It’s Not the Religion in the Man that Matters, It’s the Man in the Religion

By Estelle Sobel Erasmus of Musings on Motherhood and Mid-Life

I grew up thinking I’d marry a Jewish man. My mother and her parents left Poland during the Holocaust and ended up in Israel, while my father’s parents were Orthodox Jews, with my grandfather the clear patriarch of the family.  My father had also attended the same Yeshiva my sister’s husband’s father attended. Is it any wonder, I thought I’d follow in those steps?

photo courtesy of radicalparenting.com

So here’s my confession: I’m a Jdate veteran from years ago (ok, the 1990s).

I think I became a Jdate aficionado after exhausting the limited supply of able-bodied Jewish men from my local temple.

Now, the stories I could tell you could boil water! Guys in their 30s living in the basement of their parents homes; successful businessmen asking for late night dates (um, sorry, but I don’t go out at 11:00 pm on a Thursday night, just because you think I’m “hot)”. And don’t get me started on the guys who expected me to schlep to Connecticut or meet them at the train for a cup of coffee (thanks, but I’ll pass), or separated married men, or guys who were clearly into shiksas, but had signed up with JDate to please their parents. And of course, there were the always entertaining guys who lied about their height (yeah, if you have to stand on your tippy toes just to look at 5’7 ½ me in the eyes, I don’t think you are 5’10” dude).

Maybe it was because in the 90s and with the influx of dating sites like Jdate and the more secular Match.com, and E-Harmony, it was a smorgasbord of women for men, and they could afford to show bad behavior (for every time I said no to a late night date, whether Jdate or some other site, I’m sure some less confident gal was saying yes). And this was before the book that changed the lives of every self-respecting east coast living gal, The Rules.

The best was the hapless guy who told me his sexual fantasies right before the appetizers arrived (let’s just say that the oysters weren’t so appealing after he told me what he’d like to do with pearls). He told me he thought I’d be into it because I’m a magazine editor aka a “communicator.”

Back when I was a magazine editor I penned a dating column, and called myself The Dating Diva, the title of which caused my friends to constantly subside into paroxysms of uncontrollable laughter. As a guest on Rolanda, Gordon Elliot, America’s Talking, and other long-gone to that great media green room in the sky morning shows, I had the opportunity to spout advice to women like, “make sure that if you volunteer for a non-profit, get on the party planning committee, so you can meet everyone, and “always end a phone call a bit unexpectedly to leave them wanting more (apologies if I borrowed a little from Seinfeld). I also taught relationship classes at the Learning Annex (years before Ramona of The Housewives of New York took over that niche) with titles guaranteed to pack a room, such as Power Dating, or How to Marry the Man of Your Dreams.

Often, my dates (okay the stalkery ones) would Google me, and that would make for uncomfortable chatting. Him: “are you planning to write or talk about me?” Me: “Um, maybe.” I was no Taylor Swift, but talking about what I did, probably wasn’t my best opening line.

At any rate, because I was the Dating Diva (or despite it) I sure dated a lot. But. Only. Jewish. Men.

Patriarchal Grandpa would say to me: “Why haven’t you met a nice Jewish man, Estelle?”

Me: “I don’t know, Grandpa, I’m looking”

Patriarchal Grandpa: “You need someone tall, because you’re tall, and you also need to learn how to cook. That’s why you haven’t met a nice Jewish man, you don’t cook!”

Maybe it was because of this kind of rhetoric that I was more focused at that time, on the religion of the man I was dating than the man himself. I had to get rid of some strong cultural pressure to take the blinders off my eyes, so that I could see for myself the man behind the religion.

Which brings me to my husband. Who’s not Jewish. And by the time I met him in 2003, that didn’t matter at all.

What’s crucial to me is that he is open to exploring and participating in my cultural rituals (admittedly, he delights in devouring my mom’s Chanukah Latkes). I love seeing his patrician face bedecked by a yarmulke at one of the myriad bat mitzvahs or Shabbat dinners we have gone to throughout our nearly eight-year marriage.

As for Patriarchal Grandpa, shortly before Grandpa passed away, he met my husband, and I think in his own (non-verbal way) he approved.

Here is a paraphrase of our conversation at the time.

Patriarchal Grandpa: Are you cooking yet?

Me: “No. I don’t cook.”

Patriarchal Grandpa sighs and looks at the guy I’m with

Patriarchal Grandpa: “He’s your boyfriend”

Me: “Yes, Grandpa”

Patriarchal Grandpa: “Not Jewish”? “

Me: “No, Grandpa, he’s not Jewish”

Patriarchal Grandpa: (lifting his eyebrows and nodding)

“He’s tall!”

