My Single Peeps: Ari K.


I’ve been close with Ari’s sister for years, and the oddest thing about her is that she always has a smile on her face. Married to a self-confessed pain in the ass, four kids at 30, coupled with all the other life crap that bogs everyone down … she still has that smile on her face. And smiles are catching. Like mono, we have no idea how it’s passed from person to person. Just one of those mysteries. 

Ari, 31, is built the same way. Maybe it’s the ocean air from their hometown of Long Beach. He was raised in a Chabad family. “It just never really clicked with me. I believe in God, but I don’t believe that any other man should be dictating how I live my life. Everyone says [the Torah] comes from God, but it was a man who wrote [it]; it was a man who wrote the Gemara, and how does he know how to live better than anyone else? I don’t believe it’s logical. I believe people should be good people. Living an ethical lifestyle, there’s a path to happiness and success — and hopefully heaven, if it does exist.”

I ask him how his family members reacted to him becoming unreligious. “They were very accepting of it. At first, they wanted me to be religious, but they came to realize that it wasn’t making me happy. And, of course, like any parents, they want their kids to be happy, and they realized that wasn’t the path to my happiness.” 

Ari’s bright. He works at Northrop Grumman. “I guess my official job description is program liaison for unmanned systems, which are basically unmanned airplanes. I love what I do. I also head up a lot of projects, like automation of systems, process improvements. … I want to be a material program manager. Basically oversee the acquisitions of all the materials required to build a plane.”

This is when I admit to Ari that my mind clicks off when I hear words such as “liaison” and “acquisition.” I’m typing thoughtlessly and veer him onto a subject I know much better — women.

He tells me he wants “someone who’s athletic, someone who’s thin, [and she] doesn’t have to be tall. I’m looking for someone who’s laid back, kind, caring, successful, business-oriented [and] an active woman.”

Ari rock climbs and works out at the gym daily. “I like a woman who knows what she wants. I’m looking for someone to have a good time with [and] I’m looking for a life partner. I want to have kids at some point in my life — definitely [not] right away. But it’s definitely something I can see doing in the long run.”

He also makes ceramics. I ask him if he’s good. “I’m OK. I haven’t made a masterpiece yet, but one of these days. I do it because I like it. I like the feeling of creating something with [my]  bare hands. I’m very handy.” He manages and owns a couple of investment properties and likes to do the work himself.

“What makes you difficult in a relationship?” I ask. “I think my biggest problem is I don’t like confrontation. I’m a very logical person, and I don’t put much effort into illogical, irrational confrontations. Of course, I do try to work things out, but at a certain point I’m normally the one who walks away.”

“Are you looking for a wife?” I ask. “Listen, I’m not rushing into anything. I’m not getting married just because I don’t want to be alone.” He throws on an infectious smile. “But I definitely want to be married if I find the right girl.” 


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

Opinion: Tamara doesn’t want to date a Republican!


Two weeks ago, Jewish Journal blogger Tamara Shayne Kagel wrote a piece titled, “I Don’t Want to Date a Republican!

Apparently, a nightmare of hers has been realized — she has fallen in love with a Republican. One can truly apply the famous Yiddish dictum here: “Man plans and God laughs.”

In addition to the larger question — can a liberal and conservative truly love and have a successful marriage? — Tamara’s piece raises a number of other interesting issues.

She writes that one reason she was sure she would never experience the “terror” of dating a Republican is that “I don’t even know very many Republicans.”

I admire Tamara’s honesty. But given that about half the country votes Republican, this fact is worthy of note.

How would a liberal react to a conservative Christian writing in a Christian journal, “I don’t even know very many Democrats”? Presumably, he or she would assume that this person had led a cloistered and insular life. And they would be right.

But isn’t this also true of many liberal Jews?

I grew up in New York, and I realized at a young age that, for all intents and purposes, I was living in a liberal Jewish ghetto. I rarely met non-Jews and do not recall ever meeting a conservative, Jew or non-Jew (certainly not at Columbia University).

I came to realize how insular New York City was. What really blew my mind was that liberal New Yorkers considered themselves among the most universal, cosmopolitan, worldly and intellectually open people in America.

Yet, these people socialized with, dined with, read, listened to and married people who agreed with them on virtually every significant issue of life. If the archetypical New York Jewish liberal, Woody Allen, had to spend a week alone in a small town in Idaho or Alabama, he would probably feel as if he had traveled in a time machine or been transported to a foreign culture. He would feel much more at home in Oslo or Paris even if he didn’t speak a word of Norwegian or French.

It was one of the revelations of my early life that a Tennessee or Montana conservative was far more familiar with liberals and liberalism than a New York or Los Angeles liberal was with conservatives and conservatism.

That is a major reason the U.S. attorney arguing on behalf of the ObamaCare mandate could not effectively respond to conservative justices’ challenges — liberals don’t bother learning conservative arguments. As Tamara notes: “I grew up knowing very few Republicans and the rare ones I did know got made fun [of] behind their backs, be it children or adults. … [In law school], I rarely interacted with those others [Republicans] who met with our derision.”

The liberal learns from a young age that conservatives and their ideas are not to be taken seriously. Both are worthy only of “derision.”

So, Tamara is in a quandary. She has actually fallen in love with one of those people she learned to deride.

Adding to her cognitive dissonance, this Republican has “a big generous heart.” That must really vex Tamara — aren’t conservatives greedy and far less compassionate than liberals?

For all these reasons, Tamara candidly concedes: “I can’t date a Republican! What was I thinking? What if I have little Republican babies?”

This, too, is worthy of note. For most liberal Jews, intermarriage is not necessarily marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew, but between a liberal and a conservative — even if both are Jews.

I do not disparage this. I have long argued that for most Jews on the left, Judaism is their ethnicity, and leftism is their religion. So, they would understandably view a marriage with a non-leftist in essentially the same way a religious Jew would view a marriage with a non-Jew: as an interfaith marriage.

Tamara is therefore on to something. There is a huge ideological gulf between right and left. Just to cite one example, I would have found it very hard to marry a woman who was passionate about keeping all murderers alive and thought that Israel was therefore immoral in executing Adolf Eichmann.

So I respect Tamara’s skepticism when her boyfriend “keeps saying we can always find common ground.” And she is certainly right when she writes, “I love watching [Mary Matalin and James Carville] but I don’t want to fight like that in my home. I want my home to be a place of tranquility and calm.”

The truth is that, if Tamara marries her Republican boyfriend and continues to believe that it is “always the Republican party that nominates idiots,” it is hard to imagine such a tranquil home. Unless, of course, one of them converts. Which may happen. While single women (and blacks) are the most reliable Democratic voting bloc, married women, especially married women with children, are among the most reliable Republican voters.

I wish them well.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Come All Ye Faithful


“Men in their 30s are like milk,” a rabbi recently said to me as I told him some stories about my dating life. “The longer they sit out the more spoiled they get.”

For once, someone wasn’t telling me, “What’s wrong with you?” and was trying to say, “What’s wrong with all of them?”

Still, it was disheartening.

