioned how pleased he was that he didn’t drop a dime. I dropped him the next week.

Rabbinic scholars would argue that there is no debate. On Yom Kippur, we’re not only banned from consuming food, but from consuming each other. No kissing, snogging or heavy petting permitted. Even lotion is explicitly banned. So in some Jewish circles, if attending services with my new crush would distract from solemn prayer, it’s a no go.

But to me, attending services with a new beau is key. As a single Jew, I want to date guys who value Jewish holidays and traditions. I want Jewish life to be a part of our life. I want to check him out in a suit and tallis. I want to stand next to him in shul. So I’m going to ask Austin to escort me to the big Yom. That way, we can kick-start this year’s sinning with a little post-Kiddish kissing.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Same-Sex Marriage Poses Key Questions


I can’t prove that allowing same-sex marriage would be bad for society.

Of course, people terrified of global warming can’t even prove it exists, but that doesn’t stop former Vice President Al Gore from delivering a grave warning on the coldest day of the year.

If he can speculate, so can I. So why might someone oppose same-sex marriage?

My first question would be, is marriage important? Important, that is, to society. Most proponents of same-sex marriage seem to think it’s not, that it’s the grownup equivalent of going to the prom — if boy-girl couples can go, why not boy-boy or girl-girl couples?

To them, marriage is just another form of self-expression. This is evident in the overused question: How does so-and-so’s same-sex relationship threaten your marriage?

That question regards marriage as purely personal: You’ve got yours and I’ve got mine. What’s missing is any sense of marriage as a social institution.

Because if marriage isn’t important, if it’s just a way for couples to show their love to the world, then denying it to anyone would be cruel and pointless. So how do we answer the question? How do we know if marriage is important?

Because every human society, ancient or modern, religious or secular, Jewish or Christian or secular has had the institution of marriage. I guess I’m a Darwinist: If every society has evolved an institution, then I’m reluctant to tamper with it, just as even if I had no idea what the heart did, just the fact that every animal has one would make me very, very cautious about cutting into it.

A society’s evolution is for survival just as much as an organism’s is. Compare marriage to friendship, for example. Society lets us form friendship without a ceremony and dissolve it without going to court. Why? Because while my relationship with my buddy may be very important to the two of us, it’s just not all that important to society, unlike my marriage to my wife.

What does marriage do for a society? I can think of two things.

The first benefit is often discussed: Marriage seeks to provide the ideal situation for raising children, a stable household with a father and a mother. To say that two men — or two women – can raise a child just as well is to say that mothers — or fathers — are irrelevant, a dangerous message when studies suggest that boys raised without a father are more than twice as likely to end up in prison, and girls raised without a father are more than four times as likely to get pregnant as teens.

The other benefit of traditional marriage, little-discussed even by opponents of same-sex marriage, is society’s huge interest in curbing the aggressive energy of men and channeling it into productive activities. In segments of society with an overabundance of unattached men, we see crime, promiscuous sex and fatherless children.

Marriage channels male energy into things like raising children and supporting families and away from things like crime: Unmarried (heterosexual) men are more than five times as likely to end up in prison as married men.

Maybe allowing men to form marriages with other men could help society by stabilizing their relationships. But why, then, didn’t marriage evolve that way in the first place, as a union of any two people?

Because society’s idea of marriage has always been to tame men, not by hooking them up with someone but by hooking them up with women. Women bring a different energy, a different point of view to marriage, and it’s their energy that tames men, domesticates them, if you will. Without that domestication, society is in big trouble.

Finally, advocates argue that allowing same-sex marriage might not help society, but it would leave the benefits of opposite-sex marriage in place. After all, the vast majority of men will still marry women, excepting only gay men who — in this day and age — wouldn’t marry women anyway. I don’t think so.

Allowing the unimportant will dilute the important. Allowing men to marry men and women to marry women will make marriage more like simple friendship. Because of the importance or raising children and taming men, society is wounded whenever a traditional marriage breaks up. But if two married men were to divorce, society would suffer no more than when two friends call it quits.

If we allow same-sex marriage, there won’t be two sets of rules: All marriages will have to be treated the same. The traditional marriages that are so vital to society will be treated like the same-sex marriages that are not. It would become less important.

We didn’t build our society. We’re like people who have inherited a house built long before we were born, and every now and then we walk around and decide we want to change something — the décor is old-fashioned or it fails to reflect our unique style.

Right now we’re thinking about working on the wall called marriage, but before we do we should ask an important question: Are we just repainting or are we tearing down a structural wall that’s holding the building up?


Sandy Frank, a former Wall Street lawyer and Emmy-winning comedy writer, is still waiting for his invitation to join the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Looking for Ms. Wrong


A good friend of mine got married a couple of months ago to the wrong guy. The thing is, I think they’re going to last a long time.

