Late last year, I turned 18 and promptly joined Tinder and Bumble for the first time. Up until that point, the one and only date I’d ever been on was with a cute older boy who I believed to be desperately in love with my older sister (as he would unabashedly put her face on most of his t-shirts from middle school upon graduation from high school… long story) until I later found out he was gay.
As it was, I was excited to scroll through the apps to find a boy who A) didn’t worship the ground my sister walked upon since they were in their middle school’s play production together and B) attracted to women.
What I discovered was that if you present yourself with a wholly Jewish persona on your dating app, you’re going to get a lot of Jewish boys in your DMs. Some of them will be the stereotypical NJB type — personality of a Golden Retriever, locks of a Sheepadoodle, and an unfortunate tendency to describe themselves in terms of dog breeds. Others will be Israeli-American Jews who seem significantly older than 23 and take on a smug, holier-than-thou attitude when you inform them that you can’t, in fact, speak fluent Hebrew without embarrassing yourself.
And then you’ll find a Jewish boy who’s different from the other Jewish boys — cute, funny, will listen to your indie pop playlist on Spotify without protest and only force you to listen to his Neutral Milk Hotel records one (1) time in return. And you’ll think to yourself, Have I actually found a Jewish boy I can take back home to meet my mother?
And the answer to that, unfortunately, will be no. Because after three dates, he will ghost you for your former Jewish camp counselor from seventh grade that he’s been hooking up with the entire time he’s been seeing you.
Let me back up.
My sister used to joke that the Venn diagram of people your Jewish friends have dated in the past and people you’re going to match with on Tinder is a circle. Up until this experience, I always thought that her joke was just that, a joke. Surely, I thought to myself, woefully ignorant, LA is way too big to find every single Jewish boy you’ve ever known on an app like Tinder or — holy shit, is that the kid who puked on me at the JCC when we were in preschool? (True story. We didn’t match.)
So when I found Eli*, it wasn’t really surprising that I ended up texting every single one of my Jewish friends about him, trying to figure out which of them had dated him in the past, which had been to his house concert in the spring of 2019, and which had hooked-up-with-and-then-promptly-deleted-off-her-contacts-list after said house party. When the answers to my questions were none, none, and none, respectively, I was genuinely floored.
I always felt vaguely self-conscious about my Judaism — not in the way where I felt I had to deny it or downplay it (when you’re a Jewish girl who’s been living in Los Angeles all your life, it’s hard to feel like an outsider), but in the way that I was definitively, culturally Jewish, and not much else. I hadn’t gone to temple in years, I barely spoke enough Hebrew to speak with my family in Israel in any meaningful way that didn’t primarily consist of me accidentally calling them by the opposite gender when I asked how they were doing, and the last time I did anything remotely pertaining to Judaism, I was 14 years old and had reluctantly signed up for BBYO, which I ditched after less than a year.
Wearing those God-awful Hanukkah-themed glasses in his first pic on Bumble, Eli was Jewish enough for the both of us and then some.
He had lived in Ber Sheva up until the age of 5, when his dad decided to move their family over to Los Angeles. He volunteered often at the Simi Valley Chabad. And he also had an embarrassingly short and lonely experience at a Jewish youth group organization (USY instead of BBYO).
We connected almost immediately, bonding over our shared love for male manipulator music and Adam Sandler movies. And though my enjoyment of the latter was ironic where his was not — in hindsight, definitely the first red flag — we spent the rest of our first date watching a crappy, Putlocker version of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan on his iPhone, which was, to my already enamored eyes, endearingly cracked.
He asked me on another park date the following week, and I readily agreed. Being the literal embodiment of the heart eyes emoji by this point, I didn’t wait for him to suggest another date the following week. I asked if he wanted to go to Ostrichland with me, an ostrich ranch in Solvang, and he agreed to drive us there that weekend.
Admittedly, we were moving fairly fast for people who’d met barely two weeks before, but I was thrilled to be connecting so well with this nice Jewish boy.
At least, until he ghosted me.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize what had happened until my sister, very bluntly, informed me that radio silence for 24 hours typically isn’t a good indicator of a continued relationship. I just didn’t understand where I went wrong. Our last date at the ostrich ranch had gone well; we’d compared each other to the big birds with minimal tears on my part, and he told me he’d text me later on that night. But he didn’t text me that night, or the morning after. When I saw he was active on Instagram, I looked at the latest post on his account, where I saw the face of my old camp counselor smiling back at me.
I’m still not entirely sure why this was, but my camp in Malibu had the tendency to hire young, gorgeous counselors exclusively from Australia or England. Sara** was one of those camp counselors, a 20-something-year-old British Jew who I hadn’t seen since I was 12 years old and shared a cabin with her and seven other girls. I had no reason to believe I’d ever see her again, having quit summer camp altogether several years before, and yet there she was, plain as day, with her arm slung ever so casually over Eli’s shoulder and a not-so-casual heart emoji in the caption below.
As I sat there, staring at my phone in disbelief, I couldn’t help but think about how stupid I was to believe I had escaped the semi-incestuous Jewish dating bubble my sister had warned me of. When I told her what happened, she proceeded to laugh for a minute straight until she saw the expression on my face.
“Don’t worry,” she told me, in an attempt, I suppose, at being consolatory. “You’ll meet someone on Birthright.”
*not his real name, for obvious reasons.
**not her real name either, for obvious reasons!