I don’t like to do disheartened in public. I’m trying to go more for the perky. Like Katie Couric — look where it got her! So I put on my brightest smile, threw in my wisest glance and said. “Faith, rabbi, you gotta have faith.”

I felt silly saying this to a rabbi, of all people, especially in the form of a George Michael song (although if anyone needed faith it might be the former Wham star), but if a rabbi can deliver such a gloomy prognostication, what hope is there left?

Sometimes I think that people in the position of dispensing faith rarely know what it means. Faith means all sorts of things to people, and not much in the cynical world of dating. How can it? It’s beaten out of you, by every date that goes by, every year that passes, every mother and yenta and well-meaning friend asking about your love life, leaving you more listless, punctured, unbelieving.
It’s easy to have faith when things are going your way. It’s easy to say how God loves you and will help you when he does. But what is real faith? Faith means believing when all evidence to the contrary suggests otherwise.

It may sound like silly to apply God’s powers to dating. Surely He has something better to do. (On the other hand, if God is a She, then that’s all she’d be doing.)

But having real faith means going out on a million blind dates and continuing to believe that the next one might be the one. It means getting dressed up for the next one as if it were the first one. It means talking about yourself like you’ve never talked about yourself before, like you’ve never loved or lost before, like you hadn’t just been in this exact restaurant and ordered the exact entreé with a different person.

Faith means that even when you give someone a chance, someone you don’t want to go out with in the first place, and he dumps you — you! — you believe it was for the best. You believe that the entire process, actually, is here to make you a better person, here to make you smarter about your life choices, and that it will bring you closer to the person who is right for you. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, you are a bit relieved you didn’t marry that boyfriend from five years ago — yes, the one you loved so dearly. Maybe everything does happen for a reason, you start to believe.

Sometimes you will question your faith. You will wonder what it is that is wrong with you, what it is that is wrong with your choices, what if you were fatally flawed, tragically, irreparably. If you are dating the wrong men, living in the wrong city, state, country, planet, universe. You will wonder if you are even straight. Maybe you are gay or gender-neutral or a hermaphrodite. Maybe you woke up one morning as a bug.

Maybe you want to crawl under the covers with a weekend supply of Cold Stone’s Cake Batter Ice Cream and a whole season of Lost. Maybe you want to refuse to go out with any more men until you get more successful/fit/relaxed/… perfect, as if time moved backward, so you could return to the person you once imagined yourself to be.

Of course there will be those moments. Those moments of absolute hatred, like when the sight of a Coffee Bean makes you burst out in tears, or when the glimpse of your first-date shirt makes you break out in a rash. The rash will go away, and you can always (gulp) go to Starbucks. Everyone else does. The point being, there is no alternative.

Date or die. This is your motto. Faith means that you will pull yourself out of bed, throw out the Cold Stone cartons, dust off your killer jeans, and get out there again. And again.

Faith means believing in love; in the connection of two human beings; in the merging of two souls. It’s hard to believe, while listening to a thrice-divorced short man discuss his search for a supermodel, that this is the path to love. But the search, you find out, also means closing off paths that don’t lead you in the right direction.

In some ways, it’s easier to live without faith, without hope, without expectations. There are fewer disappointments this way. But there is also just a little less life.

Faith means you can have expectations, get disappointed, and have hope for another day.

What faith really means, really, really, really means, is that things will work out in your favor. Maybe not today, not tomorrow, but soon. This is what you must believe in. This is what you must not forget.

So, rabbi, it’s a leap, this faith thing. But I’m willing to jump.

The Beastie Boys, Jesus and Me


I had been dating my girlfriend for a month when I told her that my parents were coming to town for their yearly visit from the East Coast.

“Do your parents know I’m a shiksa?” Laura asked, smirking sincerely.

“Not yet,” I said. “I haven’t told them about you yet. But don’t worry, they’ll be cool with you not being Jewish.”

I said this, unsure if that last statement was completely true.

That night I sat on my couch, grinding my feet into the rug, my palm gripping my cellular.

“So where is she from?” my mom asked.

“Uh, Utah,” I replied, then proceeded with caution. “Actually, she was raised Mormon, but she isn’t Mormon anymore … I mean, she’s nothing. I mean, she’s not with any religion.”

I was uncomfortable saying these things to my mother, and the silence that ensued was worse, even if only for a few seconds.

“Oh,” my mom said.

“She went to Brandeis,” I added in haste. “She loves Jews.”

“Oh,” she repeated, “that’s nice.”

It was then that I sensed trouble.

It sounds silly, but my girlfriend Laura does indeed love Jews. Raised Mormon in Utah, she developed a distaste for the faith’s dogma at an early age and never looked back. When her parents divorced, she moved to New Mexico with her mother, to a tiny town dominated by devout Christians. When the time came to pick a college, her favorite teacher referred her to Brandeis University, from which she earned a full scholarship. She had never known a Jew, but she was anxious for the new experience.

As she describes Brandeis, she was so relieved to be in a place where people were openly religious but not trying to convert her or push their values on her. It was there that she fell in love with Jews — Jewish men in particular. Among her favorites: her now ex-husband, the Beastie Boys and Jesus. That’s right, Jesus. Laura is one of those rare people who loves Jesus and the spirit of his teachings, even decorating her home with his images, while remaining religiously unaffiliated.

“So, when you think of God, do you picture Jesus?” I once asked her.

“I’m not sure,” she said.

My gut reaction was to be bothered by this. Not that I believe in the God of the Torah either, or any other religious representation of the divine, but I feel like my Jewish upbringing has led me to find the concept of Jesus inconceivable. I’m sure that Jesus was a nice guy, clearly a forward thinker, but come on.

On the ride to meet my parents, I interpreted Laura’s calm demeanor as restrained stress.

“There’s no reason to be nervous,” I said.

“So they don’t care that I’m a shiksa?”

“No … I don’t think so.”

Clearly, I still wasn’t certain.

My parents should be used to it by now. They had an unmarried daughter come home pregnant and a few years later, their oldest son married a Catholic woman. They were initially distraught, then disappointed, confused I’m sure. The possibility of having non-Jewish grandchildren is a difficult one for devout Jews. But it didn’t take long for them to understand the situations and, more importantly, accept them.

Ironically, our parents never forced religion upon us — aside from sending all of us to yeshiva, that is. As Conservative Jews, our household was secular compared to those of our classmates. Sure, we had Shabbat dinner on Friday nights, refrained from writing and driving on Saturdays, but religion was rarely discussed in our home. Most indicative of how my parents raised us, they gave us a choice when we reached high school whether we wanted to transfer from the yeshiva to public school. Each of us did.

I am not a religious person, but I love being Jewish. I spent the majority of my childhood in Jewish environments and at various points in my adult life, I have chosen to study and work strictly with Jews; I feel a comfort with them that’s hard to describe. It feels strange to be so unaffected by the rituals and beliefs of Judaism while continuing to experience such a love for it.

My parents never forced dogma upon me, and they constantly encouraged me to think for myself and make my own decisions about my religion. I consider them symbols of the beauty of Judaism itself, a religion that pushes its people to persistently consider their own thoughts and feelings.

