Jewish Without an ‘Off’ Switch

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So Jewish Saferstein 2

Written by Robert J. Saferstein.  Robert, a first-time Jewrotica writer, is the online and community director for Sh’ma.  Rated PG

I stared across the table, awaiting a response. It would be a few moments before he spoke. When he did, all he said was, “Wow. I had no idea you were so Jewish.”

So Jewish. The words stung. “Too Jewish” is what he meant. But what does that mean?

The exchange happened on a recent evening while I was out on a date with someone I had met online. Initially, our correspondence was not all that interesting. But following a lengthy repartee over Google Chat — the tone somewhere between snarky and flirtatious — we decided to meet.

We had quite a lot in common. Raised in observant households, we shared similar interests in the visual and performing arts, and we were each self-described urban anthropologists looking to absorb everything New York City had to offer. Everything was going perfectly until he asked: “So, what is it exactly that you do?”

I expected the question. After all, this was a date, and inquiring about each other’s preoccupations is par for the course. What I feared  — “the problem” — was what was about to unfold as I responded.

“Well,” I started, “aside from working in the arts, I am the online director of a Jewish intellectual journal. I’m also quite active in the larger LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) Jewish community.”

As I went on to explain my life and my work, it became increasingly obvious that I was losing him. I could all but hear his silent pleas for mercy as he feigned interest in what I had to say. By the time I came to my involvement in the ROI community, the summit for Jewish innovators funded by philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, it was clear that I needed to segue into something else.

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  • Bobby, thanks for sharing your piece with us. The situation you describe isn’t fun (is this really a common response?), but I admire your ability to meaningfully operate in the Jewish world in both personal and professional capacities.

    A couple of years back, I was invited to speak at the Lion of Judah conference in New Orleans, and Vanessa Hidary was featured as the evening’s entertainment. Vanessa shared with us a list of the top ten ways you know you are a Jewish professional, and one of them was needing a “goy vacation” when you are maxed out on the Jewish community. We all laughed at the joke, but in a way I identified with that sentiment. While I am getting more personally involved in the Jewish community once again, I definitely took a mild hiatus from personal Jewish participation during my two years on the road as a full-time Jewish educator. I have heard that living in Israel often has a similar effect to the Jewish professional phenomenon, where living there (or working in the Jewish community) makes you “Jewish enough” so you don’t need to “do more”. Some food for thought.

    One last comment: Though working for the Jewish community may not be sexy, working for Jewrotica definitely IS. Consider this your invitation… 🙂

    • A goy vacation sounds like a fun idea. I remember feeling Jewed out and flying to Thailand for some chill time. Of course the first thing I did in Bangkok was to go and find the Chabad House, which ended up being 2 blocks from my Hotel. Sigh. You just can’t get away from the Jews! And I think the greater point is that anyone you’re in a relationship with needs to appreciate who you are. If someone is so quick to judge you and dismiss you – well, that’s their loss!

      • Banana

        True that! Except finding a pool of open minded individuals to date is so hard these days because of labels 🙁

  • Banana

    This post is really interesting and I feel that a lot of people could relate. I feel that when it comes to meeting new Jewish people the main post-discussion and “buzz” around the neighborhood is how Jewish they are. And this, of course, results in some sort of cataloging – Modern Orthodox, Ultra, Conservative, Yeshivish, odd, etc. I also find the shidduch process absurd as well. They have lists… YES… lists of individuals and how “Jewish” they are. Based on the level of “Jewishness”, the matchmakers end up grouping the dating prospects into categories. It’s really frustrating to be constantly rated on “Jewishness” scale. Sometimes I feel that we, ourselves, the Jews, ostracize each other because we don’t nicely fit into a properly perceived definition of “Jewish”. But when you have five Jews, you have 20 opinions on the proper definition…

  • Yeah, I’ve definitely had this exactly experience. It’s really frustrating, but then I realize I don’t really want to be in a relationship with people who aren’t down with me doing my job. ::Sigh::

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