My friend, “Karen,” is a top administrative officer for a government agency. She hired this lawyer, Joe, to do some outside legal work for the agency. He was living with someone at the time, and he wasn’t her “type” anyway. No problem: no chemistry, no conflict.

Karen and Joe worked together peacefully for more than four years. They got to be good friends on strictly a professional level. All was fine.

That is, until last October, when Joe suddenly realized he had fallen in love with Karen and told her about it. He told her she could take her time figuring it out for herself, but he was determined that they were going to end up spending the rest of their lives together. All this even though he still had a live-in. Karen’s reaction: She thought he had gone a little wacky and recommended counseling! But she reluctantly agreed to an “official date.”

Two weeks later, they were engaged; three-and-a-half months later, married. And they adore each other.

Same with my lifelong friend, Harry. He was a physical education teacher (Jewish — go figure!), 6-foot-3, about 210 pounds., strong as an ox — dated mostly the non-Jewish waitresses he met at the Charthouse, where he worked for waiter’s tips to earn enough to make ends meet. When he met Rachel, she was a pediatric physical therapist from a whole family of doctors — dated mostly short, unathletic, brainy Jewish doctors, lawyers and accountants. Harry was definitely not her type.

Harry’s idea of dress-up was a “nice” pair of gym shorts and a T-shirt without any holes in it. His dress shoes were his newest pair of sneakers. His idea of a great date was when she agreed to go “Dutch” down at Joe Jost’s, a popular, working-class dive in mid-Long Beach. Rachel was used to guys in designer suits who wouldn’t even think of not picking up the tab at the latest trendy Sushi bar.

Result of this “wrong” pairing: Click! Game, set and match. They’re about to celebrate their 17th anniversary; they have two great kids; and they’re still on their honeymoon.

Ever notice when you see some couples that they really “fit” — they really do seem to belong together? When I talk to them, I often find out that their partner was definitely not the person they thought they were looking for.

“In fact,” she’ll say, “he has some habits that in other guys I just couldn’t stand. But in him, I not only put up with them, but find it kind of cute!”

The way I figure it, in this game, you never really know what you’re looking for until you find it. And when you do, all those “wrong” things just suddenly become OK — even right.

So lately, I’ve been asking some hard questions about my own “requirements.” Jewish? Yeah, I guess that’s not negotiable. Oh, I’ve tried the “other side” a few times. It’s just that, when it comes right down to it, the possibility of having one of our future kids wearing a cross and believing Jesus was the messiah really isn’t acceptable.

OK, but what else? I’ve always been attracted to women who are clever, with a keen wit and sharp sense of humor. A bright, mischievous twinkle in the eye is a plus.

The rest of it? I took a lot of time working out my “perfect match” for my JDate profile. Now I’m realizing that I’ve just seen it too many times — regardless of what I “know” about my type, it’s probably going to happen that some vague biological reaction will mysteriously and unexpectedly assert itself when I meet the “wrong” person. Then all those things on my “must” list just won’t matter any more.

So now, taking a cue from the popular challenge to “think outside the box,” I’m doing my best to “look for love outside the box.”

What I still need from someone out there is to meet me halfway. While I’m trying to keep my eyes and my heart a lot more open to the possibilities, what are you looking for? What do you see when you look at me?

Deleted my JDate e-mails because I’m “too old”? Tell that to Catherine Zeta-Jones or Annette Bening! And are you telling me you’d take a pass on Sean Connery today, even at his age? (Same goes for receding hairline excuses.)

Rejected a setup by the matchmaking service because I’m “too short”? Hey, I thought you said “size” doesn’t matter! And how often have you expressed disdain for guys who focus a little too much attention on the size of a woman’s chest?

Looked past me at Friday Night Live because it seems like I’m “too serious?” You know, “serious” doesn’t have to mean “boring.” There’s nothing like a little serious fun to keep a relationship interesting and alive. Ever hear the expression, “Intelligence is the ultimate aphrodisiac”? Try it, you might like it!

Now when they say to me, “There must be some reason a nice guy like you isn’t married,” I tell them, “It’s not that I’m waiting for that ‘perfect person’ who doesn’t exist. It’s just that I’m waiting for the right ‘wrong’ one to come along — the one whose ‘toos’ aren’t ‘too’ for me.”

Look, I know you’re out there somewhere. The problem is, although I’ve figured it out, I have to hope you’ll stop searching for Mr. Right. Because what you’re really looking for is me: Mr. Wrong … who’s really been the right one for you all along.

Glenn M. Gottlieb is a professional mediator and corporate attorney
practicing in Los Angeles. He is actively looking for Ms. Wrong and can be
contacted at gmgottlieb@hotmail.com.