Laura and I joined my parents at one of the kosher restaurants on Pico Boulevard. It was truly affirming to watch my mother and father show great interest in my girlfriend’s religious history. They asked her about being raised Mormon, and they listened intently to her stories. I felt an enormous feeling of elation realizing that my parents weren’t judging me or my mate.

I continue to wrestle with my religion, but I am eternally grateful to my parents for teaching me to think for myself, independent of them. I am also grateful to them for welcoming a special person like Laura into our lives.

And if Laura does picture Jesus as God, it doesn’t really bother me.

“At least he’s Jewish,” I tell her.

Ezra Werb is a behaviorist who works with autistic children. He writes fiction in his free time.

 

Modern Orthodoxy’s Marriage Crisis


Hard-to-marry-off children have been worrying parents since Genesis, when Leah, her eyes tender from the sadness of being unwanted, took part in a hoax to trick Jacob — her younger, prettier sister’s suitor — into marrying her. There’s no indication of how old Leah was at betrothal, but the tone of the text prompts a mortifying thought: Had she lived in our time, the future matriarch of the Jewish people would likely be another tough case for the matchmakers.

Or so I surmised a few months ago after a crowded panel in Manhattan on what has come to be known as the “shidduch crisis” in Modern Orthodoxy. Over the past decade, rabbis, activists and parents have been wringing their hands over the “ever-burgeoning number of religious singles and rising percentage of failed marriages” in the community. This event was only the most recent of many discussions devoted to the topic.

Having once been both single and Modern Orthodox, I recognized many of the audience members — not exact faces, of course, but types: The knitted-browed parents, bantering anxiously among themselves; the fresh-faced Stern and Yeshiva University students who seemed too young to take the bus themselves, let alone join in holy matrimony; a handful of older singles brave enough to show their faces at such a gathering.

The evening’s discussion traversed a lot of ground, but it was clear that among its primary goals was the prevention of those too-often-seen tragic situations — “marriages that end, God forbid, in divorce” and “people who are in their late 20s, even 30, and not married.”

The timing could not have been better — or worse: Three days earlier, I had signed divorce papers; six days later, I turned 30.

Of course, the world is filled with singles wishing to be part of doubles. Since the fate of every society turns on the success or failure of its particular set of mating rituals, each one develops its own specialized system of coupling. But what happens when those rituals erode?

This is the bind in which Modern Orthodoxy has lately found itself. Over the past decade, the movement has drifted to the right — adopting, along the way, the belief that greater stringency in Jewish law and ritual equals greater religiosity. Distinctions that might seem infinitesimal to an outsider — “she’s a Bais Yaakov girl,” “he wears a kippah sruga” — have become fundamental differences, and competitions have sprouted up over who follows which obligations more strictly.

Along with new perspectives on the legality of singing in the shower and smoking cigarettes on Passover, there also has emerged a more exacting code of modesty and celibacy for singles. In response, ever younger people have begun racing to the chuppah, with many of us discussing potential mates as early as high school.

This is the system used successfully by the ultra-Orthodox, who place more emphasis on God, family and community than on individual choices: Each person has confidence in her mate not only because he is right for her, but because he is right for everyone and everything in her life. On the other end of the spectrum, the secular world offers a method based on individualism: Release yourself from everyone else’s expectations, and date as many people as it takes to find the one.

The problem is that both of these opposing philosophies are now circulating in the Modern Orthodox community, and their coexistence is causing static — mixed signals, false expectations, miscommunications. The confusion might be surmountable, but muddling through it requires two things that Orthodox Jews who’d like to remain marriageable don’t have: experience and time.

The first inkling that I did not have nearly enough time to find a mate was in my junior year of yeshiva high school. We were learning about Amuka, an area in northern Israel where the prayers of people looking for their besherts (destined partners) allegedly are answered, when I was seized with confusion.

“Can each person only have one beshert?” I asked.

“I think so,” said the rabbi.

“But what about a woman who remarries after her husband dies? Which one was her beshert?”

“Only God knows,” came the reply.

“What if my beshert lives in, like, Pakistan?”

“You have to just believe, Alana.”

I can’t, I thought suddenly. I don’t know enough about the world.

And with that, Amuka became my Archimedean point, the place where I stood when I inadvertently lifted my entire religious world off its axis. After that, the questions came quickly — even leading, briefly, to a period of greater observance.

By the time I started my second year at Barnard, I was taking classes on other religions, had an Episcopalian best friend and regularly attended non-Jewish campus events on Friday night, as long as I could walk to them.

But as my curiosity about the larger world expanded, the atmosphere of Modern Orthodoxy contracted. I wanted to engage with the secular world — to learn about it as well as to experience it — but the same adventures that might have once been par for the Modern Orthodox course now threatened to make me an outcast.

I was too attached to religious life and thought to abandon it entirely. Instead, I made the kind of unspoken compromises with my parents (and, by extension, the community) that some people make with God: I will not go to services often, but when I do, I’ll attend Orthodox synagogues; I will eat nonkosher in restaurants but at home will abide by rules strict enough that the rebbe could snack in my kitchen; I will avoid premarital sex, but won’t follow the laws of negiah.

This last item was, in fact, the only one for which I had an intellectual defense. I was shy and insecure about sex and knew enough to fear its power as an obfuscating force in relationships. The more I knew, I thought, the better my chances that I wouldn’t mistake lust for love.

Fooling around before marriage has, historically, not been an uncommon practice among Modern Orthodox Jews. After all, they gave the world the “tefillin date,” so named for the men who brought along their phylacteries in hopes they wouldn’t be home in time for morning prayers.

By my early 20s, the community had moved significantly to the right. People found themselves caught between rules of the old world and the kind of curiosity about sex and dating fostered in the new one.

“It is bad enough to be alone, but to be not sexual is almost as bad, and the two together is terrible,” writes an anonymous Orthodox blogger. “I have had fantasies of killing myself. I have considered hiring a male prostitute and getting it over with. No, I have not tried either of those last two things, chas vishalom…. To all the married people out there telling older singles that they should deny themselves, I wish I could respond, ‘Let he who is 34 and never been kissed cast the first stone.'”

I was 25 when I married — a bit old compared to my yeshiva classmates but still within respectable limits. To a casual observer, Daniel might have seemed like a rebellious choice: He did not grow up Orthodox; his father is not Jewish; his last name is Scotch-Irish. But he was almost as connected to the community as I was, having just gotten out of a relationship with another Orthodox woman.

He had started learning Hebrew, loved Shabbat and had relatives in Israel. And, unlike me, he had yichus, a distinguished lineage: His grandfather was a famed civil rights lawyer and Zionist activist. He was different enough, and yet similar.

After a year of dating, we wanted to move in together, but I knew this was unheard of in our circles. So I made another silent compromise: I’d marry the person of my choosing, but at an age and in a way that would be acceptable within the community.

Daniel and I married before we should have, a step that put undue pressure on a young relationship and two people still struggling to define themselves. When the marriage ruptured, so did the thin thread holding me to Orthodoxy. I became angry at the community for depriving me of my adolescence or, rather, for being too rigid to encourage it.

