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This article is reprinted with permission of the Jerusalem Post and distributed by JTA. Visit www.jpost.com.
If you are, counter to type, a Jewish man suffering from low self-esteem, listen up. Read Boy Vey! The Shiksa's Guide to Dating Jewish Men by Kristina Grish, and you'll feel like God's gift to humanity. Or maybe not.
Grish is a 29-year-old non-Jewish New York journalist who looked back over the last six years, realized that all the 15 men she had dated were Jewish, and decided to write a book about it.
"Non-Jewish women look for Jewish men not because of their religious background," Grish explained in a recent interview. "Jewish men, as a whole, have a sense of humor, a passion for life, they're generous, they like to have a good time, they like to eat, they have strong family roots, they care a great deal about their society. In many cases, they're attractive and successful men."
In the book, Grish reports that it is very important for Jewish men to make women laugh, that they are energetic in bed, they examine the relationship no less than women, they pay great attention to women without a hint of machismo. Finally, because they come from a matriarchal culture, they appreciate women.
Though many seem to find the book funny and perceptive, not everyone's laughing. At one reading, Grish said, a young, presumably Jewish, woman said, "I think you've written a poisonous, irresponsible book... You're anti-Semitic, and you behave toward the Jewish religion like the Nazis did to the Jews." Among the fair number of negative comments on the publisher's Web site was this: "This book traffics in disgusting stereotypes: 'you [will] notice [he] has more body hair than a yak,'... his 'mom has worked very hard to mold him into the cutest little Oedipus complex... What's worse is this book is a guide on how to intentionally snag a Jewish guy, including state-by-state population statistics!"
IS IT anti-Semitic to write an ode to Jewish men, while advising non-Jewish women on how to attract them?
It is true that anti-Semitism is perhaps unique among all forms of bigotry in that many of the stereotypes it includes are normally positive characteristics strangely twisted into insults: Jews are smart and powerful, for example. Stereotypes of any kind, even positive ones ("black men are athletic") can be on some level offensive, because they separate people out for scrutiny as a group.
At the same time, however, Jews can't have it both ways. They can't quietly nod in agreement and pride as they read Grish's compliments, while being offended at being stereotyped. Further, it is mindless and dishonest to pretend that cultural differences do not exist, and to refuse to examine them.
But what about Grish openly advocating the "poaching" of Jewish men? Poaching, as far as Jewish women are concerned, may be an apt word in the sense of illegally hunting an endangered species. It is fairly clear that the real resentment is Grish's dig at the soft Jewish demographic underbelly, and at her--perhaps inadvertent--piling on the formidable obstacles imposed on Jewish women by the popular culture.
In her book Double or Nothing?, Sylvia Barack Fishman notes that, starting as early as the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, "A non-Jewish love interest is repeatedly presented as the implement and symbol of American success for the American Jewish man... Jewish women were increasingly pictured both as the repositories of Jewishness and as obstacles to Jewish men's achievement... Depending on the decade, Jewish women were portrayed as too loyal to tradition, too materialistic, or too selfish, or too controlling."
The rates of marrying out used to be skewed toward men, but no longer: In 2000, 27% of Jewish men over 50 were intermarried, compared to 19 percent of women, while in the 19 to 49 age group the rates had risen and equalized to 40 percent. Still, Grish's book is the last thing Jewish women needed or deserved, given the culturally-reinforced prejudices of Jewish men.
Let's set aside for the moment whether Grish's book is "good for the Jews" and look at the subjects of her adulation. As a Jewish man, I can't claim to be objective, but isn't Grish right? Don't Jewish men, on average, have something to offer a world that values educated, successful, socially responsible, family-oriented, funny, emotional and only slightly neurotic people?
Who says the "poaching" has to go from the Grishes to the Goldmans? Why can't the attractive power of Jewish men (and women, for that matter) be a force for good, for growing instead of shrinking the Jewish people?
When asked if she had ever thought of converting to Judaism, Grish said, "In my conversations with Jewish men, even those who don't attend synagogue, the subject has come up... but I wouldn't feel comfortable about leaving Christianity. At the same time, I have no problem raising my kids as Jews."
Grish doesn't seem to draw much of a connection between what she likes about Jews, what Jews like about themselves, and Judaism itself. But both she and the men she dates should.
None of the positive traits Jews have is a coincidence. All are derived from 3,000 years of Jewish tradition and practice.
Jewish men and women, even secular ones who readily date non-Jews, should set themselves this simple rule: If I end up considering marriage to a non-Jew, I will grant the tradition that produced me the courtesy of a hearing. Before writing it off, or adopting some hybrid religion in my family life, I will require that my beloved and I seriously consider Judaism--converting for my spouse-to-be, discovering my own roots for me.
If Jews are as thoughtful as they are made out to be, they will see that such a policy does not violate their values. It is, on the contrary, an opportunity fully consistent with living an examined, modern life. Who knows, even Kristina Grish might find that what she loves about Jewish men might recommend leading a Jewish life.