After 45 Years,


Berkeley, 1959. The Berkeley Gazette announced the marriage of two students at Temple Beth El. It was a small wedding performed by Rabbi Axelrod. Our parents didn’t come, our relatives didn’t come; they were afraid to fly from the East Coast. I wore a borrowed dress. There was no honeymoon, because the groom, a UC Berkeley teaching assistant was giving an exam the next day, and I had classes. That was then.

This is now. Forty-five years later we’re getting married again. This time we are on a luxury ship, the Radisson Seven Seas Cruises’ m/s Paul Gauguin, and we’re renewing wedding vows, in Moorea, Tahiti. Instead of Rabbi Axelrod, we stand before Capt. Gilles Bossard. Instead of Hebrew, we get French-accented English and Tahitian from a man we met only days ago. We’ve chosen to have a short, symbolic ceremony on ship to celebrate the fact that we’re still together in a world that isn’t.

The m/s Paul Gauguin is well-known for performing renewal ceremonies in French Polynesian waters. The week we were aboard, there were couples celebrating honeymoons and anniversaries — people in their 20s to 60s, married one month to 50 years. The ship has a one-size-fits-all renewal of vows ceremony, but it didn’t fit us. It began: “My dear friends, we are gathered here today in God’s sight to celebrate your love and marriage.” It talked about the “honorable vocation of wedded life.” And there was a place for silent prayer. I knew then that I’d have to write my own ceremony.

But as I began researching Tahiti, I wondered, “Why are people getting married here?” First, there was the story of Oro, the God of War. Seems that Oro simply got tired of his wife one day, so he conveniently got rid of her by dropping her “from the highest point in the sky” down to earth. After she was let go, Oro commanded his sisters to find him another wife, preferably one who wasn’t “too corpulent.” The sisters found a very young, beautiful girl “who agreed to be Oro’s wife.” That story didn’t sit too well with me in my 60s — especially the part about that young and trim beauty.

Then there was M. Gauguin himself. Sure, he was a gifted painter giving the world Tahiti on canvas — painting the exotic women of his newly adopted home. But before sailing for Tahiti, Gauguin left his wife and five children in France — some sort of midlife crisis. Mistresses and lovers followed, and the great artist wasn’t very healthy when he began to wind down.

James Michener wrote “Tales of the South Pacific,” describing the turquoise waters, the soft sands of the beaches, coconut trees everywhere, a quiet, peaceful, undisturbed, exotic land. This was the place Maurice and I were now seeing. This was Bali Hai, where fruit came in the shape of starfish, and bougainvillea got its name. There were “mangoes and bananas you can pick right off the tree,” as in the musical “South Pacific.” The backdrop was certainly one of the most romantic; now I needed something personal, meaningful to us.

I talked with Claudia Periou, charged with wedding and vow-renewal ceremonies. I asked her whether other couples had written their own vows ceremony. One woman, also a writer, had the captain read her version. But Claudia said the captain blushed during all of the references to that couple’s sexual life. There were emotional ceremonies and impersonal ones. There were three couples, friends from high school, who renewed vows together.

I sat in my stateroom, overlooking some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. And I wrote our vows, later on parchment paper, the words spoken by Bossard: “Marriage isn’t for everyone. Few of Marilyn’s and Maurice’s friends stayed married, and some friends were in their third marriages. During this couple’s 45 years together, there were rose gardens and thorns, obstacles to remove, hurdles to jump over, problems to solve. But the glue that held these two together was their love and respect for each other. Out of their union came Michelle, Carla and Erica, and then the grandchildren, Devin and Alec; we did a great job!” The captain added: “You have been blessed.”

An officer read from Kahlil Gibran, and we were serenaded with Tahitian love songs.

We drank champagne, and ate some of the cake baked for us. (The rest of the cake, which flew home in my cosmetics kit, was saved for our children.) For one whole week, the world’s problems were forgotten as we snorkeled, fed sharks, danced, dined, shopped and read novels. For one week, we didn’t read newspapers or watch CNN.

On Friday night there were services on board. A notice had gone out asking for a volunteer to lead the Shabbat services, and I offered my services. “Sorry, we have somebody,” I was told.

At the services, we sang and prayed, and for a volunteer leader, it was a pretty good service. So I asked the leader: “What do you do in real life?”

In real life he is a real rabbi, Rabbi Michael Stroh of Temple Har Tzion in Toronto.

“So why didn’t somebody tell us there was a rabbi on board? You could have performed our vows ceremony.”

He smiled. “Here, I’m on vacation.”

The last night’s lavish dinner included “double chicken consommé with matzah balls.”