As psychologist Naomi Mark said at the panel on the shidduch crisis that I attended, the community expects young adults to have marriage, education and careers settled, or at least on track, by their early 20s, leaving no time to make the kind of mistakes that teach us who we are. My effort to avoid these mistakes — to experience the world but not so much that I’d be forced from the community’s safe corral — threatened to split the baby. And the baby was me.

In the end, I chose self-definition over religion. As Plato promised, the examined life is indeed fulfilling — firsthand experience of oneself trumps guesswork any day — but it’s not nearly as pretty as the brochure implies. For me, the ugliness lies not in the fact that by opening the door to all experience I’ve ushered in pain as well as joy, or because in the course of learning about myself, I’ve unearthed a few things I’d rather never have known — though both have certainly happened.

What most disquiets me is the limbo. Unlike my Orthodox peers, who can be sure of the basic contours of their lives, I writhe with uncertainty: Where will I be living 10 years from now? What school will my kids attend? How kosher will my kitchen be?

Sometimes, the fog gets so intimidating that I start to wonder if there’s still time to go back, to abandon all this liberty and just get comfortable again. Alas, I fear all this experience has ruined me; I’ve lost too many virginities — intellectual, emotional, psychological and, well, otherwise — to mesh again with that life. Plus, as the panel proved, the community hardly needs another 30-year-old woman in need of marrying off, especially one without a younger, prettier sister to use as bait.

Alana Newhouse is the arts and letters editor at The Forward.

Reprinted from

Valentine’s Day.com


“J-ated,” as in “jaded,” might be the best way to describe the ennui that has set in among many JDaters these days, singles tired of the merry-go-round of endless possibility and disappointment.

In spite of that, or because of it, new dating Web sites seem to pop up every day.

Remember that scene in the movie “Singles,” where the desperate woman asks the airline to seat her next to a single man — and she ends aside an obnoxious 10-year-old? Ostensibly that won’t happen on AirTroductions.com, which is not a Web site for mile-high clubbers (if you don’t know, I can’t explain it here). Nor is it solely for Jews. This outfit targets people who want to make business or personal connections either on the flight, at the airport, or with other travelers in the same city. If they find someone who matches your itinerary, you can pay $5 to contact that person. (It might beat hearing, “Can you take off your belt, Miss?” from the security guy….)

For more personal intervention, try the new Jretromatch.com, which uses paid matchmakers to set Jews up (that’s the retro part). The site, which launched Feb. 6, is based on the successful SawYouAtSinai.com. (Get it? All Jewish souls were originally at Mount Sinai, so it’s based on the pickup line, “Haven’t we met before? Didn’t I see you at Sinai?”) SawYouAtSinai aims for traditional and religious Jews and has a firm foothold in the Modern Orthodox market. It claims 14,000 members and 95 married success stories.

If you don’t want to leave your entire fate to the matchmaker, Jretromatch.com (and its non-Jewish counterpart, retromatch.com) also will let you peruse the database on your own. At $35.95 for a gold membership (which gets you six months plus two “free bonus months”) it’s less than JDate for the same amount of time, although with a much smaller membership (launching with 2,500 non-Orthodox culled from SawYouatSinai’s lists). Still, Jretromatch promises that matchmakers will interview all members and verify that they’re Jewish, something that JDate does not guarantee.

There are a handful of other Web sites aimed at religious and traditional Jews. The main one is Frumster.com, which skews toward the more religious of the Orthodox community (hence the word frum, which means “religious” in Yiddish), although now it has opened up to all “marriage-minded” Jews, according to Ben Rabizadeh, CEO of Frumster. The Web site claims 20,000 members and 542 couples (married or engaged) and starts at $8.95 per month, but still seems aimed most at the very religious, especially given that it requires users to specify levels of observance. You can choose between Traditional and Non-Orthodox, Modern Orthodox-Machmir, Modern Orthodox-Liberal, Yeshivish Modern, Yeshivish/Black Hat, Chasidic, Carlebachian, Shomer Mitzvot.

Other religious Web sites include UrbanTraditional.com (“putting traditional values back into Jewish dating”), Orthodate (“Your Bashert could be just a click away”) and Frumdate (“Our first priority is not simply to make a match but to help singles draw closer to Hashem and find the best within themselves”).

In addition to religiosity, there are other niches in the Jewish online dating market. Consider DarkJews.com — not a racist term, but a statement about skin tone for some Sephardic Jews — a new Web site for Syrian, Persian, Bucharian, Moroccan, Israeli, Egyptian, Yemenite, Spanish, and Turkish Jews. There’s even a category for half-Sephardic and “other,” which defies easy understanding in this context. Another category is “Come to America” where the choices are: Born, Toddler, Adolescent, Teenager, Adult or I’m Not in America.

DarkJews.com is based on the myspace.com and friendster.com models, which allows users to add their friends and their friends’ friends and is more of a social connector than a straight dating Web site. Right now it’s free, and popular among Persian Jews in California. Lumping all “dark Jews” together doesn’t work even for all dark Jews, because many of Far and Middle Eastern origin prefer to date within their own, more narrowly defined communities. Bjews.com, for example, for Bukharian Jews (from Uzbekistan and Central Asia) includes a dating site.

The most retro thing of all, though, might be to leave the computer behind. “Just let it happen naturally,” as your married friends will advise, putting aside the problem that natural meetings often mean the UPS man (or woman) delivering your Amazon.com orders and your neighbor asking you to turn your music down. Bar hopping is equally random and can lead to options with less to offer than the hardworking UPS delivery person.

If that leads you back to JDate, well, it does claim half a million members. And JDate is throwing a party at The House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard on Feb. 13.

Who knows?

 

Secular Connection


I fell in love with a brilliant, attractive and witty Filipina woman last year. She was a fallen Catholic, didn’t accept Jesus as her savior and was totally cool with raising kids Jewish. When I went to her uncle’s place for a birthday party and everyone was singing "Sunrise, Sunset" on the karaoke machine, you’d be hard-pressed to find a closer, warmer, more Jewish family than theirs.

Apart from the fact that our cuisine is superior, I was amazed at how similar the dynamic was: Abundant food, loud overlapping conversations, juicy gossip and more food. I felt like I was at home, except for the fact that I was only white guy in the room.

I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island. I went to a public high school that had roughly the same percentage Jewish population as a yeshiva. My local synagogue was so Reform I think they closed down on High Holidays. And yet, of the women I’ve dated post-college, I’ve had exactly two Jewish girlfriends. What, in the name of my concerned Jewish mother, is going on here?

Well, it’s certainly not due to my love of the other major religions out there. Once you’ve had one drunken girlfriend speak in tongues, and had another say that, despite how much she loves you, you’re still going to hell, it’s hard to be sympathetic to non-Jewish zealots. My guess is that it’s just a numbers thing. There are 2 percent of us and there’s 98 percent of them. The odds are stacked in favor of intermarriage. Four out of my five cousins went that route and are all very happy. This poses an obvious dilemma: How important is it to marry within our religion?

