After many, many years of dating, I flipped out at my therapist. At 35, only five years out of Orthodoxy, living a Jewish-lite life (Shabbat meals, holidays, etc.) in Los Angeles – I had no idea how to find the right man for me.
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“Where are we going to send the kids to school?" I asked. "How will they dress? What camp will they go to ...”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” my non-Jewish, non-New York, non-neurotic therapist interrupted me. “Are you even dating anyone?”
Hmm. He had a point, and it was this: Most people don’t figure out such things until they are engaged or married (which in my case wouldn’t happen for another four years, when I would meet my future secular, Israeli husband.)
But JDate columnist Tamar Caspi does want singles to figure it all out before they go down the aisle. In her new, cleverly titled advice book, “How to Woo a Jew”(Seal Press), Caspi, a divorced mother who is engaged to be married again, extols the following extended questionnaire:
“Do we want one of us to be a stay-at-home parent until the children are in elementary school? And if so, how do we look at finances when there’s only one person bringing in an income? Do we want to send our kids to private Jewish school, and how are we going to afford to do so?” And so on and so forth.
This sounds like the things mooted on a shidduch date – one of those fix-up efforts to match up ultra-Orthodox couples with the intended result being an engagement after just a few encounters. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), this is one of the few Jewish things about the book.
Of course, Caspi, raised by an Israeli father and American mother in California, throws the “Jewish” word around a lot, but as an adjective. As in a “Jewish mixer,” “Jewish guilt,” “Jewish partner,” “Jewish family.” But what it means to her to date Jewish or build a Jewish family is not clear.
“There is a connection within Jew-on-Jew love that you will be hard-pressed to find with someone who was raised differently,” she writes, throwing out examples of how a non-Jew won’t understand why you can’t eat on Yom Kippur, drink beer on Passover, love eating gefilte fish (!!) a few times a year or tolerate “a Jewish mother’s inane opinions.”
Speaking of inane, “Woo,” like other books in the genre, uses charts, but in the context of the most obvious things – such as when is the proper time to call someone after a date. (It’s one or two days, but is it necessary to have a graphic image that shows that if our date was on Sunday, a man should call Monday or Tuesday?). Also, does anyone really need to be told to brush their teeth, comb their hair and put on makeup but not-too-much before a date?
“How to Woo,” includes advice on everything from various methods of communication related to dating, to setting up profiles (on JDate, of course), to when to have sexual relations with someone, which she at least refers to as “kosher sex,” rather than “Jewish sex” (Thanks, Shmuely Boteach, for giving us that term.)
This might be a better book for Rip Van Winkle, with a title along the lines of “So, You’ve Been Asleep for the Last Century/Decade and You Want to Go on a Date ...”
Caspi intersperses advice with stories of six singles, following a range of people from a desperate 30-year-old woman to a widowed 60-year-old man (with a childless lesbian thrown in just to mix it up), but their stories come off more as caricatures than real people – or as people one can learn anything from.
I really am a big fan of the self-help genre, especially when it came to dating. Books like “Mars and Venus on a Date,” “The Five Love Languages,” “Marry Him: The Case for Settling” and even “The Soulmate Secret” each provided me with some tidbit that no doubt helped me get closer to the altar.
But I’m afraid that “How to Woo a Jew” does not provide such nuggets of wisdom. Nor does it live up to its title: There’s no real instruction on how one should go after a Member of the Tribe, and what could have been a fun, humorous little gift book is really a collection of fuzzy explanations.
You see, Caspi herself spent her teens and early twenties eschewing dates with Jews because she wasn’t attracted to Jewish men “as weird as that sounds” (does it?). She was annoyed by pressure to date within the faith (“I didn’t want to hear about ‘finishing Hitler’s work,’ or my ‘bubbe [grandma] rolling over in her grave’”). But then Caspi reminds us that “it wasn’t too many generations ago [that] our people were nearly eliminated, and to this day we are in a constant battle to defend our existence.”
Caspi eventually becomes pro-Jewish dating (“I wanted a tall, handsome Jew. The handsome part would be easy enough; the tall part? Not so much. But for me it was one of my few nonnegotiables), and wants everyone else to be, too.
That would be great, if only she could make a cogent argument for it. Explanations like “Sharing a religion is important, not because it makes life easier (which it does) but because it means you share so many other important commonalities” don’t quite cut it.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not religious and I do believe interfaith dating is fine for those who like it. But if a person does believe Jews should only marry Jews, “How to Woo a Jew” is not a book that will help convince them of this. (Instead try Hillel Halkin’s “Letter to an American Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Perspective.”
“How to Woo a Jew” does, however, provide a fascinating look at what it means to be a cultural Jew in America. To some extent, Caspi has a hard time defining that because it really does escape characterization. Maybe, ultimately, being Jewish in America is like the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity: It’s hard to define, but you’ll know it when you see it.