As millennial Jewish women, we have lots of thoughts and feelings on dating. We wonder if the Nice Jewish Boy even exists, if matchmaking works, why people lie on dating apps, and if single Jewish women have superstitions about KitchenAids (they do!). We’ve written about the Jewish woman crowdfunding her way to a husband and the gun-toting men of JSwipe and how to enjoy your first trip as a couple without breaking up.
But now we’re turning more generally to the thorny issues related to dating Jewish (or not).
To chat about everything Jewish dating, we gathered some Alma writers for the first Alma Roundtable. We had Team Alma participate — Molly Tolsky, 31, our editor, and Emily Burack, 22, our editorial fellow — alongside writers Jessica Klein, 28, Hannah Dylan Pasternak, 22, and Al Rosenberg, 32. A quick overview of dating histories, because it will inform the conversation:
Molly has had a few serious relationships, one lasting 5 1/2 years, none with Jewish men. She is currently dating (“alllll the apps,” in her words) and for the first time, she is more explicitly trying to find a Jewish partner.
Emily‘s first and only serious relationship (that she’s currently in) is with a Jewish guy she met at college. He’s from New York, she’s from New York, it’s very basic. Note: Emily moderated the conversation so she didn’t really participate.
Jessica has dated mostly non-Jews, which includes her current two-year relationship. He’s a Newfoundlander, which is (according to Jessica) “an East Coast Canadian that’s basically Irish.” She’s had one serious Jewish boyfriend (her last relationship), and of all her past partners her parents “disapproved of him the most.”
Hannah has had two serious relationships; she dated her high school boyfriend from when she was 13 to when she was just about 18. Then she was single for the next four years, and now she’s in her second serious relationship with a guy she met in a Judaic Studies seminar on Jewish humor (“of all places”).
Al is engaged to a non-Jewish-but-considering-conversion-maybe-eventually-woman. She’s dated Jews and non-Jews and she’s dated (in her words) “I guess a lot.”
Let’s dive in…
Do you feel pressure from your family to date/marry someone Jewish? Do you feel pressure from yourself?
Molly: I’ve never felt any explicit pressure from my family. They’ve always been very vocal about wanting me to be happy and whoever winds up making me happy is okay with them. Also both of my brothers are married to non-Jews. Though when I recently mentioned to my mom that I wanted to try to date somebody Jewish, she literally squealed, so…
Al: So, I’m the last Jew in my family (all of them either died or converted to born-again Christianity). None of them care if I date Jewish. But being the last Jew has created a lot of internal pressure to have a Jewish household. I didn’t mean to fall in love with a non-Jew.
Hannah: I honestly don’t, but I think that’s because no one has had to put pressure on me — I’m notorious for having a Jewish “type.” My parents wouldn’t disown me if I wanted to marry a non-Jew, but they have always said that my life will be much easier — for a variety of reasons — if i’m dating, partnered to, married to a Jew.
Jessica: I don’t at all feel pressure to date a Jewish person and never have. However, I’m certain that if I had children, my mom would want them to be raised Jewish. My dad, on the other hand, is a staunch atheist (Jewish… genetically?), so he does not care, he just wants grandkids, and he tells me this a lot. My current partner also happens to love Jewish culture and food, which makes my mom very happy.
Molly: I feel like the “life will be easier” thing is something I’ve heard a lot, and always pushed against it, though now I’m starting to see how that might be true.
Al: Yeah, I feel like the appreciation of the culture (and some of the weirder foods/traditions) is super important. Even if I was dating a Jew, I’d want them to be into being Jewish. My whole life is Jew-y. They should want to be a part of that.
Hannah: I think it is Molly — just from my current relationship. My previous relationship was very serious, but we were so young. Now, even though I am relatively young, I plan on being a working mom someday, in no rush, blah blah, when Ethan [boyfriend] and I discuss our future, we talk about having all our friends to our apartment for Shabbat, or our wedding, or anything like that — I feel like we envision it the same way because we’re both Jewish.
Jessica: Back up, Al, what do you mean by “my whole life is Jew-y”? I get you, but I’d love an explanation.
Al: I work for a Jewish organization (OneTable), and I host or attend Shabbat every week, and I am cooking my way through the Gefilteria cookbook. At some point I just started becoming the Jewish grandma I’ve always wanted.
Emily: I too feel like I’m becoming my Jewish grandma except I cannot cook.
Molly: I cook a lot more than my Jewish grandma. She is an eat-out-every-night lady about town.
Jessica: Same, but for me it’s more my special brand of — I’m sorry I have to say it — nagging.
On the note of Jewish grandmas, let’s turn to family. Do you look to your parents and grandparents being in Jewish relationships (or not)? What about your siblings and their partners?
