Last Friday night at Sinai Temple, Rabbi David Wolpe came off the bimah during services and whispered into my ear. "Interdating?! I bet you got some letters."
The rabbi was right: Letters, phone calls and a woman at Sinai who followed me down in the elevator and out into the parking garage while she accused me of destroying the Jewish people.
In last week's column I proposed addressing the pain of Jewish women approaching the end of their childbearing years who cannot find a Jewish mate. One solution, I wrote, would be to encourage them to date non-Jews, and for our rabbis and community leaders to create pathways for inclusion and conversion for the non-Jewish partners.
The idea sparked dozens of responses pro and con, and in fairness to the idea's detractors (and supporters) we reprint a sample on these pages, with a brief coda by me.
Our Hindu Widows
I am one of those 40-something women that you referred to in your article, "Our Hindu Widows," (Aug. 10).
Almost all synagogue- (including Orthodox) and Jewish organization-sponsored singles events are for the 21-39 age range. As I said to an Orthodox rabbi a few years ago, "I didn't choose to be single and in my 40s ... it's just the way things have worked out."
The synagogues and Jewish organizations make the age range quite clear. Some go as far as to card individuals before allowing them to enter the event.
Your suggestion of interdating is too easy, in addition to being an unacceptable option for me and for many of us. There are single Jewish women in their 30s and 40s, and there are single Jewish men in there 30s and 40s, as well.
Los Angeles is the second largest Jewish community in the United States. Instead of suggesting interdating, why don't you challenge those rabbis and community leaders in the synagogues and Jewish organizations to sponsor events for those of us who are 40-plus?
Try being part of the solution instead of helping to decrease our numbers.
Name withheld by request
Yesterday I came across your editorial on the problems of 30's-40's women finding Jewish men to marry . . . I naturally read it with great interest.
I could identify with all the players in the drama. I had fallen hopelessly in love several times in my teen 's and 20's and would have certainly married the objects of my affection (or was it affliction), if they wold have had me (actually one young woman who I adored was secretly in love with me but her mother pushed her to marry the nice Jewish doctor and never let her know that I was leaving message after message for her ... When I was in my 40's, I was meeting many attractive, eligible women but was no longer falling in love......perhaps what you describe in your piece was true of me....too many options......
The last number of years I have felt ready and have been more open.
I'm open to having a family, and have been dating women much younger than myself. I went to the Oscars this year with one of the young stars of a musical, she's 22. In the fall I had a serious relationship with a bright young woman of 27 that I thought I had potential, but sadly fizzled. I'm on my way to NY now, where there is a rather attractive model, who is a Stanford grad, also in her 20's whom I've been seeing when I'm in the city. None of these women are Jewish. There is a young woman of 32 who I have dated since she was 19 but stopped seeing recently, a very bright, terrific person, who I suspect has always been in love with me, but sadly that level of Chemistry, hasn't been there for me. She is not Jewish, but is in the process of converting.
Now what's ironic here is that when I meet a Jewish woman in her 30's or 40's.....that I feel I could develop a serious interest with, most are not interested in a man over 50. Why is that? I only date super intelligent, spiritually evolved women.......the gentile women don't have a problem with age (I think of my self as a 9 yr. old in an older guy's body). Maybe some of these spectacular women who are seriously looking for a Jewish "mister right" should just set their sights higher...... age wise.
My vitality level is really higher than most of the guys I know in their 30's. I've never been married and I've saved all my alimony for the right woman. Anyhow, you can pass this email along to your 30-40 something desperate to be housewives or career women, if you like........
Name withheld by request
The week your article "Hindu Widows" was published was also the week that I launched a new venture, Frieda's Table, focusing on single, eligible Jews in their thirties and forties. As a woman who met my bashert late and had my children just "under the wire," I am keenly aware that I might not have been so lucky. I also know that many events for Jewish singles are devoid of Jewish content, and that Jewish singles are (still!) treated with condescension. The meet-markets and even singles services can be very alienating. My goal is to create interesting, rewarding, programs in a respectful and caring atmosphere. The worst-case scenario for a singles event should be that someone might say, "That was a great program. I got a lot out of it, and I met some really nice people. Too bad I didn't connect with anyone I want to date."
