Jewish Journal

Sex and the column

by Orit Arfa

Posted on Jun. 5, 2008 at 2:29 pm

One of the first things I did when I arrived in my hometown of Los Angeles for the summer was to rush with my friend Lori to see "Sex and the City" on opening night.

We weren't the only ones.

The movie was sold out all over Los Angeles, but as committed fans, we made the trek to Manhattan -- Manhattan Beach, that is -- despite the current gas prices, to see the only 10:30 p.m. Friday showing available within a 30-mile radius.

The line, filled mostly with women, went around the block. I had gotten all dolled up in shiny golden (knock-off?) Kenneth Cole heels, brown leggings and a golden wrap -- just to sit in a movie theater. We stood for a half-hour in the cold beach weather -- me in my heels and Lori wrapped in a blanket she found in her car -- but we didn't mind. The mood was cheerful and expectant. It wasn't the sluggish anticipation we experienced in line for the new "Indiana Jones" movie along with fathers and sons.

We passed the time examining everyone's shoes and chatting with a 50-year-old mother of five kids who'd brought her 18-year-old daughter to see the movie.

Already, during the previews for romantic comedies, we were all cheering and jeering. We weren't strangers -- but sisters -- all connected by our familiarity and sympathy for our mutual best friends: Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.

But we didn't only come to see fictional characters, but ourselves; the characters are more like Freudian concepts -- there's a bit of each of them in each of us. Sometimes we channel our inner Miranda -- cynical and hard. When we feel sappy and romantic, we channel the prudish Charlotte. And then there's Samantha -- raunchy and horny. And, of course, there's Carrie -- intelligent, open and a bit neurotic.

When I first started writing singles columns, I was living in Tel Aviv, Israel's big city. I titled my column "Sex in Tel Aviv" and described my wish to write about a life as fabulous as that of the show's syndicated columnist, Carrie. With all its hip bars and cafes, Tel Aviv seemed suited to Carrie-esque adventures, only I didn't make as much money or go out as much as she did, and, most of all, I never developed a clique of fabulous girlfriends.

Even in Tel Aviv, generally sheltered from Israel's security issues, I faced predicaments unique to a Jewish American Israeli: surviving a terrorist attack in Sinai, going out on a date with a repressed ultra-Orthodox Jew and encountering a Palestinian at a bar. I was both fortunate and unfortunate to live in a city where struggles reach far beyond simply finding love and a good pair of Manolos.

But no matter the topic, Carrie Bradshaw gave me permission to divulge my romantic life for the entire Jewish world, garnering both fans and foes. Sometimes I wonder: Would I have written half the stuff I did if not for her example? Would I have made the men I dated fodder for my columns without their knowing it? Would I have shared the pain of my first time? I don't know.

My openness has not exactly procured me a "Sex in the City" lifestyle, either. I'm still single, still pretty poor and still don't have a clique of girlfriends. I took on the sexual honesty, but got no fantasy to show for it.

The film is even more fanciful than the TV show. Despite their added years, the women have never looked so posh, perfect -- and plastic. Sure, there are difficult moments of betrayal and break-ups, but how bad can those be when you're wearing Prada and Dolce and Gabbana? Renting apartments in Manhattan on a whim? Jetting to Cancun to ease the pain?

I also faced another challenge in applying "Sex and the City"-style dilemmas to my own life: The community for which I write.

The Jewish world is often covert when it comes to female desire. Jewish women aren't supposed to open up with their rabbis about our pent-up desire for a one-night stand. We can't openly eye another congregant in shul and comment "that guy is hot!" without getting a lecture about middot (good deeds) before looks. I know I speak for some girlfriends when I admit that I have suffered a lot of confusion about the not-so-good deed -- in part because extramarital sex is associated with much taboo in Jewish communities across the board.

And maybe that's why watching "Sex in the City" has always offered such pleasure, and why I have taken Carrie Bradshaw's example of honestly sharing the nitty-gritty, sexually charged challenges of single life with more than just my girlfriends.

So while I may not have enjoyed such a glamorous life of sex in the city, if I have fostered a bit more openness to the needs and challenges of the Jewish woman attracted to secular life, then maybe I have done my share of tikkun olam, even if I won't be wearing Manolos when I get the backlash.

Orit Arfa is a Jewish Journal contributing writer based in Israel who is spending the summer in Los Angeles. She can be reached via her Web site: www.oritarfa.net.

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