We had two portions each because chicken soup seemed a good idea before the journey back to Los Angeles.

It costs about $200 for a vows renewal ceremony on the Gauguin, aside from the cost of the cruise. You can go kosher, too — the Radisson line was voted “Best Cruise Line for Kosher Food,” in last year’s Total Traveler Guide to Worldwide Cruising.

For more information, contact Radisson Seven Seas Cruises at www.rssc.com. There is a direct flight from LAX to Papeete on Tahiti Nui.

The Guy Clock


Ryan and I did the L.A. supercasual thing for six or seven months. When I tried to rev up our relationship from supercasual to just plain casual, he freaked. I’m talking full-on, take-it-to-Dr. Phil meltdown:

"I haven’t dated enough women."

"I haven’t seen enough of the world."

"I haven’t seen enough of the world’s women."

"I’m too busy with work."

"I don’t have time for anything serious."

"I’m not ready for a commitment."

Ry got engaged to the next girl he dated. Just the word commitment scared the tzitzit off this boy, and now he’s registering for sage bath towels. When he called to spring the good news, I asked him why I got the brush-off and she got the rock.

"What was wrong with me?"

"Carin, you weren’t wrong. You were early."

I should have overslept.

"Seriously, Car, it had nothing to do with you. It’s timing. I was so not ready then. Now, I’m ready. And this chick Lisa’s pretty cool, so I just figured…."

So he "just figured?" Funny thing is I never would have headed to the chuppah with Ryan. He wasn’t the fireworks in my head, stars in my eyes, stop, drop and roll one for me. But for Ryan, it wasn’t about chemistry, it was about timing. In addition to getting engaged, Ry recently got promoted, bought a house and turned 30. And while girls wait to settle down until they meet Mr. Right, guys wait to settle down until it’s the right time.

So when is the right time? When does a Jewish boy become a man? Technically — his bar mitzvah. Realistically? It takes more than a Torah portion, a Men’s Wearhouse suit and an $18 check from Aunt Pearl to make a guy feel like a man. It takes success, stability and accomplishment. So take a guy’s bar mitzvah date, add 20 years, then subtract six months for every year he’s been out of grad school, owned a house or felt good about his job; add three months for every year he spent in debt, worked in a cubicle or slept on a futon; subtract two months for completing a marathon; add one year for every major career change; add three years if he still does laundry at his mom’s; and add 20 minutes for Jewish Standard Time. So, he’ll be ready about a year and half after you’ve given up on him.

Your biological clock ticks faster than his sociological clock. And there’s no speeding up his second hand. You can’t convince him to commit. You can’t persuade him to propose. If Peter Pan feels he sacrificed his career, his fun or his freedom for you, it will haunt your relationship for anniversaries to come.

"Well, Carin, I was going to take out the garbage last night like you asked me to, but I didn’t date enough women before we met."

"What? That doesn’t make any sense."

"Exactly, settling down with you too soon didn’t make any sense either."

And so we women wait. And wait. And like Cubs fans, we’re still waiting.

But for how long? At what point does a guy stop getting his life in order and start making his life happen? Carpe diem, guys. Seize the day! Seize the moment! Or just seize the chick! To be in a successful relationship, you don’t have to have all of your ducks in a row. You just have to know that you’re striving for a row or that you’re looking for some ducks or that you’ve found a good egg. It’s OK if you haven’t reached all of your goals; you just need to have goals. And be passionate about them. And, of course, be passionate about the girl.

C’mon boys, it’s time to make the donuts. Don’t put off dating that girl until you’ve earned a corner office, trekked through Nepal and won a triathlon. Celebrate the promotion with your girlfriend, climb the Himalayas with your fiancée or get sweaty with your wife. Forget about the right time, it’s go time!

We all have times in our lives when we want to focus on ourselves, our careers and our ambitions. I know because I’m a type-A overachiever who has her eyes on the prize. I’m also a one-of-a-kind babe who doesn’t understand why the right woman can’t inspire a man to settle down, even if it’s the wrong time. Or why a man would marry the good-enough girl he happens to be dating at the right time. Maybe "pretty cool" Lisa is good enough for Ryan, but when it comes to marriage, "I just figured" isn’t good enough for me. I’m not settling when I settle down.

I believe there’s a Mr. Right. I believe I’ll find him. And when I do, he’ll have me at "shalom." Now, life isn’t perfect and love doesn’t check my schedule. So I might not meet my man in the right place or at the right time, but if he’s the right guy, I’ll figure it out. Which most likely means — hold on — 13 plus 20, minus 12 months, plus nine months, plus two years, plus three years, plus 20 minutes — it means he’ll keep me waiting for years. And men think women take a long time getting ready….


Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Enjoy Wedded Bliss in Lotus Position


Not every couple’s notion of the ideal honeymoon entails a hedonistic beach resort and lots of fruity drinks garnished with umbrellas. Some want to begin married life with yoga.

Some couples pursue tantric yoga, a form that includes a tranquil sexuality, in hopes of creating a powerful union of mind, body and spirit. The Institute for Ecstatic Living — (877) 982-6872; www.ecstaticliving.com — organizes tantric vacations to Costa Rica, Hawaii and cruise getaways.

If that sounds a bit too New Age, there are other benefits to learning yoga as a couple. First, one partner can help the other get into the asanas, or poses, sort of like using a spotter in weight lifting. Second, yoga helps with the pursuit of other sports and activities. Finally, it’s fun.

When planning a yoga honeymoon, consider how much yoga each of you is likely to want to practice. Most spa resorts include some yoga as part of their overall fitness program, while some retreats offer more intensive yoga instruction. Unless both of you are experienced yogis, you’ll likely want a getaway that combines quality yoga instruction with other activities. In many cases, a resort with a high-quality destination spa will keep both partners happy. Here are some getaways to get you started:

Pura Vida Spa — (888) 767-7375; www.puravidaspa.com — in Costa Rica has special yoga weeks with guest instructors throughout the year, including a tantric week for couples. You can book its "Mind/Body/Spirit Adventure Week" any time. It includes seven nights’ lodging, daily yoga classes, hiking and a rain-forest excursion from $1,100-$2,000 per person, double occupancy.

New Age Health Spa — (800) 682-4348; www.newagehealthspa.com — in New York’s Catskill Mountains has rates starting at $174 per person, per night, double occupancy, two-night minimum. That rate includes daily yoga classes. The spa also hosts weekend-long yoga programs for more intensive instruction.

In nearby Big Sur, Post Ranch Inn — (800) 527-2200; www.postranchinn.com — overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is decidedly deluxe. Accommodations start at $485 per night. Guests can join daily yoga classes in The Yurt, as well as sample tai chi and qigong. The inn is surrounded by scenic hiking trails.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa — (800) 422-2736; www.nemacolin.com — in Farmington, Pa., offers a "Couples Vacation." Accommodations range from lodge rooms to luxurious townhouse suites. Rates start at $185 per night.

Shambhala Spa at Parrot Cay — (877) 754-0726; www.parrot-cay.com — in Turks and Caicos, British West Indies, has special "Healing Weeks" scheduled throughout the year. Many feature guest yoga instructors. Prices vary, depending on the program, but one six-night yoga retreat is $4,610, double occupancy. That includes accommodations, three meals daily, five hours of yoga and meditation instruction each day, plus two hours of massage therapy during the week.

The new Mii amo Spa at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Ariz. — (888) 749-2137; www.miiamo.com — is located right next to one of the seven "spiritual vortices" that make the area a mecca for New Age travelers. In addition to spa treatments, Mii amo hosts four-day yoga retreats that teach guests how to incorporate yoga into their daily lives. Four-night spa getaways start at $1,750.

Finally, one way to support Israel at this time is to honeymoon at a spa in the Jewish State, which offer yoga and exercise along with spa treatments. The Carmel Forest Spa Resort in the Carmel Mountains — www.inisrael.com/isrotel/hotels/carmel_forest_spa_resort — has Internet rates that range from $270 single on weekdays (Saturday to Wednesday) to $570 double on weekends for a deluxe suite.

Mizpe Hayamim, above the Sea of Galilee, offers a variety of treatments and massages. Internet rates at www.mizpe-hayamim.com — range from $179 single during the regular season (which is now) to $367 double for a two-person executive suite during the peak season, which includes the High Holidays and Passover.

Article courtesy Copley News Service.


Alison Ashton is a San Diego-based freelance travel and health writer.

Love and Loyalty


We would always say that we were the ambassadors of love and happiness, causing people to smile as they passed by us, the chemistry almost touchable.

At that point, the fact that he was a Jew and I was an Italian Catholic didn’t seem to make much difference. We were in love and that was all that mattered.

As we traveled through our relationship and through the past two and a half years, we overcame many of the obstacles that couples face. We also embraced the issues that arose due to our interfaith relationship, knowing that it was an important and vital component, not something to put off or take lightly.

Our discussions about religion began early on and became a running dialogue. We started off slowly, trying to discuss this delicate topic without hurting any feelings, but soon realized that if the relationship were to proceed, the hard questions needed to be asked. How do you want your children to be raised? Can you accept symbols such as a Christmas tree or a menorah that reflect the other’s religion? Do you feel that you can be true to yourself and your faith if you have a partner who is of a different religion?