All those "beautiful, brilliant" women you describe can regale you with horror stories of Jewish events that scarred them rather than helped. I don't think rabbis can responsibly recommend inter-dating until we do our part to promote intra-dating. We need to make showing up as a single person -- whether to a singles event or to anything else in the Jewish community -- a welcoming, positive experience.
I am starting simple: Shabbat dinners with equal numbers of single men and women hosted by loving couples; holiday parties and gatherings with uplifting Jewish content - Ushpizin & Appetizers Under the Stars in a Sukkah, a Purim ball and Megillah reading.
The project is named for my Aunt Frieda - herself a beautiful, brilliant woman who remained single until she was 40. She broke off an engagement in her 20's to a famous but self-involved man, and waited for her bashert, a wonderful mentsch with two children. Frieda was my coolest relative. She lived in Greenwich Village (in the same building as W.H. Auden!), worked as a social worker, did untold acts of kindness for others, and loved and introduced me to the arts. She was a great cook, a lively conversationalist, and a gifted hostess with a knack for putting the right people together. No one I have ever met had her energy. In her 80's, Frieda developed Alzheimer's. She reached the stage where she didn't know the names or identities of her children and husband. Yet, in her last days, she always remembered to ask me: "What's the story with you and Craig? Are you two getting married?"
I married him. In tribute to that, and to Frieda, I am channeling her energy for bringing people together. If others would like to help, I invite them to contact me.
Rabbi Debra Orenstein
I was shocked and appalled to read an article in a Jewish newspaper, yours, advocating intermarriage for Jewish women not married by a certain age. Shame, shame on you Rob! Haven't our enemies done enough to try to destroy us?
My wife and I have on many occasions hosted a group of young Jewish professional men for Shabbat, all of whom complained that they could not find the right girl. Guess what. We did the next logical thing and invited an equal contingent of Jewish women who had the same complaint to the same Shabbat dinner.
To our surprise, they all (the single men and single women) got together and agreed how impossible it was to find the right partner. Only one of these individuals got married, and it has been many years.
At the risk of sounding like the dating opinion equal of Tom Cruise, I have to say that if a man or woman is not married by age 40, in most cases it is because they don't want to be.
What Rob suggests is the proverbial treating the symptom and not the disease. If they have only one shot at childbearing, then let them do so with a Jewish man. If you feel so strongly about your point Rob, then save that advice for your daughter, the future Sarah Eshman-Kelly.
On the subject of beautiful, intelligent but unmarried Jewish women in their late 30s and 40s, Rob Eshman suggests interdating as a last resort. I have a better suggestion: aliyah!
If these women who deserve to be married to someone Jewish would make aliyah, they would find that the percentage of Jewish men is 80 percent, as opposed to the much smaller percentage here. These women would, I'm sure, if they are serious about a Jewish marriage, very quickly find a suitable mate.
Shame on Rob Eshman for promoting intermarriage for older single Jewish women.
Instead of blaming rabbis for not adding matchmaking to their long list of duties, perhaps he should ask these "beautiful, brilliant" 40-something women how many nice Jewish guys they rejected when they were in their 20s and 30s. They should be informed that the reason the dating pool is so shallow now is because these guys found other Jewish women who were not holding out for an Adonis with a heavy wallet.
There are still many nice Jewish guys out there in their 40s and beyond who are ready to settle down, some for the second time. Sadly, they still remain invisible to these aging princesses.
Name withheld by request
Sure, it's possible that interdating may produce on some level some individual happy marriages. It's far less clear what such a practice will do to the community, especially if the non-Jewish spouse prefers to stay that way and also especially when children begin to come along and their future Jewish education is less assured.
