The first time I spoke with Jason Alabaster, the nice Jewish boy from Tennessee and runner-up on the latest season of “The Bachelorette, he slid into my DMs.
But wait, let me give you some context.
A few months ago, just after the episode in which Bachelorette Gabby Windey visited Jason’s hometown aired, I wrote an article reporting the extremely important news that he is a nice Jewish boy. A few hours after publishing, I received an unexpected Instagram notification: “@jasonalabaster wants to send you a message.”
“Is this man really sliding into my DMs right now?” I thought to myself.
It turns out he wasn’t and he was. Yes, he was in my DMs, but not for any untoward reason. Jason had just written to thank me for the article. What followed was a brief conversation in which the outcome was two-fold. First, I realized that the mezuzah-wearing investment banker came across just as thoughtful, level-headed and emotionally intelligent in real life as he did on the show. And second, he told me he would pass along an interview request for “The Bachelorette” producers’ approval.
Thankfully for you, dear Hey Alma readers, they said yes. Baruch hashem!
I caught up with Jason (whose Hebrew name is Moshe) a few weeks ago to talk about the Jewish way he healed from “The Bachelorette,” believing in bashert and what it’s like to be a prize-winning shofar painter.
This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Could you tell me about your Jewish identity and background?
Both of my parents are Jewish; I think all their ancestors came from Poland. I went to Schechter, a Jewish day school, first through fifth grade. It was in half-Hebrew, half-English throughout the day. So I got to know Hebrew pretty well. But then I transferred in sixth grade, and started taking Spanish. And I’ve forgotten everything. But yeah, I had my bar mitzvah in Israel, in Jerusalem. [Judaism has] always been a big part of my life. All my friends were Jewish growing up. It’s a big part of who I am.
Did your bar mitzvah have a theme or was the theme just like, we’re going to Israel?
I guess the theme was that there was no theme. It was at the Western Wall, and a bunch of my family members got to go to it, which is really cool. It was pretty awesome.
I’m glad it was so meaningful. So what was your experience growing up Jewish in the south? Was that ever difficult for you?
Now that I’m outside of Tennessee, people are like, “Wait, they have Jews in Memphis?” And it’s like, yeah, of course. When I was there that’s all I knew. There’s a pretty big Jewish community there, and it always just felt normal. I never ran into any problems or anything.
Oh, sorry, going back, this is starting to come back to me… I also went to BBYO events as a kid. That’s how I had a bunch of Jewish friends. And I played tennis at the Maccabi Games in Arizona, I think in Phoenix or something, and in Texas.
Wow, do you remember how you did?
I got to the finals in Phoenix. I remember it was so hot that my body started cramping, I didn’t hydrate enough, so I had to pull out. I don’t remember the Dallas one, honestly. But I definitely remember having to pull out of the finals in Phoenix, which was a bummer. But yeah, that was fun and a cool experience.
I’m so glad you mentioned it!
I was also an artist – growing up I did a lot of painting because my grandfather was a painter. And I actually painted a shofar one time, and it ended up winning this competition and prize at my school and it got in the newspaper. I’m not sure why I picked a shofar, actually.
I love that. Do you still paint?
I do, actually. Not much anymore, but it’s therapeutic so I still like to.
OK, so what’s your favorite Jewish holiday and what are your favorite traditions?
I mean, I gotta go with Hanukkah. I loved the presents as a kid, there’s nothing like it. And my favorite tradition is honestly Shabbat. We did Shabbat dinners every Friday – well, not every Friday, but when I was growing up we tried to do it every week. But then you go to college and you kind of lose touch with it. And now, my friends that aren’t even Jewish have dinners and I’m always like, it’s like Shabbat dinner! There’s something about it. Every single week [Shabbat] feels like a way to get together with people and put away your phones and just be present in the moment. Whether it’s technically a Shabbat dinner or not, just being with your friends or with family, eating, drinking… I love that tradition. I think it’s the best thing ever.
Do you still celebrate the Jewish holidays?