Having asked these questions, we knew that the answers were nowhere except within. We read, we discussed, we attended seminars about being interfaith, and we learned about each other. Through this and because of this, our love and relationship continued to grow.

David voiced to me during one of our many discussions that he felt very strongly about having his children bar or bat mitzvahed. Knowing that his father was a Holocaust survivor who has since passed away, I understood and empathized with his strong feelings about this, and I began to think. Raising Jewish children was not something I ever had to consider before, and when I met David, I initially assumed that we would do "both."

I then began to think more about David’s desires in regard to what I viewed as my greatest hopes for my future children: that they be kind, moral and believe in something larger than themselves. If these were the things that I regarded as most important, and if my spouse had such strong feelings, then getting there through Judaism rather than Christianity would be OK. Not always easy or natural for me, but OK.

You would think that any tension and unhappiness that arose regarding our interfaith relationship and its future would come from my family, since I had decided to raise my future children Jewish. However, it proved to be the opposite. My mother, although not happy with the decision, was supportive, realizing that these were my decisions to make, understanding that she would still play a significant role in her grandchildren’s lives. David’s mother, however, despite the sacrifice that I had decided to make for him, believed that it wasn’t enough and that he should still marry a Jewish woman. Her unhappiness with our growth as a couple soon became obvious and vocal. She expressed to him her belief that there must be a common base in order for a relationship to survive — and that base needs to be religion.

Slowly, the constant pressure, comments from and discussions with his immediate family began to chip away during two years of soul-searching, discussions and resolutions until David became torn and conflicted between our love and his loyalty to his family and religion. I understand that his family only wants the best for him. However, I also believe that there doesn’t need to be a choice between love and loyalty; that the two can co-exist if both people are willing to compromise in some way.

We, as a couple and as individuals, had reached a place where we both felt that we were being true to ourselves as well as to our religions. However, David’s growing inner conflict was something he could no longer resolve or even understand, and it hindered our growth. Knowing that this was something he needed to resolve within himself in order for our relationship to survive, we decided that it would be best for him to work it out alone. We decided to split up, putting our relationship and love to the ultimate test.

Being without him fills me with a tremendous sadness, as does the uncertainty of whether or not our roads will join together once again. I don’t know if the resolution of his inner conflict will reunite us or keep us apart. However, I understand that this is a journey I cannot take with him, and I can only pray that he finds the strength that I know he has within himself to find his own truth. I look at this as a time for answers, knowing that God has a plan.

If our love is as true and as strong as we believe, we will find our way through this and will be stronger for it — once again bringing smiles to other people’s faces as well as to our own.


Lia Del Sesto is a freelance graphic designer and professional vocalist from Providence, R.I. Reprinted courtesy of InterfaithFamily.com, a member of the Jewz.com Media Network.

Wingman Wanted


Let’s talk about Ruth and Naomi, two smokin’ hot babes who Thelma and Louised it from Moab.

Ruth could have ditched her friend to find a new dude. But instead, she played her “where you go I go, where you stay I stay” wingman card and schlepped across the desert with Naomi. My girlfriends used to be like that.

I used to have plenty of unhitched, “work all day, flirt all night, no sleep ’til Brooklyn” party pals. It was “where you drink I drink, where you flirt I flirt.” Whether it was Friday night at El Carmen or Saturday night at Jones, chasing men was always a group effort. My wingmen and I were a TEAM: Together Everyone Attracted More.

To catch Los Angeles’ top guns, we followed a “stay on my wing, I’m-taking you all the way in” game plan. See, Jewish guys hit the singles scene in packs, or at least pairs. Order a cute boy? Side of his hot friend coming right up. Look at Moses and Aaron, or Ben and Jerry. I’m telling you, where there’s a Will, there’s a Wayne. And since men stick by their “no mensch gets left behind” mantra, they don’t ditch their dude just to chat with a chick, no matter how shayna her punim.

That’s where my wingman comes into play. I need a friend for his friend, a babe for his buddy. I work bachelor No. 1, while my wingman takes what’s behind bachelor No. 2. We’re talking, “attention single shoppers, there’s a two-for-one sale on babes at the bar.”

But lately, I find myself flying solo on a Saturday night. Oh where, oh where did my single friends go? Seems the chicks in my clique are all dating, married or hauling around gargantuan diamonds. So they traded girls’ night out for couple’s night in. My fellow “fight for your right to party” gals have settled into committed relationships, leaving this Laverne without a Shirley. And where there’s no schlemiel, I’m not getting schlimazel.

So, I’m looking for a few good wingmen. Fellow bar-hopping, boy-hunting, unattached women who still want to make the most of their bachelorette lives. Problem is, in Los Angeles, cool chicks are as rare as real breasts. So I’m having a hard time finding fun women I actually like. When did it become so difficult to make new female friends? I don’t even know where to meet them.

When I want to meet men, I just pick them up. It’s easy. I pick them up at bars on Fridays, playing volleyball on Saturdays, watching my Bears on Sundays, even in the grocery line on Mondays. I can meet men with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back. But women are less likely to respond to that. So I’m not sure how to hook this up. There’s no Speedfriending or JPal. And I’m not the “shop ’til you drop, oh I love what you’re wearing, let’s drink nonfat decaf ice-blended mochas and hang out at the paint-it-yourself pottery place” girly girl type. Maybe I should use the Jedi mind trick: these are the new friends you are looking for. Or perhaps I should take out a wingman wanted ad: Single Jewish female seeking fun female friends. Age 25-35. Must have appetite for adventure, no ring on finger and the ability to tag-team flirt with a dynamic duo. Applicant should have accurate bachelor radar, a thorough understanding of the buddy system and a quick response time to the universal sign for “please rescue me from this nudnik.” No plans for marriage in the near future preferred. A strong sense of loyalty and friendship a must.

It’s that last part that matters most. Despite the fact that the mind of the unmarried man says two blondes are better than one, I attract lots of guys when I brave the singles scene alone. I just show a little pupik, shake a little tuchus and I pick up a whole minyan of men hoping to dance the horizontal hora.

So there’s more to a wingman than the old dating “divide and conquer.” A wingman’s a fantastically fun friend who’s up for long chats, happy hours and chick flicks. She’s a confidante, an accomplice, a partner in crime. She’s a “laugh out loud, cry on her shoulder, lean on me when you’re not strong, girls just wanna have fun” gal. And, like Ruth, a wingman should be ready to accompany me on long treks across the desert, ’cause I’m a big fan of the spontaneous all-girl Vegas roadtrip.

So if you’re a fellow “fly by the seat of your tallit” girl who, lately, has found herself flying solo — you can be my wingman anytime.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Hit the Road, Jeff


I have heard people refer to the process of meeting someone as "the dating minefield." I can’t think of a place as chaotic, dangerous and fraught with anxiety as a minefield, except possibly anywhere one might go on a trip with one’s new girlfriend. Out of this chaos comes order. There are rules. Things go a certain way. A-B-C. My friend Marcus used to describe it as, "Getting your ducks all lined up in a row."

After you’ve been "a couple" for a while, it’s time to hit the highway together. The inaugural weekend road trip is the first test of your emergency relationship system. You drive somewhere, maybe Palm Springs or Santa Barbara. As far as New Haven is from Broadway. Far enough that you’re "out of town," but still close enough that you can bail out in two hours if things don’t quite go as planned. A lot of nice new couples have blown up on their first trip together. Take two normal, healthy adults out of their normal, healthy environment, put them in a confined space for 48 hours, and there’s a reasonable chance that at least one of them will go completely crazy. That’s why you must have the escape hatch built in to your travel plans. Some people leave on the freeways of Los Angeles as lovers, but return in icy silence as mortal enemies. In the theater they call this "closing out of town."

Keeping one foot out the door gets harder to do as you go along. The second trip is going to require an airplane. The number and variety of vehicles involved is like a scorecard for where you are in your relationship. A travel agent is involved. Your girlfriend’s name is now on file — the same file where your travel agent keeps your credit card information. This may be the first time her name and your credit card number are officially linked. This is a "moment" you won’t soon forget.

I’ve been dating someone for a little while — let’s call her Alison. Two months into the action we took our first trip, but we’re seasoned veterans, so we bypassed all these half steps and went to London for a week. My friend, Steve, asked, "What if you have a fight?" Good question, Steve, and I want to thank you for putting that notion into my head. "I think we’ll be okay," I said. "But, if it should come to pass, I will look back on this informative little chat and realize that’s why carrying cash and ample available credit is so important. That, my friend, is a long drive home."

Alison and I had a wonderful time in London. I don’t think you know another person until you get away. And the further you get from home and hearth, the more you’re likely to meet their inner child — especially where shopping is concerned. Alison developed a tic when we passed by the JP Tods store on Sloane Street, and I think I saw her head do a 360-degree turn when our taxi passed by Robert Clergerie. By the time we entered Harvey Nichols, she looked like Indiana Jones discovering the lost ark. "Eureka!" she said, disappearing into a sea of Burberry plaid, from which she did not return until tea time with the Queen Mum.