Hannah: My aunt married an Irish Catholic and he knows all the blessings, comes to temple, and all that stuff. I think it’s totally possible. It is just nice to not have the learning curve, or to have Judaism be one of the many things you do share with your partner. There are always going to be things you have in common and things you don’t — and I think if you had to choose one thing to have in common, Jewishness is a worthwhile/valuable one.
Emily: “Nice to not have the learning curve” — I feel that.
Molly: My brother’s wife is Chinese and was raised with no religion, so she’s suuuper into everything Jewish because she likes the idea of having traditions. My brother always hated religion, but now because of her they go to temple every Friday night. It’s wild.
Al: Molly, that’s what I mean! I just want someone who wants to be around for the Jewish parts. Your brother’s situation sounds ideal to me.
Jessica: I get that; I’m more into being Jewish now than almost ever because my partner is so enthusiastic about it. He loves to learn about Jewish culture, which I really appreciate, and almost didn’t realize I’d appreciate so much until I had it.
Emily: Also, a Jewish partner doesn’t necessarily equal someone who wants to be around for the Jewish parts.
Jessica: That’s a good point.
Molly: Yes, I’m convinced if my brother married a Jew like him who didn’t care, they wouldn’t do anything Jewish.
Do you think your feelings on being with someone/dating Jewish have evolved as you’ve gotten older? Has it become less important? More important?
Molly: For sure, it’s starting to feel more important now that I am An Old and looking for a Husband. In my past relationships, I was younger and wasn’t really thinking so far ahead, so none of that future stuff really mattered. Now that I’m more explicitly looking for the person to spend my life with and have children with, it feels more important to at least try to find a Jewish partner.
Al: It’s definitely become more important to me as I age. Like, I’m thinking about keeping Shabbat for realsies and who’s going to do Havdallah with me? That wasn’t even on my radar five years ago.
Jessica: I’ve also gotten much more into celebrating my Judaism as I’ve gotten older. I think I used to kind of scorn it because it was something I was forced to do by my family. Now it’s my choice and I kind of miss being “forced” to go to temple, etc.
Hannah: Jessica, I feel the same way.
Do you think wanting to date Jewish, or not date Jewish, relates to being in a non-Jewish environment versus a very Jewish environment?
Jessica: I’ve always lived in very Jew-y places, except for like five months in Edinburgh once.
Emily: My hometown was so homogeneously Jewish — everything Jewish felt like second nature. I didn’t realize how much I valued Jewish community until I didn’t have it.
Molly: Oh that reminds me of something I realized recently. I was wondering why, in the past, I’ve tended to gravitate towards non-Jews, and I think it’s because I grew up around so many Jewish people, and I associated Jewish guys with the people who ignored me in high school.
Hannah: Yes, Molly, a friend of mine has a thing against dating Jewish girls, actually. I think it’s because the town we grew up in was “jappy,” and the girls in his grade were particularly horrible.
Molly: Yeah, I feel the guys I grew up with are whatever the male version of a JAP is, so I have a… negative feeling toward them. I guess a male JAP is a JAP (Jewish American Prince).
Emily: JAP is gender neutral!
Jessica: Amazing discovery!
Molly: So wonderful! So progressive!
Al: I was one of maybe 10 Jews I knew in school and I was desperate to date a Jewish person (of any gender). I just thought they’d get me in some secret way I felt I needed to be understood. But at the same time it wasn’t important to me that my partners weren’t Jewish. I just imagined that it would be different in some meaningful way with a Jewish person. Also lol, re: JAP.
Jessica: I think I almost didn’t want to date Jews because of negative Hebrew school experiences with (male) JAPs.
Al: Also, as someone who is told I don’t “look” Jewish (5’10” and blond), I navigate the Jewish dating scene differently than others, I think.
Okay, yes, let’s talk about reading someone as Jewish / being read as Jewish.
Molly: Yes, Al, I want to hear more about “not looking Jewish” and how that plays into your experience.
Al: Well, I was looking over the questions Emily sent earlier, and one is about whether we think there’s a “Jewish hot” or something. And that’s something I’m actually super sensitive about in a way. So many of my friends are told they don’t look like Jews because they’re Mizrahi or PoC or whatever, or even just like Scandinavian-looking Jews like me.
I remember being in Jouth Group [Jewish youth group] and the youth rabbi joking that I’d have an easier time dating because every Jewish boy wants a blonde. (Joke’s on them, I’m gay.)
Hannah: When I was writing my hair article for Alma, I was looking into stereotypes of Jews — literally reading stuff from the 1880s — and it turns out that way way back, Jews were known for being pale with reddish blondish hair.
Jessica: Hannah, living near multiple Hasidic neighborhoods, I’ve seen a lot of pale red-headed Jewish people.
Also while we’re talking about perceiving someone as Jewish, let’s discuss the concept of “Jewish hot.” Does someone’s Jewishness make them hotter? Less attractive? Does “Jewish hot” confuse attractiveness with stability?
