LOS ANGELES (JTA) — “Famous Jewish Lovers” might seem like a dreamed-up category on “Jeopardy!,” but it’s easily real. Valentine’s Day is coming; why should Jews be left off the list of heartthrobs?
Jews are hot. Askmen.com in its 2010 “Top 99” most desirable women poll recently named the Jewish actress who plays Sloan on “Entourage,” Emmanuelle Chriqui, as No. 1. Last year, actor Jake Gyllenhaal was included on People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” list.
We’re in demand as mates, too — and not just by other Jews. Even a former president’s daughter wants one, as well as Ivanka Trump. And they wouldn’t be the first children of the powerful to fall for a Jew. This is a story that goes way back.
Long before the TV show “Big Love,” there was Big Sol. King Solomon, who built the First Temple and ruled over Israel’s golden age, according to the Book of Kings had 700 wives and 300 concubines, mostly of foreign birth.
In biblical Egypt, Potiphar’s wife couldn’t keep her hands off Joseph.
Some biblical characters were so hot that even hiding their Jewish identities couldn’t cool them off. King Ahaseurus fell for an unrevealed Esther. In another mix-up in Genesis, Pharaoh goes for Sarah.
Today there are so many non-Jews signing up for JDate that for several years now in the sign-up under “religion,” you can enter “willing to convert.”
Jewish demographers have analyzed repeatedly why a majority of Jews are marrying out, why they are attracted to the “other.”
Feb. 14, a day flashing red for love (or is it a warning), is as good a day to ask: Why is the “other” attracted to Jews?
My first glimpse of an answer came in college. A male friend and I were riding a nearly empty bus from our apartment to UCLA. Deep into our conversation, our ears picked up when we heard words like “Jewish men” and “great husbands” coming from a seat a couple of rows in front of us occupied by two girls.
We looked each other a look that said, “What’s going on here?”
“Jewish men make great husbands,” one of the girls said with some conviction.
“Yeah,” agreed the other. “They don’t drink, and they take good care of their families.”
Is any of this true?
Fast forward to now, when I read this exchange back to another friend, Dr. Pini Herman, a Jewish demographer who has worked on Jewish population studies in several major American cities.
“Is what they said about Jewish drinking true? I asked Herman.
“It’s a myth,” he responded. “Compared to the non-Jewish population, our rate is only slightly lower, though bar culture is more prevalent in other groups.”
“And what about Jews as a group taking better care of their families?” I asked.
“We do happen to be better educated and have higher socio-economic status,” he answered. “Jews are also highly interested in good health care.”
Just being Jewish by itself also seems to be attractive.
I have spoken with a couple of big-city kids who attend colleges in the Midwest, where they share classes and activities with kids who may have never met a Jew or have had limited contact.
“It’s like I’m exotic,’ said a student from a major Midwestern university who asked to remain anonymous. “They seem to really be interested in my curly hair.”
“Even though I could take it as a stereotype,” he added, “they are always saying Jews are funny. I guess it’s something they like.”
So does it come down to this? We’re hot because our curves and curls fill the screens and famous bedrooms. We are seen as exotic in the Midwest, make enough money to guarantee good dental care and are good for a laugh?
An image that turns down the flame a bit, don’t you think?
What if the attraction comes not so much from what we look like in the mirror, or to the accountant, but from how our ideals have shaped our self image?
Take a look at the words of praise found in Eshet Chayil, “A Woman of Valor,” the hymn said on Friday nights by a husband to his wife, and a corresponding Psalm 112, said by a wife to bless her husband:
Of a woman of valor, Eshet Chayil says:
“She extends a hand to the poor…
She projects strength and dignity …
Her speech abounds with wisdom.”
Of a man who reveres God, the psalm says:
“He shall never be shaken … His mind is firm …
He has given freely to the poor …
His goodness is an inspiration to others.”
Here’s the heat source. Good looks always attract; even the Bible says how struck Isaac was when he first set eyes on Rebecca, and she was riding a camel.
But aren’t the qualities mentioned in these verses — wisdom, dignity, generosity — the ones that really turn on everybody?
Giving freely — not just with money, but with emotions, actions and words — that’s what I think is fanning the flames.
Having touched on an answer, I end with this question: Now that you know that a non-Jew may want to hand you a Valentine, how will you respond?
(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles.)