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Jewish Journal

Sabra love

by Orit Arfa

May 15, 2008 | 6:00 pm

I've been considering giving up on Israeli men, at least the purebred Israeli men, the sabras. What's painful is that I say this as someone who has made my home in Jerusalem, and I am hesitant to make harsh generalizations about Israeli bachelors, especially as Israel celebrates its 60th. It makes me feel like the biblical spies who returned to Moses whining about the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, my 10-odd years of living here have led me to think that I'm not compatible with a good majority of secular Israeli men.

When I first landed in this country as a wide-eyed, optimistic Zionist, Israeli men captured my fascination -- and I'll admit -- my early 20s lust. They were the "New Jews" who had cast off the spiritual and physical shackles of exile to invent a self-sufficient Jewish culture in the land of Israel.

Almost anything they did seemed to me to embody deep Jewish meaning -- whether they worked as engineers, manual laborers, farmers, actors or restaurateurs. I saw them as Zionists simply because they were making a living here, however mundane their jobs.

I needed only look at the Israeli studs to feel turned on, both spiritually and physically, which may explain why early on I had far more short-term, heated romances with sabras than serious relationships. Compared to their American Jewish counterparts, Israelis exuded a physical vitality and sexiness, enhanced by their years in army, where they developed hard abs and chiseled arms.

But as time wore on, I discovered the layered character of my fascination with Israeli men wasn't mutual.

"Why did you come here?" they'd often ask on our first date in complete bewilderment. Or they'd try to pick me up with the line, "Can you teach me English?" with an unstated hope that they might marry me for a green card.

These de facto Zionist pioneers have become, like the state they live in, mere pragmatists, preoccupied with basic survival.

They channel any sense of Jewish obligation into their Israel Defense Forces service. When that's done, they travel to Thailand or India for a year to satisfy their wanderlust, enroll in university to study a practical major (I've dated quite a few computer programmers), invest their savings in a down payment for an apartment, get married, have children, etc. Their lives are like target practice -- get the degree, get the job, get the girl.

Even the questions Israeli men ask me on JDate chats are matter-of-fact: What do you do? Where do you live? Who do you live with? Do you rent or own? I rarely am asked intelligent questions about my thoughts, my values, my unconventional Zionist dreams.

I thought I'd get more engaging conversation from a producer for an Israeli news show who I met at a bar last month. Finally, maybe an Israeli man with whom I could discuss Israeli politics, religion, God. Over candlelight and wine the night after we met, I started telling him about my aliyah experience and the novel I'm writing about the disengagement.

"What else?" he responded with no real interest.

I felt like answering: You are sitting across from an American Jewish Israeli woman who left her family to live in the conflicted land you research, and that's all you have to ask? After a few awkward silences, he found the icebreaker: "Wanna come to my place?"

So if not sabras, who should I date? There are always fellow immigrants, but most of the time they remind me of the dorky American Jewish men I longed to escape -- uncomfortable with their bodies, secluded in an Anglo community, disconnected from mainstream Israeli society.

The real catches here are the mixed-breed men born to at least one American parent. They usually inherit an American mentality, a sense of Zionist purpose and fluent English from their ex-pat parent, while being completely immersed in Israeli culture. Unfortunately, the ones I know are all taken.

What about Israelis who veer off the practical course to study political science, philosophy or the arts?

Usually they exhibit passion for Israel. Too bad it's negative.

I've met quite a few hot settlers who bear a rare mix of manliness, patriotism and Jewish sensitivity -- but maybe too much Jewish sensitivity. They only date women who keep Shabbat, if they're not already married by age 25.

So, does that leave me only with non-Jews? About two years ago, I went out with a non-Jew in Los Angeles. Over a date consisting of a two-course dinner (more than many Israeli men offer), we had great discussions about the nature of Israel's Jewish democracy.

More recently, I went out with a Danish student living in Israel. He was so blond I had to wear sunglasses. We, too, couldn't stop talking about the problems and triumphs of this country. Ultimately, though, we weren't compatible.

Lately, I find myself on the lookout for non-Israelis when I go out. A few weeks ago, my Tel Aviv friend, Anat, and I had a wonderful time getting "picked up" by two Swedes who were on a study trip to Israel. One was a tall, strapping dirty blond, and the other a four-eyed, genteel brunette. I said hello, and 10 seconds later they were handing us beers.

We took them to a dance club, and we talked for two hours in the "make-out" lounge without making out. They engaged us with questions about Israel and our life here without the expectation of sex that often underlies my dates with Israelis.

Israeli men, at least the good-looking ones, rarely buy girls drinks. I don't think they like to spend their hard-earned money on an unsure thing. Or maybe, underneath their hard exterior, they're afraid of rejection.

Still, even as I question Israeli men as relationship prospects, I can't shake off my admiration for them. After all, they are the Jewish men who put their lives on the line for me, for all Israeli citizens and for Jewish people all over the world.

I remind myself that in between their reserve duty, they are just trying to make the most of their lives here, even as they are building this country to ensure that I can remain here to live the Zionist dream they don't seem too interested in.

So I'll try not to give up so soon.



Orit was a contestant in a Valentines Day beauty pagaent in Jerusalem.


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