I’m not really religious. But I went to synagogue for Yom Kippur this year. And one of my friends invited me to dinner in his sukkah, so I’ll probably go to that. But I’m not religious. I wear my mezuzah and that’s how I’m connected to it.
Yeah, that’s great. So in doing research for my last article on you, I found that your grandfather was a Yiddish translator in the US Army during World War II. Did you ever talk to you about that experience?
I’m actually glad you wrote that, because I don’t even know if I knew that! I knew that he spoke Yiddish and that he was in the war, but I didn’t know the specifics.
OK, so about “The Bachelorette”… At least from what aired on TV, you didn’t really talk about being Jewish on the show. Was that a conscious decision?
I don’t know if this was on camera or not, but at one point, Gabby asked me, “Hey, what’s your necklace?” And I told her that it’s a mezuzah. And she was like, “What’s that?” So I explained it to her and she thought it was cool to learn about. I told her just a little bit about the significance behind it as typically you’re supposed to put it on your house. But it’s something that I wear because I feel like it’s almost protecting me and it’s a way for me to connect to Judaism.
That’s beautiful. Was it a gift from your family?
Yeah, I think my grandfather gave me this. I’ve worn one since I was like 4 years old. I literally never take it off. So if it does come off, I feel vacant without it. When I was on the show I definitely connected to it more than I probably ever have in my life. It was just one of the few things that I felt familiar to me in that environment.
So you talked about therapy on the show, and I have to ask: Do you think your anxiety comes from a Jewish place?
That’s a funny question. I don’t think so. Maybe? I don’t know.
Were you surprised by how big that moment was and how many people reacted to it?
I was blown away by the amount of messages that I got from people just being like, “Hey, I just wanted to reach out and let you know how much your conversation with Gabby about therapy really impacted me and actually allowed me to take the first steps to go see a therapist.” I got that hundreds of times, and I never would have expected that. Hearing that it did inspire people was pretty cool.
I’ve seen a lot of people online being like, “Oh, why did Jason go on the show?” And obviously you didn’t go on “The Bachelorette” just to talk about therapy. But the fact that this important conversation was a part of your journey is reason enough for you to have been on the show.
Now that everything played out I’ve been searching for a reason as to why I went on the show. And things like that have made me think, wow. Maybe helping other people was part of the reason.
In terms of dating, is Jewishness something that you look for in a partner?
I’ve definitely dated Jewish girls, but I’ve also dated non-Jewish girls. When you meet somebody that is Jewish, even just as a friend, it’s something that you can automatically and quickly connect on. You feel like they’ve lived a life that’s similar to yours. But it’s not a non-negotiable or a deal-breaker for me. But if I met a Jewish girl that I’m into, like, yeah, that would be amazing. It’s like icing on the cake for me… and for my parents. They probably want me to be with a Jewish girl. But like you saw on the show, my mom was head-over-heels for Gabby, and Gabby’s not Jewish.
And what did your family think of you being on the show?
They were fully supportive of it. They thought it was a really unique experience. And they had the same mindset I had, which was, I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I think I’m supposed to do it for a reason. Maybe the universe is trying to match me up with someone I’m supposed to be with, or maybe I’m supposed to learn something about myself. They were just really proud and supportive of me going through the whole thing. And they were really excited to do the hometown visit. I’m sure they were freaking out when they got the call. And I’ve actually heard several times that people were questioning if I was Jewish, but they knew the moment my dad came on screen.
I had a similar experience. I wasn’t sure and then when your dad came on I was like, “That’s the most Jewish man I’ve ever seen.”
And then this Jewish comedian Jared Freid commented something like, “Jason’s mom’s leopard print pillow on her couch was a giveaway for him being Jewish.” I thought that was hilarious.
OK, so I have to ask: Do you think of yourself as an NJB (Nice Jewish Boy)?
Oh, yeah, I’m an NJB. I saw it 100 times on the Hey Alma article you wrote.
