The Appeal of the Other

Everyone who’s dated–that is to say, everyone–knows that figuring out why you are attracted to someone is often the greatest mystery in your life. Are you interested because the other person is interested? Is it physical attraction? Does the person laugh at your jokes? Is there a chemistry that can’t be explained?

One factor that is particularly difficult to untangle is the cultural factor. Are you attracted to someone because they come from a similar background–or because they come from a different one? In Elizabeth Rosner’s “Everything I Know About Being Bad I Learned in Hebrew School,” an excerpt from Bad Girls: 26 Writers Behave published in The Forward, a girl who grew up with a stringent Orthodox upbringing rebels against Judaism and dates every non-Jewish boy she can find:

When boys began showing up with increasing frequency on my radar screen, I realized keeping secrets could become a new form of resistance. My father forbade me from dating non-Jews, and naturally they were all I wanted. I sneaked out of the house to meet boys named Charlie and Matthew and Chris, kissed their Catholic lips and tried my first tastes of beer. I wanted to taste everything. I wanted to be free.

Her motivations for dating non-Jewish come from a complex mix of adolescent rebellion, proto-feminism in the face of non-egalitarian religious schooling and the conflicted way her parents practiced Judaism: while her father was observant in every way, her mother ate shrimp cocktails at restaurants and didn’t go to synagogue. The irony is, once Rosner moved to the Phillipines to escape her parents, she found herself holding onto her Jewish identity tightly.

In an article in Tango magazine, Sarika Dani, an Indian-American woman, discusses her attraction to non-Indian men:

Growing up, I always assumed that I was missing the gene that made Indians of the opposite sex appealing to me. They seemed immature, unexciting and too close to home to be attractive. It was hard to understand how I could be connected to my culture, but disconnected from the guys who populated it. I now know that when it comes to dating, the desire for the novel and exotic — for me, anyone who wasn’t Indian — can compete with the need for familiarity. But in the end, which impulse should win out?

But, like Rosner, as Dani got older, the appeal of the exotic wore off. She is now dating an Indian-American man:

But this time, instead of my usual aversion to familiarity, I found something sexy about our sameness. Right away we had an unspoken trust and respect — he didn’t feel like a stranger for very long. Our common ground extended to our family values, our views on education and money and our professional goals. And so many of my family’s habits no longer required explanation — like my mom’s practice of carrying Taco Bell sauce in her purse to spice up soups on the go, or my dad’s lack of interest in football.

In the San Diego Jewish Journal, Tinamarie Bernard rages against “ShiksAppeal,” that is, when Jewish men, or women, purposefully only date non-Jewish partners. Although in Bernard’s case, the stereotypes that she attributes to Jewish men who won’t date non-Jewish women are more than matched by the stereotypes she uses to argue that Jewish men should date Jewish women.

Sometimes the attraction to the other can be more than curiosity and excitement over the power of mystery, it can manifest in a desire to actually become what the other person is. In the case of a previous boyfriend of Paula Tavrow, he wanted to become Jewish, like her. What she couldn’t figure out was whether he was interested in her “as a woman, or as a Jew?”

Finally, Beliefnet has an amusing story about how Jewish moms are pushing JDate on their children, and sometimes getting the hoped-for result: a Jewish marriage.

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3 thoughts on “The Appeal of the Other

  1. I read your comment with an open mind, trying to understand how you could have misinterpreted my article in the San Diego Jewish Journal. I don’t believe the tone was one of rage, but rather a playful and sincere attempt to bring some attention to dating stereotypes in the Jewish world. Perhaps you might re-read it. Never did I say that Jews shouldn’t or should date non-Jews. I believe what I did do was comment and suggest that people examine their motives if they find a pattern within themselves that categorically dismisses Jewish singletons as viable partners. Happy reading – I hope your sense of humor returns upon giving my article a second review.

  2. I’ll admit, the use of the word “rages” may have misconveyed the tone of the article. I think your piece put the spotlight on a genuine issue: the tendency of some Jewish men to avoid dating Jewish women because of their own internalized stereotypes of Jews.

    That being said, the article also had a very clear ulterior motive: encouraging Jewish men to date Jewish women. Nothing wrong with that, but you use broad stereotypes about Jewish women that implicitly suggest that Jewish women are superior to non-Jewish women in regards to those stereotypical features. It’s no better for Jewish men to date Jewish women because of their stereotypical view of them than it is for Jewish men not to date Jewish women because of their stereotypical view of them. I’m not saying your article wasn’t funny, but its intent, I believe, was serious, and misguided, at least from my perspective.

    Also, I’ll admit that I had my defenses slightly up due to the title: “ShiksAppeal.” The word “shiksa” is thrown around casually in the Jewish press, but non-Jewish women often find it insulting. Nobody ever uses “shvartze” in polite conversation or headlines–why is “shiksa” any better?

  3. Thank you for rethinking your use of the word “rages” as it applies to my article. Alas, I still think you misunderstand part of my point. I didn’t have an ulterior motive – it was quite clear I believe – to get people to challenge their internal stereotypes. Yes, you are right that I used “stereotypes” to make my point, suggesting that the very traits some Jews use to justify NOT dating a Jew can have very positive benefits as well. Also, I don’t believe I painted Jews are better dating/marriage partner’s as non-Jews – what I tried to convey is that certain commonalities help strengthen relationships.

    I understand your distaste for certain words, thrown about by people with very little understanding of the original meaning. I admit – I used “Shiksa” to grab the attention of the readers. Alas, the meanings of many words morph over time – some acquire less offensive tone, other’s get worse. For example, on my journey as a convert, I have met some who absolutely find the word “goy” incredibly offensive, and other’s who thought it was without any menace or malice. I’m of the opinion that responses are highly individualized when it comes to using certain language. My apologies for any offense to you.

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