Letters

"Yeah, I've got hair on my back, but I can fix my own car." Readers chastise Abby Ellin for her characterization of Jewish men -- and her views on intermarriage.


Salon Staff
January 15, 2004 10:07PM (UTC)

[Read "Mix and Match," by Abby Ellin.]

After 16 years of interfaith marriage (I'm Jewish, he's a nonpracticing Catholic), I can see both its benefits and drawbacks. I, too, rarely dated Jewish men and was intrigued by my husband's all-American good looks, his levelheadedness and his athleticism. He, in turn, appreciated my emotional warmth and my outspokenness. We hoped to find a happy medium in our partnership somewhere between the cold formality of his family of origin and the intrusive hysteria of mine.

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Sixteen years and two kids later, we're very happy together, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that there are rare occasions when I wish he understood more about my cultural frame of reference. And although he agreed that the children would receive a Jewish education, he personally does not want to be involved, so holidays such as Rosh Hashana and Passover always leave me slightly lonely, wistfully remembering the joyous celebrations of my childhood. I certainly don't regret marrying this wonderful man, and I'm sure marrying someone Jewish would have brought its own share of challenges, but Abby Ellin needs to realize that intermarriage is both more and less than "a smorgasbord of festivities."

-- Susan Scribner

Abby Ellin's thoughts on Jews and dating are little more than a bunch of stereotypical nonsense. I fully understand that coarse generalizations about cultural subgroups are OK as long as the one making the generalizations is part of the subgroup (call it the Chris Rock exception to decency requirements, perhaps). Therefore, my objection is not that I am offended by this racial and sexual essentialism but that it lacks merit intellectually. This is the work of someone too lazy to come up with original analysis. Even if true, it's all been done to death. At least Woody Allen is funny; this article comes off as just plain simple.

-- Josha Antos

Abby Ellin's story about interfaith relationships was a hoot, with a whole lot of truth in it. I'm a secular Jew whose first marriage to another Jew failed after only two years. I've now been married for 13 years to a man who was raised Lutheran but, like me, is now essentially agnostic. However, it's not our religion that makes the difference, it's our upbringings -- I'm East Coast, he's Midwest. Pushy New England Jew meets reserved Lake Wobegon guy.

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My husband and I most often have arguments caused by cultural "language" differences. I suggest an idea for an outing, my husband says, "That's an interesting idea." I take this for assent, when in Midwestern speak, what he really means is, "Over my dead body."

Still, we manage better than I did with my ex, the Long Island Jew, with whom I ostensibly shared so much more in common. Our kids are occasionally a little confused about religion -- twice this Christmas as we attended church with my in-laws, our 4-year-old asked, "Who's Jesus?" -- but they do get two rich cultural heritages instead of one. And I get a guy who's an expert with a circular saw.

-- Karen Kasper

Abby Ellin's viewpoint was not progressive at all. Everything she cites about Jewish vs. gentile behavior is a cliché. People are individuals -- a fact that seems to be increasingly overlooked by desperate singles who keep coming up with new justifications for why they strike out.

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I used to think that Jewish men rejected me because I was Jewish -- yes, neurotic, bossy, too smart, not physically symmetrical, you know the drill. But I also found that non-Jewish men, while they may have shown more interest initially, tended to beg off before getting really involved. Looking back on it, I don't think my religious or ethnic background had that much to do with why some men wanted me and some didn't.

I'm not against interfaith relationships but I don't think one can always blame a similar background for incompatibility. In the end, it's always a matter of how two personalities get along.

-- Lynne Bronstein

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The only problem I have found with my non-Jewish boyfriends is that they drink too much. They do seem less conflicted and less intense -- but maybe it's just the alcoholic stupor!

-- Nina

Abby Ellin's glib and facile look at Jewish dating was original only in its zeal to miss the point.

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Unmentioned in her little replay of a bad Woody Allen movie is the prospect of sharing a warm and festive Sabbath dinner with a date, lighting candles and intoning millennia-old blessings that make your lives a sacred thing. Unmentioned is the ethereal echo of Havdalah songs, marking the end of the Sabbath. Absent from her life is the desire to share any of the great Jewish philosophers and writers, who form the foundation for an entirely positive and nonmaterialistic Jewish life.