I thought it was so funny after our article came out, I would just look on your Instagram and other people in your comments would be like, “Hi, I’m an NJG looking for my NJB.”
What’s funny is there are these fan accounts that tag me in stuff all the time, and I’m assuming none of them knew what an NJB was before that article. But after that article came out, they started tagging me in things that say, “Jason, my NJB.” They’re using these terms all of a sudden and it’s like, you guys did not know what that was a few weeks ago.
They got a little primer on Jewish dating culture.
That’s so funny. OK, so do you believe in the concept of bashert, or a soulmate?
Yeah, I do. I’ve kind of always believed that actually. Now I’m like, “Wait, where is she? You can come out already.”
Have you started dating again? Or are you still processing the show?
I’m still processing. I’m trying to navigate this whole new world. But yeah, we’ll see what happens this year.
On Nick Viall’s podcast, you said that you were open to possibly doing other “Bachelor” franchise shows. Have you thought about doing other reality dating shows, like, for example, Netflix’s upcoming Jewish matchmaking show?
That’s hilarious. Wait, first of all, I didn’t know there’s a Jewish matchmaking TV show.
I think they’re still casting it, or they might be in production right now. But yeah, it’s a Jewish spin-off of “Indian Matchmaking.”
That’s so funny, I didn’t know that. But no, right now I’m just trying to heal and process everything from this season. And I’m not even thinking about any other shows right now, really. But I guess, if the stars align for something that made sense for me to go on, like “Paradise” or whatever, then, I guess? I don’t know. I’d have to think about it pretty hard.
Have you kept in touch with some of the guys from “The Bachelorette”?
Yeah, I definitely kept in touch with some of the guys. I actually worked out with Meatball yesterday, though I’m not sure if he’s a kosher meatball.
Ha! What have you been up to now that the show’s over?
I got back from the show, took some time to process everything and then I went back to work. I work in sales and trading at an investment bank, which I’ve been doing for six years. So I’m back at it.
Has that been hard?
Yeah, it’s really weird. No one knows how crazy this whole thing has been and then you go to work and it’s hard to focus sometimes. But now that the season’s officially over, things are settling down and everything’s starting to feel normal again.
I saw on Instagram that you’ve posted about meditation. Is that something you practice and has that helped with healing?
Yeah, totally. My favorite things are meditation and breathwork. (And surfing and tennis.) They really allow me to totally calm down and get out of my head and almost discover new things about myself.
Are these practices you came to through therapy?
Actually, no. I played tennis in college, and I injured my back. My doctor suggested that I go to yoga. And there I learned about intention setting, meditation and breathwork. Actually around that same time was when I started going to therapy. So I guess it did all go together. And it’s just become part of my daily practice.
I love that. Even though meditation isn’t really a Jewish practice, anything that’s introspective feels at least a little Jewish to me. Or it does around the High Holidays, anyway.
Totally. It’s kind of like praying in a way. I do actually say the Shema every night before I go to bed. But when I’m meditating there’s almost a spiritual connection for me.
Before we finish up, I wanted to circle back because you mentioned that you went to synagogue on Yom Kippur. What was that experience like for you?
It was good! I went with one of my friends. And it was a Chabad [service]. I don’t usually go to Chabad, I’ll go to a Reform synagogue. But the rabbi invited me up to open the ark, so that was a great experience.
That actually happened to me too! I went to a new synagogue for Rosh Hashanah, and a congregant was like, “Hey, can you open the ark?” I was fully not prepared for that.
I know, I wasn’t either. But it made me feel connected and special. Yom Kippur is definitely one of the few holidays when I go to synagogue.
Was it healing to go to Yom Kippur services after your experience on “The Bachelorette”?
I think I have gone through so much in terms of the show and the break-up. My life has changed a lot. And then having Yom Kippur felt like a fresh slate and it did feel kind of cleansing. To be honest, that definitely was in my mind and I was like, “All right, here’s to new beginnings and good things aheads.” That was my intention going into the new year.