Archive for June, 2008

Ever since the concept of Jewish Dating has been invented, there has always been a distinct pecking order, or preference ranking for potential mates. Back in the shtetl of the mid 19th century, the most coveted dating prize was the son or daughter of a Rabbi, followed by professional tradesmen like a watch-maker or cobbler, ideally still connected to the Rabbi’s family. Later, in the mid 20th century, trophy dates were doctors or lawyers, or the daughters of doctors or lawyers. Later still, in the 80s and 90s, the alpha position was replaced by the likes of investment bankers and derivative analysts, and lawyers fell to a respectable 2nd place in the hierarchy of desirable dating companions.

Over the last decade a new trend has emerged in conjugal partiality, where Jewish Young Adults have placed a dating premium on Non-Stereotypical Jews. An NSJ is any JYA who is regularly mistaken for being a Non-Jew because of their unique Non-Jewy actions or appearances. An example of a male NSJ would be “Dave”, who defines himself as a professional poet-slash-graffiti-artist but is also a member of an art collective in Santa Cruz where he makes mixed-media pottery. Another example would be female NSJ “Carrie”, who is a blond haired five foot nine All American swimmer from Kansas.

The reason NSJs are coveted for dating purposes is three-fold. First, there is the sheer uniqueness of NSJs, stemming from their rarity, which makes NSJs attractive. Secondly, JYAs want to create some distance from the generation of their parents, who put such a strong emphasis on traditional mating choices like doctors or lawyers. Lastly, there is a distinctive appeal of dating someone who is Jewish, but doesn’t act Jewish. (JYAs do want to date other Jews, but they don’t want to date Jewy Jews).

Unfortunately for JYAs, Non-Stereotypical Jews are hard to find because they tend to avoid situations or events where other JYAs are present. Therefore, snagging an NSJ is either a function of pure luck or an intensive active search process, and therefore JYAs are willing to put up with noticeable discomfort just for the bragging rights over their peers. As “Debbie”, a JYA from Chicago recently stated: “This guy that I’m seeing is such a dick, he never calls, he never pays, and he never showers. But he’s a professional fisherman, how cool is that!”

(And he’s Jewish too!)

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When chronicling the unique characteristics of any social group, there are different categories of traits that can be addressed. One such category can best be described as “Hobbies” or “Pastimes”. These include activities that are pursued purely for pleasure, relaxation, or amusement, as opposed to occupations, obligations, or responsibilities. Within the Jewish Young Adult community, one of the most frequently observed hobbies is the activity of Discovering “New” Jews.

Discovering “New” Jews specifically refers to the detection of famous or influential people who were previously unknown to be Jewish. It does not refer to finding converts, but rather it means the outing of public figures as Jews to the wider JYA community. For example, singer Pink was found out to be Jewish from her mother’s side, and within two weeks every single JYA across the United States claimed to be a fan of her music. Alternatively, there is the example of the young actress Mila Kunis. Upon discovery of her Jewish heritage, the entire male JYA population country-wide felt she should break up with Non-Jewish Goyfriend Macaulay Culkin and date them instead.

The act of detection splits in to two separate categories, involving two different types of JYAs. First, there is the JYA who performs due diligence, or initial fact finding. These JYAs will go out of their way to seek out any information that could lead to the discovery of “New” Jews, like finding out that the owners of Timberland are big Hadassah donors. “Melissa”, a JYA living on the Upper East Side, displayed her fact-finding skills recently saying: “I totally saw Amanda Bynes at Kol Nidre at Emanuel last week!”.

Secondly, there is the JYA who prefers to disseminate or distribute the information that a “New” Jews has been discovered. These JYAs work closely with fact-finding JYAs, and use innovative means to spread data efficiently to the wider JYA community. “Joanna”, who is Melissa’s close friend and also a typical disseminator, made a recent posting on her “Camp Arazim Alum” Facebook group which stated: “My girl Melissa just saw Amanda Bynes at Kol Nidre! Where was she during color war 1995? For realz!”

There are other JYA hobbies and pastimes, but Discovering “New” Jews is arguably the most common, and also most global. JYA fact-finders and disseminators have embraced globalization to assist with the means, and improve the ends, of their initiative, making the discovery of “New” Jews a truly world-wide effort.

(Mila Kunis: Yes, she’s Jewish, now go tell everybody you know)

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Young Adults in general are prone to break-ups and bachelorhood. Whatever the reason, be it a fear of settling down, a desire to find something better, or simply shpilkes, the reality of potentially ending relationships, or never finding one to begin with, is an every day risk for people in their twenties and thirties. Even though the possibility of ending a relationship, or of being unable to start one, is daunting and worrisome, Jewish Young Adults have taken the issue to catastrophic extremes.

JYAs, contrary to their Non-Jewish counterparts, tend to overestimate the negative ramifications included in relationships, and shift their focus toward the marginal probability that they will be forced to live the rest of their lives in utter solitude, devoid of any affection or connubial interactions. While Non-Jews will console their recently broken-up friends and offer encouragement to their single friends, JYAs tend to pursue the opposite route, emphasizing the negative.

“Talia”, a 29 year old JYA from Chicago who recently ended a three month relationship with a young doctor, mentioned “I’m never going to find anybody. I should just freeze some eggs now so I can at least have a baby by the time I’m 40”. Talia’s friend offered little moral support, stated “She’s totally gained like ten pounds since the break up. Not even the losers on Jdate look at her now”.