On Passover 2002, I e-mailed my very close, very bright, very agnostic friend a simple "Happy Pesach" to greet her in the morning.

She innocently replied later, "Happy Peaches?" Ugh. You gotta be kidding.

In other relationships, I’ve had women suggest that we could raise our kids in both religions and let them decide what they are when they’re older. Yeah, right. Those kids won’t be Jewish — supporters of Israel, consumers of gefilte fish, complainers about drafty rooms — they’ll just be two more white kids in search of racial, ethnic or religious identity. That’s not a crime, per se, but it’s certainly not what I want for my children.

The Filipina and I ultimately didn’t make it as a couple, but not because of religion. Still, I decided to get serious and start dating Jewish women.

A lot of people don’t understand — or can’t accept — the strangely powerful hold Judaism holds for secular Jews like me. What makes me Jewish? My bloodline? My last name? My prominent nose, mop of hair and acute sense of sarcasm? It’s pointless to isolate individual qualities, especially ones that play to stereotypes, but as far as I can determine I’m Jewish because I was raised that way. I identify with others who were raised that way.

When I attended college in North Carolina, where only 20 percent of the student body was Jewish, all of my best friends were Jews — even though I wasn’t hanging around the Hillel. I didn’t seek them: I found them. We were like-minds sticking together in a foreign environment. And while many bristle at this comparison, my Jewish experience, far more cultural than religious, is more akin to being black than it is to being Christian.

Jewish neighborhoods in New York aren’t homogeneous ghettos because we’re forced to live there. They result from the desires of people who are looking for quality public schools, short commutes to the city and access to good bagels.

By any definition, I’m a bad Jew. I don’t keep kosher. I haven’t been to Jerusalem. I don’t belong to a synagogue. In fact, there are years that I don’t go at all because tickets are scarce and davening with Chabad isn’t my idea of a good time. So what difference does it make to me who I marry? I’m not sure, but it does. Not because of parental pressure, because I have my mother’s blessing no matter what I do. Not because Jews are better, as the best relationship I’ve yet to have was with a non-Jew. Rather, I see myself marrying a Jewish woman because of internal pride, shared values and cultural identity. Because of the commonality of knowing that our people have been persecuted for millennia and are still thriving. Because regardless of how often I demonstrate it publicly, there’s one important and undeniable fact: I am Jewish.

And whomever I end up with had better know off the bat that the satin thing I grab from the box in temple once a year isn’t called a beanie.

Evan Marc Katz is the author of the “I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book: A
Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating” (Ten Speed, 2004) and is the
founder of e-Cyrano (

Market Yourself Into Marriage


Why are you single?”

The woman who recently hurled this accusation at me, I suppose, intended it as a compliment: how could someone as ________ as me not have a husband? We were both attending a baby shower for a mutual friend, and I hadn’t seen this woman since our mutual friend’s wedding; now she planted herself in front of me and spit out a question many of my friends probably want to know the answer to, but are too classy to ask:

“So, why are you single?” she said again.

I suppose I could have come up with a number of snappy comebacks (“Why are you married?”), but instead I smiled politely, as if I agreed with her assessment that since that I am of no obvious defects (club foot, third eye, running sores) I, too, am mystified (!) that I possess no husband or serious boyfriend. So in the name of maturity (and because I’m not quite sure the answer isn’t “because I want to be single”), I simply shrugged and replied, “I just haven’t met the right guy.”

If only I had read Rachel Greenwald’s new best-seller, “Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School,” I could have told this woman what Greenwald writes in the opening of her 311-page book: “Why are you still single? It doesn’t matter.”

“I think that women can get stuck on trying to analyze why,” Greenwald told me by telephone from her home in Denver. “I encounter this a lot — women who love to sit about and talk about it. They go to therapists, talk to friends — but procrastinating and stalling is [their] problem,” said Greenwald, who will be speaking in Los Angeles on Oct. 21. “I think they get into a rut.”

Why you are single doesn’t matter. What matters, Greenwald writes, is what you are going to do about it.

A Harvard MBA who worked as a marketing executive at Evian and Carolee Jewelry, Greenwald, 39, proposes that what women do is devote the next 12-18 months of their lives to her “Simple 15-Step Action Program” and market themselves down the aisle.

Her figures shout epidemic: There are 28 million single women over the age of 35 in this country, compared to 18 million men of the same age. The disparity grows when you figure that men can date younger women; and when you add the ugly facts that for women over 35 the biological clock is nearing its final hour, “Finding a Husband” can even send a pre-35-year-old reader like myself into taking Greenwald’s “Program” seriously.

American Jews tend to marry later than the general population, according to the recently released National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS 2000-1). The largest gap between Jews and non-Jews marrying is in the 25-34 age range, followed by the 35-44 age range. Meanwhile, when it comes to fertility, nearly twice as many Jewish women between the ages of 30-34 are childless (54 percent), as compared to their non-Jewish counterparts (28 percent). And while the gap narrows at the 35-39 age range (16 percent), it never really closes, even at the 40-44 age range (7 percent). What all this means is that whatever the “unmarried/fertility epidemic” is for American women, it’s even more so for their Jewish subsection.

Perhaps these latest NJPS figures will force the Jewish community to consider the state of marriage and fertility a crisis, just as it did with assimilation in its 1990 study, when dozens of organizations directed funding to combat the assimilation over the last 10 years. If not, unmarried Jewish women will have to rely on secular matchmaking tactics like “The Program.”

“You, the reader, are ‘The Product,’ and ‘The Program’ is a strategic plan to help you market yourself to find a future husband,” Greenwald writes. The Program requires you to package, brand and advertise yourself, as well as conduct market research, employ event planning and perform quarterly reviews to your dating life, just as any successful company would create, plan and launch a new product — from toilet paper to cars — into the marketplace.

We’ve come a long way, baby. Having fought for decades against the objectification of women, The Program urges us to reobjectify. See Step No. 3: Packaging: “Packaging may be the most underappreciated marketing tactic. Surprisingly, packaging can be more important than the product itself…. Given all the competitive products [i.e., other women] on the shelves, your package must stand out and be appealing enough to prompt a first-time purchase…. I wish I could tell you that your inner self is what really counts — and later in a relationship it is what counts most — but the truth is that how you look makes all the difference in getting noticed in the beginning.”

Like everything else in our capitalist society — religion, politics, education — finding a husband comes down to good marketing.

“Finding a Husband,” No. 7 on The New York Times Best-Seller List, with press from People to “The Today Show” and a movie development deal from Paramount, speaks to the current national debate between feminism and its backlash: On the one hand we have Laura Kipnes’ thoroughly modern “Against Love,” a treatise arguing against monogamy and for adultery. On the other hand, there is Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s “Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children” on the epidemic of childlessness due to women’s devotion to their careers.

Exemplifying the tensions between feminists past and present, last Sunday’s New York Times Style section featured “Out of Step and Having a Baby,” an essay by Molly Jong-Fast, daughter of feminist Erica Jong (“Fear of Flying”) who wrote that she was bucking the trend of all her 35-45-year old friends, and having a baby quell horror at age 24.