Molly: Confusing attractiveness with stability, omg my mind is blown. Because yes, I think so, yes.
Al: I do think “being Jewish is hot”… Like my friends and I talk A LOT about how hot it is to bring a date to Shabbat and then go home and… get intimate. (Is this a gay thing… IDK.)
Molly: Isn’t it a double mitzvah? Or is that an urban legend?
Al: DOUBLE MITZVAH!
Emily: I feel like I was more attracted to my boyfriend ’cause I knew he was Jewish.
Molly: I think it’s definitely starting to become “hotter” to me when someone is a Jew. Before, I was much more attracted to people from different backgrounds and who just had different experiences than me. But now if a dude makes a joke about gefilte fish, I’m like MARRY ME.
Jessica: Weirdly I might be more in the other camp. Like the more different the person I’m dating from me is, the hotter. In terms of background.
Hannah: Now that I am dating a rather Jew-y Jew — in both stereotypical and true ways (also, he went to Jewish day school) — I will say that his Jewiness makes him endearing but not “hot.” In the beginning, it definitely was something to bond over and whatnot, and it was something that attracted me to him, but it’s now just a part of who he is and who we are as a couple. So I guess I’m agreeing with Molly; like, it was hot to imagine a sexy future of us having babies with very curly hair.
Jessica: I really like that idea, but I’ve never quite felt that way. Though the man I’m dating has extremely curly hair.
Molly: Super hot to imagine my future husband covering his bald spot with a kippah at Kol Nidre.
Al: If we’re talking about like Ashkenazi looks, one of the hottest men I can think of is Ben Schwartz. Is this because of a Jew thing? Idk!
Hannah: In my case, [my boyfriend and I] are pretty hairy-ish. My boyfriend actually looks pretty Sephardic!! He was blond as a baby and when I first saw him, I actually thought he was Israeli. But he’s very tan (I am very pale) and has that semi unibrow thing going on.
Al: Hannah, I like a good unibrow, lots of character.
When you find out someone is Jewish, does that increase your attraction to them?
Al: Jewishness definitely makes them feel more accessible to me.
Molly: Yes, it’s definitely an added bonus. But I think it means like, “Yes, they’re hot AND we can probably relate.”
Emily: Yes! More accessible. Al, that’s so it.
Al: Like we probably know someone in common. And we can talk about some commonalities.
Molly: Knowing people in common is also super appealing! Feels like they’re less a random person, more a part of your world.
Hannah: Also, I think that it’s scientifically proven that we are attracted to people who look like us. Which is probably the root of a lot of it.
Molly: God, we’re so vain.
Jessica: Not for me re: Jewishness making someone hotter. I’m always hoping I can learn a lot of new things about some other culture from being with a person, I guess? Also, I’ve got to be honest, Jewish men tend not to be my cup of tea physically. Unless they’re Jason Schwartzmann.
Al: Also – to answer your question, Emily, with an example — did I love Drake before I knew he was Jewish? Of course. But do I LOVE him now, knowing he’s a Jew? Uh yeah, like a lot.
When you’re on dating apps, or looking for partners (or were looking for partners, for those in relationships), how do you navigate looking for a Jewish partner (or non-Jewish partner)? Do you JSwipe/JDate? Does someone being Jewish make you more interested on the apps?
Hannah: I have actually dated a few Jewish and Jew-y guys (if you get what I’m saying — there’s a difference between adjectives) and sometimes I envisioned a future very quickly— like oh! he’s Jewish! we can date! — but then our personalities totally, totally clash, or in other cases, he’s just an asshole. So I think in the short term, Jewishness is something that draws us in to the person — it gives you an immediate (albeit incredibly broad) excuse to connect.
Molly: I have tried literally all the apps. I’ve had the most luck on Tinder as far as finding people I’m actually interested in dating (that has been true for both Jews and non-Jews). Last year I joined JDate and it’s terrible.
Jessica: Wow, this is making me realize a lot about myself — on apps I’ve avoided guys who look Jewish.
Molly: Though I’ve also had similar experiences to Hannah, in which I’m all excited about a Jewish guy who I matched with and then I meet him and I’m like eehhhhh this is terrible.
Al: Haha, dating apps — I once swiped right on this girl and her profile didn’t say anything about her being Jewish, and I was meh about it. BUT THEN I ran into her at a 20s/30s Sushi Shabbat at a temple and was instantly 10x more interested.
Molly: I recently changed my Tinder bio to “writer, editor, Jewish media darling” so I feel like a certain kind of Jew knows how to respond to that.
Emily: Like a Jew who could make a joke about Jews controlling the media?
Emily: Because that’s exactly what I would look for also: that self-deprecating sense of humor that’s so… Jewish. Which my boyfriend happens to have.