Uncomfortable with the concept of "chosenness"? That's probably because it was never really understood. It isn't being part of a club. It is accepting the responsibility to live the Commandments, both to elevate your life to something sacred and full of meaning, and to improve the state of the world through your actions.

If the Jewish philosopher you are most often exposed to is Debra Messing or Larry David, angst is what you shall receive. If you go looking for someone who is balancing Elie Wiesel and Maimonides in an effort to discover where his life should be leading, perhaps meaning and companionship will not elude you.

I spent many years thinking that my heritage was a few words of Yiddish and the back of a deli menu. But I must admit, even then I knew enough to be ashamed of my shallow knowledge of and responsibility toward my faith and ethnicity.

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Thousands of people are joining study groups, Synagogues, Chabads, and Chavurot to find and share meaningful social, political and spiritual experiences. Of course, JDate only demands that you hit a send button. The other activities demand that you give of yourself and grow.

-- Rick R.

I always thought I wouldn't marry anyone who wasn't Jewish -- until I fell in love with a non-Jew. The world is too small to make it smaller, I thought without even a qualm, as I planned our mixed-faith wedding in my head. I hate to agree with a sentiment that basically dooms my future children to holiday confusion, but Jewish men and Jewish women -- boy, I don't know. I never felt so stereotypically Jewish as when I dated a Jewish guy who saw his mother or older sister in everything I said or did. Meanwhile, I'm a tall girl who likes to wear heels, so ...

-- Laura White

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I'm a Catholic woman who's dated a lot of Jewish men since I moved to New York and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the unspoken assumption that I'm not quite good enough that hangs over the relationship. I'm tired of them assuming that all white, educated, well-read people are Jewish or want to marry Jews. I'm tired of them automatically assuming I'll raise my children Jewish or abandon my religion. I'm tired of Jewish guys telling me, "Oh you know you like it, being with Jewish men," when they have no basis for saying that. I'm tired of men who assume that just because they are Jewish, they are of higher desirability in the dating pool than other men (for the record, I hate when Italian men do this, too). I hate when someone randomly IMs me or e-mails me or talks to me at a bar or party and asks me if I'm Jewish before he asks me my name. I'm tired of them looking for one last casual fling with a Catholic Girl Gone Wild as their final relationship before settling down with the nice Jewish girl their mommy wants them to marry. I'm tired of how aggressive they are in pursuing dates, how they keep asking and asking and asking even after I've said no 12 times. And I hate being called a shiksa.

And no, I don't date Jewish men by design. The author was correct when she said many of them specifically seek out non-Jewish women. I'd give anything to meet a nice Irish boy who likes me just the way I am and has the same values, beliefs and background as myself.

-- Kathleen Bell

Abby Ellin writes that even though she doesn't want to marry a Jewish man, she wants her kids to have "some sort" of Jewish identity. Unfortunately I have noticed that "some sort" of Jewish identity usually amounts to lighting a menorah on Christmas Eve (when people remember) or going to the grandparent's house for Passover (if it doesn't conflict with Easter).

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I don't think Ms. Ellin is evil or wrong for being attracted to non-Jewish men. I have been attracted to non-Jewish and Jewish women. There are certainly times I think my kids will have a less critiqued childhood if I marry a non-Jewish women. But then I realize I am playing into old-fashioned stereotypes.

The simple truth is that when Jews marry non-Jews, the Jewishness usually goes out the window. Howard Dean chose to raise his kids Jewish. However, most interfaith kids end up like my best friend, who doesn't believe in Christ but can't remember that I don't celebrate secular versions of Christmas or Easter either.

-- Dale Ratner

I'm a Jewish male, mid-20s, happily involved with a Catholic girl of the same age. So I read with interest Abby Ellin's "Mix and Match." My interest soon turned to disgust. The whole piece read as a one-note insult to Jewish men everywhere. Yeah, I got hair on my chest, and a few sprouts on my back. But I can fix my own car and my own sink. I'd be hesitant to dismiss all the Jewish women I've known in my life as bossy and overbearing -- mostly because that would be a blatant falsehood and a disservice to the ones that completely blew my mind.

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-- Ben Wintroub


Salon Staff

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