I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. I mean, I thought the Prada store on Rodeo Drive was perfectly fine. But no. Oh, no. No, no, no. Obviously, I am not familiar with their entire line of fashion accessories, or I would not give voice to such an uninformed opinion. The Prada store in London is totally different, you boob. Ditto Paris and anywhere else worth traveling to. For that matter, civilization can now be gauged by the presence of a Prada store. Aspen has one, but Omaha does not. I rest my case. The further you get from one of these temples of urbanity and their insanely expensive nylon Sportsacs, the worse things get. Look at Afghanistan, for example. The nearest Prada outlet is in Rome, nearly 3,000 miles away. The entire situation there could be solved by the construction of a Rem Koolhaas designed boutique on Main Street in Kandahar.

On the flight back, we looked at the map in the back of the airline magazine and mused about where we’d like to go next. Turkey? Sicily? Thailand? Alison tells me there’s an outlet mall with a Prada store on the way to Palm Springs. Is it too soon to start taking separate vacations?

A Belated Wedding Present


The ad caught our eye: an all-expense paid Shabbatweekend at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute for couples married withinthe past 18 months. I had been to Brandeis before, so I knew that, ifnothing else, my husband, Neal, and I would experience a tranquilShabbat in a beautiful setting.

The weekend program was the brainchild of RabbiAlvin Mars, executive vice president of the institute, who identifiednewly married couples as a population for whom no programming existedwithin the Jewish community. Mars designed a program to enable thesecouples to meet others like themselves within a Jewish context, andhe obtained funding to hold three pilot sessions in 1997 through theCotsen Family Foundation. The weekends were so well-received that thefoundation agreed to fund five sessions annually over the next threeyears as the Cotsen Institute for Newly Married Couples.

The program’s goals are simple: to provide apositive experience within a Jewish framework and to give couples achance to meet and befriend other Jewish couples. The onlyrequirements are that couples be married within the past 18 months,and that the marriage be performed by a rabbi.

“That is the only program of its kind in the worldthat I am aware of,” says Mars. “This isn’t a case of couplesprojecting how things might be once they are married,” he says.Instead, participants examine their marriage as it currently exists,and explore how they want it to be.

Our weekend, held March 6-8, drew 32 couples, mostin their 20s and 30s, and a few in their 40s. There were severalsecond marriages, at least three expectant couples, and one with a6-month-old baby at home. Three couples trekked up from San Diego toparticipate.

When it comes to Shabbat, Brandeis-Bardin has amagical effect: Once you pass through the gates and drive downPeppertree Lane, you feel truly removed from the commotion and stressof everyday life. The 3,000 acres, exceptionally green after recentrains, offer beautiful vistas and lots of opportunities for hiking.The newly constructed meeting and dining complex, completed followingthe 1994 Northridge earthquake, only adds to the appeal.

Our formal program began with Shabbat services.According to Mars, BBI seeks to be “an entry for the entire Jewishpeople,” and staff are careful to present Judaism in a welcoming,non-threatening manner. The institute even has its own prayer bookand unique melodies so that observant and nonaffiliated Jews alikeare “equally uncomfortable.”

At dinner, which was surprisingly tasty, couplesbegan getting to know one another. As my husband observed,newly-marrieds are like a fraternity of sorts, and we gleefullyswapped details about when and where we had gotten married, where wehoneymooned and how we’d heard about this weekend.

Shabbat morning services were led by Rabbi ScottMeltzer, scholar-in-residence, who used the Torah portion’sdiscussion of the tabernacle to make an analogy to the new home eachcouple was establishing. My husband and I have made a commitment toincorporating Jewish practice and ritual in our home, and RabbiMeltzer’s comments made me feel good about the patterns we had begunto set.

The welcoming atmosphere and spectacular settingbegan to have its effect, as couples became more relaxed and lessinhibited. We found ourselves doing things we might not do in thereal world, such as singing songs arm-in-arm or trying Israelidancing for the first time. Even the fact that cabins were furnishedwith twin beds became an ongoing source of humor.

As the program continued, couples were invited togather in sets of three to share stories of how they met. Later,couples discussed privately their individual values and how theywished to translate those values as a new family unit.

Neal and I had taken a “Making Marriage Work”seminar before our wedding, so we had discussed many of the topicsraised over the course of the weekend. For some couples, however, thesessions provided an opportunity to cover new territory. But if Nealand I didn’t discover any earth-shattering revelations about ourrelationship, we nevertheless fulfilled the program’s goals: Wereaffirmed and clarified our feelings about building a Jewish homeand met some couples whom we plan to contact in the future. We alsogot to enjoy the clean air, take brisk walks and spend time focusingon one another.

“I hope every couple that gets married will take[the weekend] as a gift from the Jewish community,” says Meltzer.It’s a gift that any couple could appreciate.

The next weekend for newly married couples will beheld in the fall. For more information, call Rabbi Scott Meltzer atthe Brandeis-Bardin Institute at (805) 582-4450.