Jewish Adults, specifically parents, are equally culpable for instilling feelings of nuptial negativity in the JYA community. “Linda”, Talia’s mother, upon hearing of her daughter’s break-up, declared “She never should have broken up with that Ari boy. His mother called me and told me that he just finished law school and he’s engaged to some Oriental girl who is converting for him. By the time she gets her act together all the good ones will be taken”.

While parental pressure could be one reason for the pessimistic mindset of JYA dating life, another possibility is that JYAs dramatize their courting experiences as a means of garnering increased sympathy and attention. Unfortunately, the attention they receive is from equally disenfranchised JYA peers, or needling adults, creating a downward spiral of exaggerated claims of unending solitude and seclusion. Therefore, if you are a Non-Jew who has a single or recently single Jewish friend, it is highly recommended that you force them to go on blind dates as compensation for the negative feedback they receive.

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There are certain idiosyncrasies of Jewish Young Adults that withstand the test of time, like their need to not act like their mothers, and then there are idiosyncrasies that are temporary or trendy. One of the more recent fleeting interests of JYAs is their fascination with Eastern Europe. Like other trends, Eastern Europe Revivalism began with the JYA author Jonathan Safran Foer, and his catalyzing book Everything is Illuminated. Since then, countries that were previously under Soviet influence, either directly or indirectly, have become a frequent topic of JYA brunch conversations.

The topical curiosity with the Eastern Bloc has manifested itself in interesting ways, beginning with the revival of Yiddish. JYAs from Seattle to Haifa have been signing up for Yiddish classes, and local Yiddish theater troupes have sprouted across the globe, where enthusiastic JYAs can take their parents to readings of Hershele Ostropolyer with Itzy Friedberg in the leading role.

Secondly, since Foer’s popularity has skyrocketed, JYAs are discovering new authors, both recent and long deceased, to satiate their Eastern European fix. Sales of novels by Malamud and Bashevis Singer are surging, along with lesser known authors like Isaac Babel. More recent, and living, novelists, like Gary Shteyngart or Lara Vapnyar, are also enjoying increased revenue from a wider audience of interested JYAs.

Lastly, the music world has started to sprout a number of JYA driven bands with distinct Slavic/Bolshevik intonations. Bands like Gogol Bordello and Balkan Beat Box are tearing through the underground scene of New York and onto the Shuffle setting of JYAs in Jerusalem.

It could be that JYA fascination with all things Eastern European is fleeting, like their interest in Hip-Hop in the 90’s, or their interest in Wynona Rider in the 80’s. But even if the interest is temporary, Eastern European Revivalism, in all its shapes and forms, is as hot in the JYA community as Lindsey Lohan’s alleged lesbianism on PerezHilton.com.

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While Buddhism has been popular in the West for quite some time, it must be noted that it was Jews who were the trendsetters of its importation. Specifically, Allen Ginsberg and his beat cohort became enamored of Zen Buddhism after WWII and all their individualist non-conformist friends fell into lockstep with the new movement. Following those free-thinkers was the inevitable pack of rebel celebrities, like Goldie Hawn and Robert Downey Jr, contributing to this sixty year old tradition.

What makes the Jewish Young Adult appropriation of Buddhism today different is that JYAs, while adopting a new religion, don’t leave their original faith. They sit zazen at the local Zen Center and go to silence meditations in the Negev, but come back reading The Jew in the Lotus or doing Passover with the Buddhist Haggadah. They even refer to themselves by the catchy nomenclature “Jubu”, or “Buju” if you are on the West Coast.

“Yeah, it’s like, Buddhism isn’t really a religion,” said JYA “Sara” explaining the intersection of the two faiths, “It’s more like a philosophy or like a practice, you know?”

When informed that millions of people worldwide including the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, and every thinking person consider Buddhism a religion, “Sara” responded, “Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

The philosophical gloss covers a multitude of differences, significantly, monotheism versus polytheism; the belief in God as the primary director of morality versus either a self directed process for Therevada Buddhism (popular in India and Bhutan) or a morality directed by a multitude of Buddhist style saints in Mahayana Buddhism (popular in Tibet and China). Needless to say the relegation of these essential beliefs to the realm of philosophy does nothing to assuage Jewish mothers. Still, “Phyllis”, a Jewish Adult and also Sara’s mother, purchased a full set of Yoga clothing from LuluLemon in order to attend an introduction meditation class with her JYA daughter, where she noted encouragingly “So many nice Jewish boys for my daughter! But I think they might all be the gays”.

A common source of confusion for JYA JuBus is the doctrine of karma. Perhaps because of an essential lack of patience, JYAs misunderstand that karma, both good and bad, is accrued over the course of every lifetime, and its results are unlikely to be seen for millennia. The confusion seems to stem from a belief that karma is roughly equivalent to schadenfreude or logic. “My ex cheated on me all the time,” JYA “Adi” recalled, “And after we broke up I heard from Aaron whose cousin is best friends with the girl he’s dating now that he got Mono. That’s total karma coming back to bite him.”

Jews typically first encounter Buddhism in high school or early college. Unlike in their religion, which pretty much demands you get it right the first time around, the do-over aspect of Buddhism is appealing to a group struggling to negotiate identities and trying out different ways of being, or not being religious. Most JYAs outgrow this phase and look back with a little embarrassment even as the remains of “Free Tibet” bumper stickers are still glued to their cars.

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