Mr. Eshman writes about the "too many beautiful, brilliant single Jewish women in their 30s and 40s." We need to work harder on bringing them together with their male Jewish counterparts who are, perhaps, harder to find but worth the effort. It may not solve the whole problem but neither will it betray our commitment to the community.
Marina del Rey
Rob Eshman's column "Our Hindu Widows" bemoans the lack of single Jewish men available for single Jewish women in their 30s and 40s. However, the real problem is that the men do exist, but today's women are looking for only the 10s in looks, personality and lifestyle.
When I was single in the 1950s, a Jewish woman met a Jewish man of the right age and they married. As my late mother used to say -- when she was 87 years old -- about my then-single daughters, "In the old days, the women didn't weigh and measure every man they met."
But, mom, I answered, my daughters tell me that all they meet are nerds.
"Big deal," she replied, leaning over in her wheelchair. "In the old days, you were all nerds. Nerds married nerds, and now they all have little nerds."
Today's emphasis on beauty, personality and finances is what is hampering Jewish-to-Jewish marriages. Funny thing: Gentile women don't seem to find a shortage of Jewish men.
Martin A. Brower
Corona del Mar
Bravo to Rob Eshman for his article. There are countless fabulous women out there who are accomplishing great feats in the workplace, traveling, living full rich lives and hoping to find a Jewish husband.
I was one of those women. I worked in the Jewish community and asked colleagues, "Who do you know for me?" I went to Friday Night Live and attended lectures at Skirball, UJ and Federation. I dated Jewish men on Jdate, Match.com and Matchmaker that fit my profile.
At 37, I was introduced to someone who I almost refused to meet because he was not Jewish. But we fell instantly in love. Three years later, we are married with a baby girl. Our daughter has a mezuzah in her doorway, her baby naming certificate on the wall and we plan to send her to Jewish preschool.
The childless 40-year-old women are seeing that "there aren't enough marriageable Jewish men out there." But some of the other "94 percent of potential males" are extraordinary, too.
Rob Eshman hoped we would all meet an NJB, but he would rather see us pushing our strollers proudly into temple.
Name withheld by request
I strongly agree with Rob Eshman's view that single Jews desiring marriage should interdate, rather than remain alone. But I would go further. We should actively encourage every Jew to promote the virtues of Jewish civilization to potential Jews by Choice, via discussion, interdating and intermarriage.
As a people, we will not survive the demographic bomb of low reproduction rates if we do not evolve toward a concept of Judaism as a welcoming culture, with much to offer others: a history of resistance to oppression, spellbindingly beautiful holidays and a practical ethical system.
We have suffered too long from an in-group mentality that we are about rules, status and food, instead of universal values. It is time to bring people in, rather than push them away.
Rob Eshman's condemnation that all rabbis are to blame for Jewish women who remain unmarried and childless (insisting that they only marry Jewish men) is too sweeping. Reform rabbis have for decades welcomed intermarried couples into our congregations, encouraged their partner to convert and accepted their children into our religious schools.
We have l'hatchilah (at the outset) encouraged Jewish dating, while b'diavad (after the fact) welcomed those individuals who have married outside the faith. The subtle message we have been able to give our congregants is that we will not give up on them, regardless of whom they marry.
However, even subtle encouraging of interdating for older women is not going to magically find them partners. The solution lies in establishing an Internet interdating service.
The non-Jewish daters would indicate their degree of willingness to raise Jewish children, have a Jewish home and participate in the life of the Jewish community. They would also indicate their level of attachment to a particular religion.
Prospective Jewish mates cruising the site would look for high levels of willingness and low levels of attachment, in addition to other factors (nonsmoker, kashrut level, children, etc.).
Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx
Santa Monica Synagogue
I would like to applaud Rob Eshman for showing the courage to propose a controversial and novel solution to the problems faced by single Jewish women in their late 30s and 40s. The established Jewish community asks them to sacrifice their happiness and their last childbearing years at the altar of endogamy, as if their loneliness is worth the price of Jewish purity.
