It’s Not the Religion in the Man that Matters, It’s the Man in the Religion
By Estelle Sobel Erasmus of Musings on Motherhood and Mid-Life
I grew up thinking I’d marry a Jewish man. My mother and her parents left Poland during the Holocaust and ended up in Israel, while my father’s parents were Orthodox Jews, with my grandfather the clear patriarch of the family. My father had also attended the same Yeshiva my sister’s husband’s father attended. Is it any wonder, I thought I’d follow in those steps?
So here’s my confession: I’m a Jdate veteran from years ago (ok, the 1990s).
I think I became a Jdate aficionado after exhausting the limited supply of able-bodied Jewish men from my local temple.
Now, the stories I could tell you could boil water! Guys in their 30s living in the basement of their parents homes; successful businessmen asking for late night dates (um, sorry, but I don’t go out at 11:00 pm on a Thursday night, just because you think I’m “hot)”. And don’t get me started on the guys who expected me to schlep to Connecticut or meet them at the train for a cup of coffee (thanks, but I’ll pass), or separated married men, or guys who were clearly into shiksas, but had signed up with JDate to please their parents. And of course, there were the always entertaining guys who lied about their height (yeah, if you have to stand on your tippy toes just to look at 5’7 ½ me in the eyes, I don’t think you are 5’10” dude).
Maybe it was because in the 90s and with the influx of dating sites like Jdate and the more secular Match.com, and E-Harmony, it was a smorgasbord of women for men, and they could afford to show bad behavior (for every time I said no to a late night date, whether Jdate or some other site, I’m sure some less confident gal was saying yes). And this was before the book that changed the lives of every self-respecting east coast living gal, The Rules.
The best was the hapless guy who told me his sexual fantasies right before the appetizers arrived (let’s just say that the oysters weren’t so appealing after he told me what he’d like to do with pearls). He told me he thought I’d be into it because I’m a magazine editor aka a “communicator.”
Back when I was a magazine editor I penned a dating column, and called myself The Dating Diva, the title of which caused my friends to constantly subside into paroxysms of uncontrollable laughter. As a guest on Rolanda, Gordon Elliot, America’s Talking, and other long-gone to that great media green room in the sky morning shows, I had the opportunity to spout advice to women like, “make sure that if you volunteer for a non-profit, get on the party planning committee, so you can meet everyone, and “always end a phone call a bit unexpectedly to leave them wanting more (apologies if I borrowed a little from Seinfeld). I also taught relationship classes at the Learning Annex (years before Ramona of The Housewives of New York took over that niche) with titles guaranteed to pack a room, such as Power Dating, or How to Marry the Man of Your Dreams.
Often, my dates (okay the stalkery ones) would Google me, and that would make for uncomfortable chatting. Him: “are you planning to write or talk about me?” Me: “Um, maybe.” I was no Taylor Swift, but talking about what I did, probably wasn’t my best opening line.
At any rate, because I was the Dating Diva (or despite it) I sure dated a lot. But. Only. Jewish. Men.
Patriarchal Grandpa would say to me: “Why haven’t you met a nice Jewish man, Estelle?”
Me: “I don’t know, Grandpa, I’m looking”
Patriarchal Grandpa: “You need someone tall, because you’re tall, and you also need to learn how to cook. That’s why you haven’t met a nice Jewish man, you don’t cook!”
Maybe it was because of this kind of rhetoric that I was more focused at that time, on the religion of the man I was dating than the man himself. I had to get rid of some strong cultural pressure to take the blinders off my eyes, so that I could see for myself the man behind the religion.
Which brings me to my husband. Who’s not Jewish. And by the time I met him in 2003, that didn’t matter at all.
What’s crucial to me is that he is open to exploring and participating in my cultural rituals (admittedly, he delights in devouring my mom’s Chanukah Latkes). I love seeing his patrician face bedecked by a yarmulke at one of the myriad bat mitzvahs or Shabbat dinners we have gone to throughout our nearly eight-year marriage.
As for Patriarchal Grandpa, shortly before Grandpa passed away, he met my husband, and I think in his own (non-verbal way) he approved.
Here is a paraphrase of our conversation at the time.
Patriarchal Grandpa: Are you cooking yet?
Me: “No. I don’t cook.”
Patriarchal Grandpa sighs and looks at the guy I’m with
Patriarchal Grandpa: “He’s your boyfriend”
Me: “Yes, Grandpa”
Patriarchal Grandpa: “Not Jewish”? “
Me: “No, Grandpa, he’s not Jewish”
Patriarchal Grandpa: (lifting his eyebrows and nodding)
Grandpa died three weeks later.
Here’s what I’d like to tell Patriarchal Grandpa today:
“I love you Grandpa, but although the man I married (who I’m so glad you met) is not Jewish, he’s smart, kind, successful, a great husband and father…and you know what else.
He can cook!”
Estelle Sobel Erasmus is a journalist, author, columnist and former magazine editor-in-chief who writes about her transformative journey through motherhood at her blog Musings on Motherhood and Mid-Life. She is on twitter at @mommymusings and sits on the Board of Directors of the National non-profit Mothers & More, which touts the value of a mothers “work” whether paid or unpaid.