April 26, 2019

She’s a mensch

Last week, my new boy, Ryne, and I volunteered together at a Jewish Federation event. After a long, mitzvah-filled day, I turned to him and said “You’re a mensch.” He smiled back and said, “You’re a mensch, too.”

That’s when I blushed. And not just because this fine boy’s hand was on my tuchus. But because he called me a mensch! The last time anyone called me a mensch was at my bris. Exactly — I’ve never been called a mensch. Macher? Yes! Mayven? Yes! Shayna punim? Of course! But mensch? No. The word mensch has always been reserved for nice Jewish boys. Which is a problem for us nice Jewish girls.

From a young age, Jewish women are raised to dream the impossible dream, to date the impossible mensch, and when we find one, we scoop him up faster than the last chocolate chip challah at The Bagel Factory. But what about Jewish men? What are they looking for? Besides a fantastic shtup. In one word, describe the perfect Jewish woman. Thanks, but Carin Davis is actually two words…. Try again. What’s the female equivalent of a mensch?

(Insert “Jeopardy” music here.)

(Insert more “Jeopardy” music here.)

(Insert Alec Trebek saying “Time’s up” here.)

Can’t think of one? Know why? Because there isn’t one. There’s no handle for a female mensch. And this word jumble is the cause of so much heartache. The battle of the sexes starts with a battle of words.

Like Canter’s famous mishmosh soup filled with matzah balls, kreplach, rice and noodles, a mensch is all the good stuff served up in one smoking-hot dish. A mensch is a kind, smart, funny, giving, inspiring, exciting guy who makes your heart smile. The term mensch is shorthand for a Jewish man with ineffable qualities of intense goodness. And there’s no such codeword for an equally amazing Jewish gal.

So, like Susan B. Anthony in a mini-skirt, I am taking a stand for women everywhere. A true dating suffragist, I won’t stop until men and women are flirtatiously equal. I won’t sleep until Jewish men put us on a verbal pedestal. I won’t eat until there’s a word for a female mensch (or a slice of deep dish in front of me).

Look, every other woman has her own word. A homemaker is a balabusta, a gossip is a yenta and a girl who’s blown her share of shofars is a nafka. Even non-Jewish women have their own word. What does a shiksa have that I don’t have? Besides naturally stick-straight hair. Kick-tush Jewish women need our own tag.

What? You think I’m one candle short of a menorah? A rose by any other name would cost half as much. It’s not that gerber daisies and sunflowers aren’t beautiful and thoughtful and something Ryne should be buying me by now. But people automatically think of roses as superior, simply because they’re labeled the “R” word.

Same thing with dating. A mensch by any other name would just be another nice guy I met. And probably never called back. But if someone’s described as a mensch — he’s a keeper. Forget romantics, it’s all about semantics.

When I tell people that Ryne is a mensch, they know what I mean. And they know I’ve got it good. But how does a Jewish guy know when he’s got it good? If he’s not on a treasure hunt, how will he know when he’s struck gold? Or platinum? Or platinum with diamonds, like in the engagement ring that a Jewish man won’t buy until he grasps how magical his girl is. Ladies, we need to brand ourselves so Jewish men know exactly what they’re looking for and feel lucky when they’ve found it.

In Hebrew, female nouns tend to end in “h” or “t,” so what about menschah or menschat? We could stay Yiddish and call ourselves menschke or menschilah. There’s also the French menschette, the Spanish menschita or the Jewish American menschess. Of course people probably don’t throw out the M word for women, because the word mensch contains the word “men,” right? So what if we accessorize it with a feminine prefix? I would like to be called a she-mensch. Or a womensch. Or just a w’ensch. Wait, scratch that.

OK, so maybe we don’t need to create a new word, we just teach an old word new tricks.

In Yiddish, mensch literally means a decent person or human being. A good, honest, caring, compassionate, big-hearted person. Male goods not required. So it’s not that we can’t use mensch to describe women, it’s just that we don’t. But no longer.

I’m here to switch up the lingo. I’m asking the Jewish community to start throwing around the word mensch when talking about exceptional men and women. Saying the emot’s names every time we say the avot’s will be small potato pancakes compared to this feminist leap. Establishing women as mensches could be the single-greatest dating advancement of our generation. Suddenly, we’re classifying ourselves as the mind-blowing mates that men should crave. We’re identifying ourselves as the ultimate partners that men should desire. We’re establishing ourselves as the incredible girlfriends that men should cherish. And love. And spoil.

So I encourage you — yes, you — to start slipping mensch into your daily chats and cell phone small talk.

“She’s such a mensch for lending me her black Prada.”

“I was a total mensch and let that girl cut in front of me at Pinkberry.”

“Do these jeans make me look mensch?”

And once it becomes common usage, we can move onto our next lingual challenge.

For thousands of years, only men have counted for a minyan. Well it’s time for a change. Who will come forward, stand beside me, and be counted for a wominyan?

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