As the ’90s-defining show “Sex and the City” comes to a close with a “happy” ending likely for most of the characters, no one has successfully answered the question of whether women can have it all or what they must choose between.

To her credit, Greenwald, a happily married (to a fellow Jew) mother of three, does not bother with the question of what feminism has wrought. She neither blames women for their careers or hang-ups or lives or whatever has kept them single for so long, nor does she see marriage as the panacea for all women.

“This book is not trying to suggest that women need a husband at any means, but it’s addressing a subpopulation who have already decided they want a husband,” she said.

So what does one have to do to snag a husband? Basically, The Program suggests enlisting everyone you know — and she means everyone, from your hairdresser to your grandmother’s neighbor — to help you find “someone wonderful” (the main criteria in searching for a man; The Program requires you to “cast a wider net” and rethink “requirements” such as type, age, height, location, occupation and religion). Not only do you have to advertise this with forthright requests such as a “Flag Day/ Halloween/Secretary Day letter:

“Dear Sandy: Are you still enjoying your new job? It sounds wonderful! I have a special favor to ask you. This year, I would like to find someone special to spend my life with. Do you know any single men you could introduce me to? I would truly appreciate your help….”

But with less direct gambits for promoting your “personal brand,” those three main positive and distinct adjectives about yourself that set you apart as a quality, marriageable woman. You should tell a co-worker, “When I lived in Argentina…” thus letting the co-worker know that your brand is “international woman.”

Like many bestsellers such as “The Celestine Prophesy,” or “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution,” “Finding a Husband” is not meant to be a literary work; yet with its detailed charts and do and don’t lists, it certainly succeeds in helping women expand their social network, thus increasing their odds of meeting “someone wonderful” (not to mention of meeting “someone horrible” as well).

Greenwald recycles some old advice (don’t make the first move) but with a modern twist (unless you can make it seem like it’s not the first move or only once in any given relationship) and even tailors it to the modern age (she says that if you only take one thing from the book, it’s that you should join an online dating service). She can be exasperating (men love feminine women with long hair and nice — but not too nice — nails) and crafty like her predecessor, “The Rules” (discuss sports figures, sign up for a woodworking class where all the men are and flirt with them during the break). Her Program certainly seems tiring — imagine being “on” for a year, accepting all dates and projecting an “upbeat” attitude all the time. Yet whatever you think of The Program, don’t call it desperate.

“I never use the word desperate. I call it proactive,” Greenwald said.

But do Jewish women really need to be more “proactive?” Greenwald said she noticed from her research that

“Jewish women are a lot more likely to embrace this program because it’s proactive and assertive,”

“A lot more Jewish women have chutzpah,” she said, and I believe it. But to paraphrase “Sex’s” Carrie: “Sometimes I wonder … is Jewish chutzpah a good thing?”

Case in point: A male friend of mine who was dating a non-Jewish woman said that what he found most attractive was that “she doesn’t have that emotional and physical aggressiveness that many Jewish women possess.”

Indeed, if you looked around your egalitarian synagogue this High Holiday season, you might have seen those intermarriage statistics in the form of the blonde bombshell or the “Asian Shiksa” phenomenon. I don’t mean to imply that WASPS and Asian women are docile, but perhaps they might be a bit less, ahem, “proactive” than Jewish women — myself included.

Of course we Jewish women are not solely at fault for our unmarried status — despite what Jewish mothers say, Jewish men are not all princes — but I don’t know that a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoner, leave-no-stone-unturned campaign to get a Jewish husband is the right path to take.

The real question is, why should we have to? Why should we resort to such emergency measures when we belong to a community that is supposed to take care of the “convert, widow, the orphan?” (Exodus 21:1-24:18). Unlike pure capitalism, which reveres individualism, Judaism sanctifies matrimony, as it says in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Indeed, if the Jewish community is so family oriented, and if belonging to it means that you are taken care of by the larger family and you are never really alone, shouldn’t the one to be more proactive in this singles epidemic be the community? I’m not only talking about the usual suspects such as synagogues and organizations, but the building blocks of the community itself: the family unit, the couple and the individual who comes up to you at a baby shower and asks, “So, why are you single?”

It is here that Greenwald’s interests and those of the Jewish community might diverge.

Julie, a 47-year-old Jewish Wall Street exec who hired Greenwald as a marriage consultant, had searched all her life for a male counterpart: a smart, successful Jewish investment banker. One day she went to return a broken cell phone at RadioShack and, one year later, married the non-Jewish manager.

So when Greenwald advises you to commit to The Program above everything, does that mean above your religion as well?

Greenwald paused thoughtfully on the phone before she answered.

“If finding a Jewish husband is very important to you, then I certainly hope you can achieve that — so that’s Plan A, and you should give it your best shot,” she said. Giving it your best shot means exploring all possibilities — including dating outside your city and state and preferred professions and age ranges.

“This is something that Jewish women don’t often think about,” she said.

But, if all that fails, and every shadchan and yenta in the community can’t find a suitable boy for you, “you move to Plan B,” she said, noting that it’s not all black and white: some men, like the RadioShack manager, may convert (although in a different chapter she writes, “The only way you can ‘change’ a man is if he’s in diapers.”); some may decide to raise the children Jewish, and for other intermarried couples, “there are people who fall in love and religion will always be an issue,” she said. “I think that God would sometimes choose happiness for you than staying in your religion.”

While “Finding a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned At Harvard Business School” may serve as a wake-up call to single Jewish women — and men, who are welcome to do The Program — it should ring a loud-and-clear clarion call to the Jewish community at large.

Because “The Program” may deliver us results we do not want: fewer unmarrieds, more intermarriage. Perhaps it is time to seriously focus on our own “Programs” and “market” our own Jewish singles, divorcées and widows. Some organizations do, for sure, but not enough have, not in our segregated society of “families” and “singles.”

For if you listen to the message of this book, and you note the shrinking fertility rates in the Jewish community (NJPS puts it at 1.9 — below the necessary replacement rate of 2.1 percent), you can hear the cry of the growing unmarried Jewish population. And if you listen real close — in their cry, you will hear your own.

Rachel Greenwald will be speaking and signing books on Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at Borders Books and Music, 1360 Westwood Blvd. For more information call (310) 475-3444.

Are You Frum.Com?


"Shtetlgirl" was having a hard time meeting religious men. She was used to dating men she met in youth programs and schools, but at 22, away from her hometown and living in Los Angeles, she found herself without a structured forum to meet anyone. "Most of the guys I was meeting were not religious, if I met any at all," she told The Journal. Then a friend e-mailed her a link to an interesting profile she had seen at www.frumster.com. "Shtetlgirl" — her user name — logged on, checked out the guy, and her inbox has been clogged ever since with nice religious boys looking for dates.

"Shtetlgirl" is one of more than 3,000 members on Frumster.com, a growing religious dating Web site. While there are a plethora of Jewish dating Internet services, many are associated with matchmakers and specific organizations, and few are devoted solely to religious people (Bitachon.com, a smaller site, also deals solely with religious singles).

