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Have I Got a Nice Jewish Rep. for You! the Perils of Jewish Dating on the Hill

August 5, 2004
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Like many online dating profiles, this one tantalizes mysteriously. The prospect, identified only as “Steve3366,” seems powerful: A government employee with a six-figure salary, he has pursued a life of civil service and works in Washington. He’s been a member since March and even logged on several times this week.

If you want to see his pictures, you can sign up to become a member of JDate, an online dating service for Jewish singles or you can visit the congressional website of Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) for free.

“This is simply what modern people do to meet nice people in addition to being set up on dates,” the self-described four-term “midway moderate” told JTA.

Rothman’s story highlights the unusual position that a member of Congress faces trying to meet and date people — and how those obstacles multiply when the search is narrowed to Jewish confines.

Whereas many of their personal and professional rela! tionships are with long-term, trusted colleagues, pursuing a romantic relationship by necessity exposes them to unknown people and vulnerabilities.

Rothman protected himself by trusting family members to set him up with women, but eventually sought more autonomy and efficiency for his busy lifestyle, he said.

“The reason why all of these Internet dating sites are so enormously successful is that people out of their 20s and 30s have children and have busy careers,” he said. “It’s meeting a need for people of all ages who find themselves very busy in our 21st century world.”

Divorced for nine years and hopeful for remarriage, Rothman sought a way to meet Jewish women while maintaining his commitments to his two teenage children and the people of his district.

The devoted father’s career consumed much of his time and, he said, his personal ethics prevented him from dating women with whom he worked in his official capacity. Siblings set up dates for him, but h! e sought more control over both the selection and his own time.

The results so far are promising, he said.

“I have found it to be a very good way to meet some very interesting and wonderful women,” Rothman said.

Online dating Web sites have exploded in popularity, providing persons of power and prestige the opportunity to discreetly pursue romance in a way that the noisy bar scene could not. But despite going mainstream, their public perception still lags, carrying a perceived stigma.

Rothman said his research into JDate persuaded him there was no need to worry about being stigmatized.

“This was not some sleazy operation that was not aboveboard but rather was a sincere, up-front way for people to meet nice people,” he said.

Rothman is also a member of a small class: 31 of the 37 Jewish members of Congress are married. He and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are divorced. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Cal.) and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) are single and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is gay, is in a long-term r! elationship.

Capitol Hill may be a serious and stressful setting, but it is not necessarily hostile to Jewish singles. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) met her husband while running for Congress, not only succeeding in overcoming the drag of politics but also in forging a bipartisan marriage.

During her first run for Congress, a mutual friend introduced her to what he called “a Jewish doctor with money” and encouraged interest on both sides.

“Being programmed my entire life to go out with a Jewish doctor with money, it seemed irresponsible to say no,” said Berkley, who had been divorced for five years.

Larry Lehrner came with one caveat: he was a Republican, he confessed on their first date at a pizzeria

She resisted his entreaties, not because of his party, but because of her reluctance to pursue a relationship in tandem with her political career.

But Lehrner persisted, showering her with roses and marriage proposals.

“He kept asking me to marry! him; so I agreed,” Berkley said. “It was the smartest thing I ever di d. I have his support and I get a Republican vote every election.”

For his part, Rothman has “met a number of very accomplished and intelligent women” on JDate and has been dating one of those women now for months, although he declined to reveal more.

In his profile, Rothman checks “no” in the “would you move for a new love?” question. But would he move if his district were changed after the 2010 census?

“I’m safe for another nine years,” he said.

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