If the Jewish community were to value these women's needs more than its own self-imposed boundaries, we would very likely see an increase in the number of Jewish children in Los Angeles.
It's all the more remarkable, too, that you note the prevalence of this phenomenon in a city that is home to more than half a million Jews. What must these women's prospects be like in smaller communities?
One last point: The authors of the 1997 Jewish population survey of greater Los Angeles subtly foretold the future plight of these "Hindu widows." Ten years ago, they found that there were 3 percent more women than men in the 30-49 age group. These women, who are now in their 40s and 50s, are suffering from a demographic crunch that has been a long time in the making.
Online Managing Editor
I have often been impressed by Rob Eshman's honesty, courage and common sense. Most recently, these qualities were exhibited in his column about single Jewish women waiting endlessly for a Jewish male. He makes his points brilliantly and thoughtfully and explained a concept that's quite strange for a secular Jew like myself, who figured that my kids are Jewish because I am, so what difference does the father's religion make?
My two daughters know perfectly well that it's me, their mom, who makes them Jewish, regardless of their father's affiliation or birth. And thus, what's the deal about Jewish women dating or marrying non-Jewish men?
The kids are Jewish, period, no matter how they are raised or who the father is. And mom can ensure a Jewish experience for the kids if she wants to- lots of those 100 percent Jewish couples leave all the religious school driving to the mom anyhow.
It's nice to marry within the tribe if it enhances a couple's happiness and commitment, but it's not necessary. Ask all the intermarried Jewish folks; we know there are plenty of them.
And women who are so Jewishly focused that their rabbis tell them whom to date sound like women who should re-evaluate who's in charge of their lives -- themselves or the rabbi.
You can marry anyone you love, ladies. Your kids are Jewish if you are. These rabbis surely know that.
i just wanted to thank you for writing that article. sometimes, it feels like being part of a persecuted minority. or, if not persecuted, at least ignored. i used to just be attracted to jewish guys and assume that i would marry one. now that im 44, i realize how hard it is to just find a kindred soul, jewish or not. and i cant tell you how many people say that they know great women and they wouldnt even CONSIDER setting me up w/1 of their guy friends.
anyway, thanks, for highlighting this issue...
Name Withheld upon Request
I write to express my indignation that you attributed views to me that are nowhere in the article you used as your foil. This is what you wrote: "Get women out of schools and workplaces and into marriage beds sooner, said Wertheimer." I did say the latter, but tell me where in my article I urged women to leave school and the workplace? In fact, I said just the opposite: I noted the phenomenon of Orthodox women who do achieve a high level of education and participate in the labor force, but nonetheless marry and have children at higher than replacement levels. Had I written what you claim I "said," I would not have gotten public support from female and male feminists who expressed their disgust at the (willful?) misreading of my article when it first appeared.
As to the substance of your piece: you now want to solve the problem of women who cannot find Jewish husbands by encouraging them to intermarry. A good deal of the reason they cannot find Jewish husbands in the first place is because Jewish men intermarry at higher rates than do Jewish women. So you just want to keep the vicious cycle going. Good luck. But in the future, try to hold yourself to the same standards of accuracy as, presumably, you hold your writers.
Professor Jack Wertheimer
Jewish Theological Seminary
New York, N.Y.
Editor's Note: I did partially misread Wertheimer's essay, and I apologize.
He returned the favor by misreading and misstating my solution. Nowhere did I advocate for intermarriage. I advocated for interdating, and for rabbis and others to create pathways toward inclusion and conversion for the non-Jewish male partners.
Jack Wertheimer and I are both happily married, so it is easy for us to say to an aging cohort of Jewish women, "good luck." But his solution as I understand it is for more and better wishful thinking, and mine takes into account the very real pain of these women, and the immediate choices they must make. He understands of course that even if these men don't convert, the women will still bear beautiful Jewish children, which hardly strikes me as part of any vicious cycle.