Frumster is the brainchild of Grayson Levy, a 30-year-old Canadian who now lives in Israel. He began the site last November after his forays in Internet dating went awry because the more traditional Jewish dating Web sites did not cater to the specific nuances of the religious crowd, he said. He would sift through the small percentage of religious members on JDate, and the dates themselves would not work out because he was not religiously compatible with the girls he met.

"I met girls who would say things to me like, ‘I can’t go out with you anymore because you don’t learn enough Torah,’" said Levy from his home in Jerusalem. "Religious people are obsessed with levels — levels of kashrut, of Torah learning — so I wanted a site where users could find out how often other users pray and how much Torah they learn and what level of kashrut they keep, and get that out of the way, and then get down to the small talk on an individual level."

Frumster.com is a cheery-looking, easy-to-use site with clear graphics and a simple profiling system. Members are asked to categorize themselves as Modern Orthodox-liberal, Modern Orthodox-machmir (very strict), Yeshivish/Black Hat, Hassidish or Carlebachian. They are also asked how often they pray and study Torah. Women must indicate whether they wear pants or skirts only and whether they plan to cover their hair when they get married.

Unlike JDate, which asks members to describe, among other things, their perfect date and what they have learned from previous relationships, Frumster only asks two personal questions: "Describe Yourself" — in at least 10 words — and "Describe what you are looking for in a mate." The latter is optional.

"I ask two simple questions, and I think that someone who is very serious is going to write what they need to express themselves, because they want to, whether I prompt them or not," Levy said. "At the same time, I feel that people get scared off by long forms and give up in the middle, and I have this constant fear that I will lose people who would otherwise sign up." This is the same reason that Levy does not charge to use his site.

Unlike the profiles on other sites, the descriptions on Frumster.com seem abrupt. All "Robert123" writes to describe himself is "I’m a down-to-earth mensch looking for my yadel." (His search would probably be easier if more people knew what a yadel was.)

Frumster members seem circumspect about revealing too much, and extracting the 10-word minimum description of them is, as Levy says, "like pulling teeth." Few of them post photographs of themselves. Many members choose not to answer the second question about what they are looking for in a mate, but when they do, they tend to simply enumerate positive character traits rather than write full sentences of description.

Levy says that Frumster attracts religious Jews of all types, from modern Orthodox to Satmar Chasidim. The majority of members live on the East Coast — though there are 160 from Los Angeles — and 25-35 is the largest age group of people signing up.

"I can’t guarantee that every person is Shomer Shabbat Kehilchato [keeping Shabbat as the Halachah demands]," Levy admitted. "I don’t know what every person does and what their commitment to a religious lifestyle is, but a high percentage — about 90 percent keep Shabbat and keep kosher inside the house and out."

Frumster attracts an average of 60 new members a day, and while its database has nowhere near the 350,000 profiles on JDate, Levy is confident that his site will continue to grow. There has already been one Frumster engagement (Levy was invited to the wedding), and Levy has also received e-mails from singles thanking him for facilitating the introduction to their soulmates.

"I am looking forward to the time when every week someone calls and says, ‘I met someone through Frumster and got engaged.’"

Put a Man On It


It is simply amazing that the Jewish people have managed to survive as long as we have, given our utter inability to do anything.

Oh, sure, we’re whizzes in the areas of law, medicine, arts, marketing and, lest we forget, religion, but if you actually need something done around the house, we’re useless.

If you need an excuse not to hammer something, screw something in, use a wrench… just say you’re Jewish. That’ll get you off the hook, explain your inability to do mechanical things. And yet, in Israel, there must be Jewish plumbers and Jewish handymen. I don’t know for sure, but I think things work pretty well over there. And, need I remind you, that there was at least one very famous Jewish carpenter?

I come from a long line of helpless men, men who have fought in wars, but were utterly at the mercy of plumbers, electricians, carpenters and anyone else who could actually do anything useful. My father looks on having "a guy" as a sign of accomplishment: "I didn’t go to Yale so I could screw in a light bulb."

"But Dad, you’re sitting in the dark."

"It’s okay, the guy is coming over tomorrow."

Great men, before and since Edison, can’t be bothered to know how electricity (or anything else, for that matter) works. Great men deal with worldly issues: Should we eat French or Italian? Should we invade France or Italy? Maybe this is why plumbers don’t make history. (They just make money.)

Somehow, I have become The Guy in my family. I don’t know much about computers, but I know more than they do. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So I’m not surprised to get a hysterical call at any hour of the day or night from my sister — who is, in most other respects, the smart one — asking something beginning with "How do I?"

It never occurred to me that I was a capable person until I met my own family and friends. Now that people know I have my own tools, they call me to hang pictures and do all kinds of things. Once you start on this path, it quickly becomes a slippery slope. My friend Michael called to say his CD player was jammed. So what do you want me to do about it? I went over to his house one evening and did the one thing that it says, right on the back of the CD player, that you should never do: I took off the back. And you know why that makes me The Guy? Because I had the will to do it and he did not.

I just moved into a new house and found a lot of little things that need to be done to make it a home. Before I could even begin to concentrate on the interior decoration, the color scheme or drapery rods, I had to change the shower head. This is the kind of thing one might easily overlook when house hunting, but not when house living. I can live for quite a while without window dressing, but I simply wouldn’t make it a week with that hateful, sadistic shower nozzle spraying me flush in the face like a fire hose wielded by riot police. What I had in mind is closer to a fluffy little rain cloud drizzling on me.

When the plumber said he couldn’t make it until next Tuesday, I went to Koontz Hardware and marched over to the plumbing aisle, which was full of strange, unknowable things. A team of trained diagnosticians gathered around me for an impromptu conference. Specialists were called in. We decided on a course of action involving a wrench, some pipe fittings, some plumber’s tape and the gracious will of God to guide me. I am happy to report that I fixed the offending spout, and no one was hurt.

I thought, wrongly, that being handy with tools would make me more attractive to women, another asset that makes me a "good catch." It turns out that most of the women I meet think it’s weird that I know how to fix things. They’re happy to call me when they need a new CD-ROM drive installed, but they don’t necessarily want a handy man for a boyfriend, they didn’t go looking for a lover in the Yellow Pages.

When Mr. Perfect Isn’t Jewish


Lydia does not scoff at the notion that her current boyfriend might very well be an act of revenge. On the other hand, “I’ve tried my best and it got me nowhere,” she says. “Maybe my priorities have changed. Mark treats me like a queen, and he’s someone I can trust. That matters to me.”

Lydia has dated Mark for three months and characterizes their relationship as “still being in that blissful, lovey-dovey phase.” There’s only one problem. He’s not Jewish.

For this reason alone, most of Lydia’s friends and all of her family remain unaware of his existence. Furthermore, his blond hair and Northern European features make it difficult for him to “pass.” For Lydia’s comfort, they spend most of their time downtown and assiduously avoid frequenting locales in her Upper West Side neighborhood.

“Mark is understanding of all this… for now,” says Lydia. “Eventually, something has to change.”