Grandpa died three weeks later.

Here’s what I’d like to tell Patriarchal Grandpa today:

“I love you Grandpa, but although the man I married (who I’m so glad you met) is not Jewish, he’s smart, kind, successful, a great husband and father…and you know what else.

He can cook!”

Estelle Sobel Erasmus is a journalist, author, columnist and former magazine editor-in-chief who writes about her transformative journey through motherhood at her blog Musings on Motherhood and Mid-Life. She is on twitter at @mommymusings and sits on the Board of Directors of the National non-profit Mothers & More, which touts the value of a mothers “work” whether paid or unpaid.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    LOVE IT. It is hard to step out of the family expectations and make your own choices, but it sounds like you make a good one. I grew up southern baptist and I married a presbyterian… a presbyterian in seminary, at that! LOL. My father, in his own way, approved by saying in a dry, resigned tone of voice: “I guess there are worse things than Presbyterians.”

    I wish I could have met your Patriarchal Grandpa. He sounds much like mine. ;-)

  2. JR says

    Estelle, I am not sure I understand the connection between Judaism and the types of men you were meeting. Wouldn’t you agree that the same sorts of dating experiences are just as common among non-Jews? The men living in their basements, the so-called “stalkers,” the late-night daters you describe are hardly exclusive to one religion or another. The role that religion plays is very unclear here, which was the whole point of this essay, right?

  3. Laura Burton says

    Hi Estelle,
    Thanks for sharing your story. Boy you certainly covered the not-so-fun scenario of dating in NYC, and I can relate. I certainly have had my share of dating mishaps before I got married. So glad you found your Mr. Right!

  4. Paula Marcotte says

    Estelle, this is a cute and funny but oh so true snapshot of the world of dating, and trying to find the rose among the thorns. So glad you found yours, and the cooking is just an added benefit! While I was kissing my frogs, my prince was right under my nose, but no one would have imagined us together, least of all me!
    I had the Italian version of your Jewish grandparents. But as they watched all of us pair off, none with full blooded Italians, they shrugged and accepted and began to feed them. It was as though through the food, they were initiating and accepting them.

  5. Michele says

    Estelle,

    Thanks for the funny, insightful and witty story of how you met your husband.
    When you stop putting what others expect of you, we find what is best for us.

    Can’t wait to read what your next topic will be about.

    Glad you found Mr. Right btw do you cook now?

  6. says

    Oy you have me reminiscing about my own dating days. The one where my date picked me up at 7:30 and I was home by 8:30. He took one look at me and decided he didn’t like what he saw. The one where the Jdate image of the gorgeous Israeli pilot showed up at my door weighing 300 pounds. The one where my date squinted all through the meal at his food and when the check came, he couldn’t read and asked me to pay it. It sounds like you married the best of the lot and I’m sure your grandfather would agree. Thanks for this wonderful post taking me down memory lane.

  7. says

    I love this post, Estelle! Funny, poignant, moving . . . really, really funny. I especially liked the parts about your grandfather, z’l. So easy to picture the last dialogue you recounted.

    Would love to share this blog post on our website. So many people would be LOL. Will DM you.

    Shana Tova!

  8. says

    This is beautiful, Estelle. I also married out of the faith, but the downer is, he CAN’T cook and neither can I. Everything else is glorious, though, and I’m much more in sync religiously with him than any Jewish guy I ever dated.

  9. Josephine says

    What a great read! Having met your husband on a few occasions I can’t imagine you being with anyone else.
    Do you think that timing is everything? Perhaps if you had met him much earlier you would have passed him up?

  10. Diane says

    Cute post, Estelle, I enjoyed it. And, funnily enough, *my* Afrikaaner husband cooks a lot more/better than this American Jewish girl as well!

  11. says

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Jo-Lynne I love how your father “approved” your husband, he does sound like my grandfather; Holly thanks for sharing your stories (wouldn’t the guys be kicking themselves now). JR, it is about the man, not necessarily the religion, and I did point out that the smorgasbord of women allowed for bad behavior in men in Match.com and other sites; Melissa, Diane, Aliza, Josephine, Michele, Laura and Paula, thanks so much for your comments, and Ellen, yes, we can definitely do a link from your site to this one. Whew, I think that just about covers it; apologies if I missed someone.
    And, guess what everyone, I started cooking this year, but that’s a story for another day.

    Most of all, thanks so much Melissa for having me guest post on your fantastic site. You are a mensch!

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *