LOS ANGELES (JTA) – Laurie Graff’s third novel, “The Shiksa Syndrome,” tells the story of a Manhattan publicist who is mistaken for a non-Jew — by a very pleased Jewish boy who becomes her boyfriend until he discovers the truth. In a sit-down with JTA, Graff discusses why some Jewish men prefer non-Jews, why they are wrong and the hope for interreligious dating.
JTA: So how did you come up with this idea?
Laurie Graff: I came up with it when I was living in Los Angeles in the ’90s and dating actors, writers and directors, and every Jewish guy there wanted a shiksa — or maybe the ones that I could like wanted a shiksa. In New York City I was able to blend. People didn’t think I had a New York accent. But in L.A., against the California blondes and the whole subculture of Hollywood, I had New York Jew written across my forehead. Some guys said, “you’re too Jewish for me.” I heard it so much it was a little astonishing.
JTA: Why do you think Jewish men like shiksas?
Graff: There’s a certain fear that a Jewish woman might be reminiscent of their mother, and the family that they create then would be less romantic. On top of that they’re afraid of the woman becoming their mother and they’re afraid of becoming their father. It’s also an unwillingness to embrace responsibility. Oh God, grow up! They don’t know who they are.
JTA: So what happens to these marriages?
Graff: The men who consciously choose a woman who is not Jewish because they feel they are not falling into the trap, they are fooling themselves. It’s not to say all the marriages fail, but either they want to turn that woman into that Jewish woman anyway or it ends.
JTA: Do Jewish women want a shaygetz, a non-Jewish man?
Graff: I think there’s a proportion of women who want the other. [They say about a Jewish man], “He reminds me of my brother — it’s not sexy.” In general, I think more Jewish women are open to Jewish men than the reverse. But I don’t have any data to back me up.
JTA: What is the shiksa stereotype?
Graff: The shiksa is regarded as sweet and less demanding, quieter, not like the Jewish mothers, less bossy. Jewish women see that as a threat. When they see “willing to convert” [on Jdate] they think, “these women are taking our guys.” Now you have to go up against these non-Jewish women on the Web site.
JTA: Why should a guy marry a Jewish woman if he views her so negatively?
Graff: In the broad scheme, to perpetuate the religion. But you can’t make people do things. People have to have a choice. If they don’t want to do it, that’s their choice. I would like it to matter to them. But I’m thinking about men who could [marry Jewish women] but they’ll let these ideas block them.
In my heart I’d like to meet a nice, smart Jewish guy from Brooklyn who lives in the city. I really feel that even though I want that cookie-cutter guy. I have no right to impose that on anyone else. They have to do what is best for them.
JTA: Do you think intermarriage can work?
Graff: It depends on the individual relationship. From what I hear of marriage — and I’m not an expert — I think of a lot of what helps is being great companions, and if you’re raising a family it’s probably easier to be on the same page in regards to religions. It’s probably one less thing to worry about.