Molly: When a non-Jew does it, it’s very icky though.
Jessica: Yup. On the Jewish humor note, I think I sometimes get frustrated when my non-Jewish boyfriend is being too earnest/takes my non-serious statements too seriously. Which I think, obviously very generally speaking, is something a Jewish partner would be less likely to do.
Molly: Yes, I experienced that too with non-Jewish exes. Like I would be joking/mocking/maybe being a little mean to them, but in a cute, funny way I swear! And they’d get mad.
Jessica: Yes! Most of what I say in general should be taken with a grain of salt/is sarcastic, so…
Molly: But yes, Emily, Jewish humor is a real thing. It’s a sensibility that I very much respond to.
Al: That probably explains my Ben Schwartz attraction.
Emily: Also, Andy Samberg I love.
Al: omg SAMBERG!
Molly: Do we just want to list the hottest Jews for a minute or two?
[Intermission: our hot Jews list included Gal Gadot, Mila Kunis, Justin Baldoni, Daveed Diggs, Natalie Portman, Alison Brie, Adam Levine…]
Okay, circling back to the larger conversation: Can we briefly talk about that “Jewish man’s rebellion” essay?
Al: I get a little weird when people I’m dating, particularly non-Jewish partners, tell me how many Jews they’ve dated before me — like… is it a fetish?
Hannah: That has a similar tone to the article Emily referenced: fetish, rebellion.
Jessica: Like in the article the Jewish men are fetishizing the Christian woman who wrote it?
Hannah: Both are sort of objectifying the partner — the writer claims that she’s his rebellion, in the same way that a man may date a Jewish (or non-Jewish) woman temporarily because of a “fetish” (though that’s a stronger word than what I’d actually like to use).
Molly: My issue with the essay (I mean, I have so many issues) was that it implies it’s morally wrong to have your values change over time. Like yeah, maybe those guys didn’t think dating a Jewish woman was important at first, and now they do. Is that so bad?
Emily: Yeah, you’re so right, Molly. Like the growing up/values changing thing we were talking about earlier.
Al: I agree! And also, she didn’t want to be a part of their families!
Perspective: I Am Tired of Being a Jewish Man's Rebellion pic.twitter.com/4WCX7BLYZL
— Adam Nayman (@brofromanother) April 2, 2018
Hannah: I agree Molly, I think that’s natural and okay but still sucks for the person at the brunt of it. What frustrated me more about the piece, though, was that she was making such sweeping generalizations about an entire sect of humans!!!!! Like couldn’t that have been coincidence? But maybe I’m looking at it too glass-half-full.
Molly: I mean two is a pretty good sample size, scientifically speaking [please note this is sarcasm here].
Jessica: Right, it was a sample size of two people!
Emily: I definitely think there were strong anti-Semitic undertones as well.
Hannah: The wording was TOTALLY anti-Semitic. The end was the worst.
Jessica: Omg, the bacon garnish!
Hannah: Yes!!! That is literally making fun of a religion!!!!!!!
Jessica: Pretty rude.
Molly: Also just not funny. Like, if you’re gonna be anti-Semitic make it really hysterical. “Omg jews don’t eat bacon,” NEVER HEARD THAT BEFORE.
Do Jewish men avoid Jewish women instead of seeking them out? Or, date them more seriously, less casually? Sorry that’s hetero/gender normative.
Jessica: My Jewish ex definitely sought out Jewish women. He told me on multiple occasions that he would only want to date a Jewish woman basically because of what we were talking about earlier, the humor, the “getting it” aspect.
Al: I feel like with my queer friends it’s not something that we talk about, or at least admit to, a lot — the seeking out Jewish or not Jewish partners. My friends who want to go to rabbinical school only date Jewish because of the rules of rabbinical school.
Any thoughts on things that we haven’t touched on?
Jessica: My non-Jewish boyfriend is into being Jewish to the point where he says “oy vey” and things like that all the time, which I’m totally cool with and I say Newfoundland sayings all the time, but I’m wondering — how do you guys feel about a non-Jewish partner incorporating “Jew-y” phrases into their everyday language?
Hannah: That actually made me laugh out loud, Jessica. Not that I don’t take it seriously — just the thought of someone very non-Jewy saying “oy vey.” It’s endearing.
Molly: I used to find it very cute when my non-Jewish ex would say Jewy things.
Al: Yeah, I like it. I think that kind of sharing is really sweet.
Emily: Cause you pick up your partner’s slang very easily. Your slang just happens to be Jewish.
Hannah: Also I say “Jesus Christ” all the time, so I’m one to talk.
Emily: Hannah, so does my grandma.
Alma Roundtable is a new series where we gather writers to discuss complex issues facing Jewish millennial women. This sounds so serious. We promise it’s more casual. If you want to see a topic discussed, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.