A 30-year-old graphic designer and painter from a traditional Jewish background, Lydia spent her 20’s as a nice Jewish girl who never imagined becoming part of the “evil statistic.” She kept a kosher home and became a member of a thriving Conservative synagogue, an act that led to several new friendships and two boyfriends. For two years, she dated the second boyfriend, a rabbinical student who dreamed of traveling the world with the woman he loved. At that point, they went away for a weekend at a secluded beach, where he got down on one knee and proposed. They scheduled the wedding for seven months down the road. Lydia neglected to factor in the possibility that her fiancé might call the whole thing off four months later.

“He met someone else in rabbinical school. He told me he kept denying the fact that he was in love with her,” Lydia states flatly.

For about nine months, Lydia lived in a state of mourning. Dragged one Satur-day night to a party by well-meaning friends, she met Mark.

“The connection was instant,” she recalls. “He has these beautiful blue eyes and I couldn’t stop looking at them. We talked for two hours… I didn’t think twice about giving him my number.”

Lydia did start to think twice after their third date.

“We had so much in common. There seemed to be so much potential. It seemed so unfair that just because he’s not Jewish I was supposed to immediately forget about him and the possibility that we could have an amazing relationship,” she says. “Sure, his not being Jewish is an obstacle, but all relationships have their share of obstacles.”

Lydia concedes she’s still harboring anger toward the rabbinical student and, indirectly, toward all Jewish men “who have burned my friends and other Jewish women. Maybe it’s unfair to blame this all on Jewish men, but if those are the only men you’re allowed to date, it’s understandable,” she muses. “When my engagement broke off, I felt like I couldn’t even be attracted any more to Jewish men.”

On the flip side, Lydia does not consider Mark a casual fling or even a “rebound” relationship. He’s 32, a lawyer who likes his work and an art lover who supports what she does. On their second date, he demonstrated his willingness to plan ahead by inviting her to a concert that would take place a month later. Their telephone conversations last for hours. He knows that she never dated a Protestant before.

“We have chemistry, stability and honest communication,” Lydia observes. “These are hard things to give up.”

Currently, the relationship perches at a critical juncture. If they continue to date, Lydia knows she has to tell her family and risk estrangement. She has to learn how to hold hands with her boyfriend on the Upper West Side and not flinch if someone from synagogue spots her. She needs to initiate discussions about the importance of her raising Jewish children, practicing rituals she’ll never give up and that the idea of celebrating Christmas makes her squeamish.

“It would be so much easier if we broke up,” Lydia says. “But somehow, I feel that would be even a greater loss.”

Lydia still attends synagogue, though not as frequently as in the past. During services, she includes her own silent prayers to God.

“Yes, I do feel guilty, but I don’t think what I’m doing is evil,” she says. “I want to find my soulmate, and at this point in my life, I’m wondering if he’s even Jew-ish. What if he isn’t? Is that possible?”

Regarding important lessons in life, Lydia has learned that it can take more than three months to really get to know someone. She’s waiting for the day that she and Mark exit “the lovey-dovey” phase of the relationship.

“When it stops being perfect, that’s when you really can start making big decisions,” she says. “If it’s no longer perfect and Mark and I are still going strong… I’ll be making the biggest decision of my life.”

Writing a Successful Personals Ad


So you’ve finally decided to place a personal ad.Can’t believe you waited so long. Just describe yourself, the personyou want to meet and — Shazam! Couple of phone calls, cafe, Italianrestaurant, and you’ll be on your way.

Easier than finding mustard at a hot dogconvention. Maybe you should go ahead and order the invitations now.Have them leave a blank so that, later, you can fill in the name ofthat other person you really need to make the wedding day extraspecial — your spouse.

Whoa! We may have gotten ahead of ourselves here.Before you start picking out fonts and French ways of cuttingvegetables, there’s one small matter — writing the ad.

There are two things you want to accomplish with apersonal ad: 1) get people to respond to the ad and 2) keep peoplefrom responding to the ad. The challenge is to get the right peoplein each category.

Start with “deal breakers.” For many, this meansan age range. Some people also indicate a religion or degree ofobservance. Religious Jews might say they want to meet someone whoregularly attends Friday services, or at least doesn’t think shul is what a5-year-old calls kindergarten.

So far, so good. But once we move past categoriessuch as age and religion, it gets dicey. The problem: Most of thereally important things don’t rule anyone out. For instance, it’sessential that your date be intelligent and have a good sense ofhumor. But putting these requirements in your ad won’t screen out alot of folks. That’s because few people, when asked to describethemselves, will say, “I’m dumber than a head of lettuce and wouldn’tknow a joke if it jumped out of my soup and sang a show tune.”

It’s tempting to think of writing a personal ad asif it were ordering ice cream. Cup or cone? Sugar or wafer? Sprinklesor nuts?

Yet there are big differences between a date andan ice cream. An ice cream will never gripe about your wardrobe, but,on the other hand, you can’t take it with you to the movies. Andplacing a personal ad is gutsy, while placing an ad for an ice creamis just dumb.

But the biggest difference is that everyone canagree on the traits of an ice cream. But people are more complicated.Everyone thinks he’s attractive, smart and funny, but we all knowlots of people who ain’t. You do the math.

This is one of the personals’ biggest problems. Wecould call it subjective self-appraisal. Nah. More like: “Who are youkidding?”

One quick glance at the personals should dispelany concerns about people today suffering from low self-esteem. Thetypical woman placing an ad is gorgeous and brilliant, with a heartthe size of Los Angeles. Think Michelle Pfeiffer with a Ph.D. inAstrophysics.

Meanwhile, the men are astonishingly successfuland athletic ex-models with summer homes in Crete and Bali. ThinkJames Bond with his own consulting business.

Maybe to save space, personals should include astatement that, unless otherwise indicated, all ad writers areattractive, smart and generally terrific. Then the occasional candidwriter could opt out — “Note: Elevator doesn’t go to the top floor.And if you walk up, the lights are on dim.”

So why don’t we all agree to leave out thestandard glowing adjectives?

It’s also best to avoid listing interests that arenot, well, distinguishing.

In short, if your ad looks like this: “Attractive,intelligent, funny professional, enjoys movies, beaches, sunsets,walks and conversation,” you are basically saying: “Vertebrate mammalwith opposable thumbs seeks same.” Or, to put it another way, “Ican’t think of a single thing that separates me from every otherhuman being on the planet.”

The best approach: Show, not tell. If you’rehysterical, wacky or brilliant, say something to prove it. Why shouldanyone take your word for it?

Also, be specific. Say what kinds of movies youlike, which outdoor activities you enjoy, and exactly where the giantstatue in you honor donated by the United Nations is located.

While details provide a better picture, I stillhave to wonder how much sense it makes to pick a date based on thefact that she rollerblades. In the end, I think maybe the best thingis to save a lot of ink and say what we really mean: “Superman seeksWonder Woman.” OK, we could also throw in age and religion.

So, to take an example, I might try: “SJ Superman,32, ISO NS Wonder Woman (astrophysics degree).”


Stephen A. Simon is a Washington, D.C.-basedwriter.