I'm enjoying Rabbi Dietch's commentary ("Blessing a Curse," Aug. 10). She helps me connect each week's message to my life.
None of the countries surrounding Israel would ever allow a Jew to own a piece of their land ('Jews Only' Land Plan Counters Israel's Values," Aug. 10). But this doesn't bother Rabbi Eric Yoffie. What bothers Yoffie is a law passed by the Knesset that prevents precious Israeli land, already owned by the Jewish National Fund and bought with money donated by Jews after the Holocaust, from being sold to non-Jews, many of whom don't recognize the Jewish state and would love the opportunity to act as a Trojan Horse.
It's pretty easy for Yoffie to sit comfortably in the United States and preach to Israel about democracy and discrimination. There are no Qassam rockets flying over his head nor air raid sirens disturbing his sleep. The members of Knesset, however, understand that they have the unique task of balancing democracy with survival.
Raphael J. Sonenshein accuses assorted Republican presidential candidates and neoconservative ideologues, aided and abetted by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), of lumping together "Sunni, Shias, Hezbollah and Hamas" into a chimera called "Islamofascism" ("Islamofascism and the GOP," Aug. 10). In contrast, according to Sonenshein, the large majority of American Jews who continue to vote Democratic wisely understand the United States should withdraw from Iraq so that we can better hunt down Al Qaeda in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.
Sonenshein's expertise is not the Arab and Muslim world, but let's credit him with a better grasp of its geopolitics than indicated by his misidentification of the partisan geography of the U.S. Senate, where Vermont's independent Bernie Sanders and Connecticut's moderate Lieberman would not want to be mistaken for each other. Yet I cannot escape the suspicion that Sonenshein is less preoccupied with removing Osama bin Laden from the wilds of Waziristan than with ending George W. Bush's reign in the White House.
Soon Dubya will retire to his ranch, but global Al Qaeda, the Iranian mullahs, Hezbollah and Hamas, despite the distinctions, will not abate their shared hatred of Jews, Israelis and Americans.
Sonenshein also commends the wisdom of American Jews who are "deeply concerned that American Muslims harbored anti-Semitic attitudes," yet don't want to "isolate American Muslims" like Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota. The problem is that Sonenshein's dialogue with Ellison, if there is one, seems to be all one way.
Ellison may have convinced Sonenshein that President Bush, who is fighting in Iraq to maintain a Shia-dominated government, wants to sell $20 billion in arms to the Saudis and holds the record for shoeless pilgrimages to mosques by an American president declaring Islam "a religion of peace," is somehow an Islamophobe.
Yet Sonenshein failed to teach Ellison not to equate Bush with Hitler and the 9/11 attacks on America with the Reichstag fire. Ellison then recanted but without conviction.
Islamofascism may indeed not be the best term to apply to the phenomenon, but Sonenshein ought to analyze in less partisan terms the global threat posed by many millions of Muslim Shias, as well as Sunnis, who admire Bin Laden, while detesting the values of modernity and pluralism upon which American, Jewish and Israeli survival depend.
The extremists and their sympathizers are not a majority among the world's billion Muslims, but the menace they pose won't be ended by withdrawing from Iraq or by getting Bin Laden or by Democratic cheap shots against the most botched war since JFK and LBJ got us into the Vietnam War.
The American people are waiting for a convincing blueprint -- not recycled isolationist appeasement -- about how to do better. Americans Jews ought to demand the same from the Democrats.
The brief note, "Hitler Listened to Music by Jews," in the Aug. 10 issue, stated that when Capt. Lev Besymenski died at age 86, "his daughter, Alexandra, brought the box of some 100 LPs to Germany's Der Spiegel magazine."
Given that how LPs were not made commercially available until 1948, how could Hitler have played them in 1945?
