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Smart, Vulnerable, and Shtetl-Lovely: The Allure of Jewish Women

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In a January essay in the New York Jewish Week titled “The Anger, and Allure, of Jewish Guys”, Abigail Pickus presents a discouraging view of relations between Jewish men and women. Of one male friend’s attitudes she wrote, “His litany against the fair daughters of Israel goes something like this. Jewish women remind Jewish men of their mothers. They’re smothering. They’re demanding. They’re materialistic. Their families are too pushy and invasive and just plain, well, loud. In short: they’re too Jewish. (And probably also too short.)”

The article saddened and baffled me. The ill will between Jewish men and women sounds so foreign and implacable. I grew up in a small town in far south Texas with no exposure to the experiences and stereotypes driving this rancorous divide in the Tribe. I knew no Jews outside my family, itself a heavily intermarried clan. My awkward teen passions focused on Christian girls with names like Christie, Raynell, Tammy, Angie, Dorotea, and Maria Luisa.

Maybe I was lucky. I got to discover Jewish women completely afresh with no wonder-years baggage distorting the view. Perhaps my experiences bring an outsider’s view on how to break through the barriers that keep our hearts divided.

My gentile lust abruptly ended in the fall of 1976 when I was a freshman at Princeton University. Beginning with my crush on a classmate named Debbie on a pre-Freshman Week camping trip, my attention turned, as if drawn by an irresistible Yiddishe magnetic-estrogenic force field, toward Jewish women. Adios, mi amor prohibida Maria Luisa, sholom aleichem, shayneh maydelehs Esther and Janet and Sharon, Adina and Amy and Ilana, Ana Gilda and Ana Lucia, Celia and Sarah and Sandi.

The names tell the tale: the instant Jewish women glided into view; they swamped my interest in gentiles. The few times I tried dating non-Jewish women since then, I felt a woeful lack of connection (note to self: check if Lucy Liu is Jewish).

What’s the deal? Why, after zero exposure, did I turn to and stay with Jewish women? Something about them clicked with me on a deep level. I once described a woman as “smart, vulnerable, and shtetl-lovely.” That’s my highest praise for the appeal of the Jewish woman’s mind, heart, and body. They are all allure, and if they freshen their lipstick over a sushi dinner, I’ll follow them anywhere – and I have. A Jewish man who dismisses such women as a group is, in technical terms, meshuggenah.

So, I read Pickus as an ardent fan of Jewish women in all their urgent passions. I see her male friend has serious concerns about Jewish women being pushy, demanding, and materialistic. Sure, some women have the traits Pickus’s friend abhors. So what?

Speaking man-to-man, I’d tell him that if you don’t like those you’re meeting, change your search criteria. Must your prospects fall within a narrow range of body types or careers? Is young, skinny, and chic all that you seek? Pickiness may be the problem. Be open to the great range of Jewish women and you could be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re not clicking with personality types in your area, look further afield, especially if you’re young and footloose. Women in New York, Texas, and Latin America can differ enormously in degrees of edginess, expectations, lifestyle, and accent. Indeed, I made a 10,000-mile roundtrip to São Paulo, Brazil, to meet somebody who caught my eye.

After years of pounding the JDate pavement, I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, lawyers and real estate brokers are a poor fit, romance-wise. They aspire to another breed of man, an alpha male/Zohan beyond my income and — at 5’ 5” — my height.

On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed meetings (and more) with graphic designers, teachers, filmmakers, psychoanalysts, and rabbis. They see the value of a man with creativity, a Jewish identity, archaic Southern manners, and a passion for everything Jewish women are.

They’re not perfect; I need not catalogue their struggles. Some are angry, and their fury often plays out as self-directed and self-destructive. But the anger eases when they feel accepted and desired for who they are. And they can push my buttons, too. In special cases of rank despair, I wanted to take a woman’s hands in mine and tell her, to quote my favorite line from the cable series, The L Word, “You are a f–king heartbreaker.”

What about the other issues Pickus raises? I’ve attended my share of raucous family Thanksgivings and seders. They can be a strain for an outsider, but if you connect with the woman, then the family comes with the package; just watch out for what you share with relatives with borderline personality disorder.

If I can handle these Northeastern Jewish families — coming as I do from a Texas clan where dinner conversations focus on hunting, Republican politics, and the Dallas Cowboys — then anybody can.

Now, about Jewish mothers. Pickus’s friend says Jewish women remind men of their mothers. Another friend blames Jewish mothers for the problems of Jewish men. In my case, I beg to differ with the problem part. Any mensch-like qualities I have reflect my mother’s influence.

My mother, who died at 63 in 1984, was a thrifty, straight-talking insurance-agency secretary who successfully raised two sons alone, made a fantastic banana pudding, and loved watching The Dean Martin Show. Her motto: “Be friends with everybody.” To this day people fondly remember Mom as a loyal friend who knit afghans as wedding presents for every young bride in our border town social circle. Jewish women with those traits do fine by me.

Finally, I know first-hand how matters of appearance gnaw at potential Jewish matches. The one time I tried to set up a friend with a spirited and attractive woman, his first question was, “Is she tubby?” For the record, I sent him photos I had taken of her that showed, definitively, that she was not tubby.

I’ve been slapped down for not being tall enough by women who exclaim, “Oh, I couldn’t date you; I’m 5’ 6” and I love to wear high heels!” Okay, that’s their choice, their fate. When I think about appearances, the more Jewish-looking, the better. I just melt for what I call the “straight outta Moldavanka” vibe. Jewish hair, Jewish bust, Jewish nose, Jewish women – I want it all. The call of the tribal DNA cannot be denied. I know this is sounding like a divorced guy’s version of Aishes Chayil, but that’s how I feel.

For any woman who frets about what Pickus dubbed her “Jewish thighs,” I can only quote my mother’s trenchant observation on this matter: “There’s more to love.”

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About Van Wallach

  • Ali

    I find your article disgusting. “Angry”? Really? That’s a attribute you want to label all Jews with? And borderline relatives? What are you even talking about? Anyone whose fetish has become fixated on a specific race/creed needs to get their head checked. Hoping from Jew to Jew on JDate because you get your rocks off on ‘the women and the culture’ makes you sounds like a pathetic loser. Someone should write a treaty on middle aged, divorced Southern men who have un-appealing racial obsessions. Oh wait, no woman would do that because any self described connasuir is a fucking joke. (Excuse me I need to go puke now).

  • CM

    Excellent article. The best line was when you pointed out that someone who is anti-Jewish women is probably using superficial criteria to pick women in general. Jewish women, like all women, have a wide range of passions, traits, and desires. Anyone who refuses to date them based on stereotypes is self-hating. Great essay!!

  • Anon

    It’s funny how you manage to stereotype Jewish women yourself. I met someone the other day who said “Yeah, she looks really Jewish”, and I said “So what does a Jewish woman look like”…Awkward pause. Then they walked away.