Either JTA made an editing error and should have said "albums," or else they really weren't what the article said they were. A box of 100 78-rpm albums would have to be a very large box weighing quite a lot. Even LPs would need more than a large box.
I read with great interest your story on serial blogger Luke Ford ("Interview With a Serial Blogger," Aug. 3). His postings seem to be the electronic equivalent of publications like National Inquirer; its articles and Ford's stories should be taken by any reasonable person with a large grain of salt.
On the other hand, I find it interesting that the other side is represented by Rabbi Meir Kagan's idea of lashon hara in his book, "Chofetz Chaim." I find that the rabbi is quoted in Web sites like Jews Against Zionism and apparently declared that "Zionists are the descendants of Amalek." Assuming that this declaration is true, then perhaps the attackers of Ford should worry less about lashon hara and worry more about simple hypocrisy.
I tried without success to find value in your article about the blogger -- any value that is, let alone Jewish value. Had this appeared in a tiny box somewhere in the back of your paper, even then I don't think it would have been worth anyone's time, effort, dollars for salary, etc.
But to make it a cover story? What were you thinking?
I think your paper has reached a new low. Please concentrate on Jewish values in the future.
The real test of a righteous person is if they will continue to maintain their stand or position, regardless of the social pressures of friends, public opinion or the situation itself.
When mean-spirited Cathy Seipp, a blogger who spent the last five years of her life attacking everybody she came in contact with, recently died, her friends, all supposed champions of freedom of speech, jointly decided that nobody is allowed to dare criticize, satirize or parody her.
They pressured Web site operators, ISP's and threatened lawsuits in order to remove parody and satire about this woman, who had viciously attacked politicians, journalists, teachers, administrators, bureaucrats, parking lot attendants and waitresses -- again, anybody she came in contact with. They continued by writing hit pieces and creating obscene and lewd Web sites about the very person whose parodies about Seipp they had gotten taken down.
Luke Ford was the only one to stand up and defend freedom of speech. He questioned how the same people who cherished their own journalistic freedoms could conspire to deprive somebody else of the same rights. He defended that person's rights to parody, satirize and criticize, regardless if the subject was alive, almost dead or dead. He did this even though he had been close friends with many of them.
How dare he do such a thing? He was now a traitor.
Maybe a traitor to them. But a true friend of freedom of speech and a rare find -- a man willing to stand on his principles despite the consequences.
A recent 400-page U.N. report found that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. That's more than cars and all other forms of transportation combined. We have a moral imperative, as responsible humans, to find ways of reducing our impact on the environment. We, as Jews, should be in the forefront of this effort.
The Torah mandates that we care for our bodies and the earth. It promotes compassion for animals and, while it permits the eating of flesh, cautions against carnivorous gluttony. It also has very specific rules about the treatment and slaughter of animals.
The easiest and most direct way we can help the planet is to switch to a plant-based diet. Instead of cutting down on flesh products and moving toward a plant-based diet, which would dramatically reduce greenhouse gases, this obscene, self-indulgent, halachic adventure" actually glorified and sanctified gluttony ("Gourmet Kosher Brings Out Fear Factor," Aug. 10).
In answer to Ms. Gruenbaum Fax's question about whether we should be focusing our efforts on Darfur and other pressing humanitarian issues (as the American World Jewish Service and others are doing), the answer is "yes." But we must simultaneously find ways to salvage the portion of our planet we have not yet destroyed.
If the promoters of this event truly want to uncover and preserve pieces of our heritage, why not work with Jews around the world to preserve their native languages and restore lost ones like Ladino, while simultaneously teaching them ways to reduce our impact on the planet?
In her piece, Ms. Gruenbaum Fax asks the question, "Are we such gluttons that we need our best minds finding more carnage pious Jews can rip apart with their teeth?" Yes, apparently some of us are, and, I would argue, not our "best minds".
Rina Deych, RN
THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or fax: (213) 368-1684.