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Jessica #28 - Tribal Instinct

Jessica #28 - Tribal Instinct

Trying to avoid falling for Rick, and in search of relationships clarity, Jessica runs to a Jewish singles function.


I was daydreaming about the TV show "Friends" during a storyboard meeting, totally oblivious to the goings on in the conference room around me.

-- It's patently obvious, I was thinking, that "Ross" and "Monica" are Jewish. And equally obvious that Chandler isn't. But I wonder if it's so obvious to non-Jews. Do they even think about things like this?

...Well, I thought... I could ask Rick.

Whoops. That would be a bad idea.

Rick and I had gone out several more times since my unsettling "du-uh" realization that he doesn't have Tribal Membership. But I still hadn't told him that it was an issue for me.

Why risk making him think I am flamingly ethnocentric, I reasoned, given the chance that we might peter out after few weeks anyway.

Yet my worst "fears" were being confirmed: Rick is as kind, open, intelligent and sweet as I'd suspected. Any break-up wasn't going to be easy.

I continued ruminating. Did Monica care that Chandler's not Jewish? In that Thanksgiving episode when her parents don't like him, maybe it was because he wasn't Jewish. I wonder if she thought about it when he proposed...

-- Get a grip, Jess. She's a fictional character, I reminded myself.

I started wondering about the show's writers. Did they think it was a touch irresponsible to introduce interfaith relationships and ignore the fact that they're an issue for many couples?

Do sitcom writers have a responsibility to portray interfaith relationships realistically?

-- It's a sitcom, Jessica. Not a social abstract.

-- "Jessica, is it okay?"

Vicki, the segment editor, was looking at me with raised eyebrows. She'd been explaining her reasons for wanting to scrap the introduction we'd originally planned.

"It's great, just great," I said. "Good job." Actually, I couldn't care less, shining a fake smile at my coworkers as I gathered up the meeting's papers.

I couldn't concentrate on work. Rick and I had been keeping company for a few weeks now and I was liking him more and more. But the usual heady pash period was seriously tempered by feelings of guilt and confusion.

My ambivalence was mostly bottled up because I knew the people I usually went to for advice -- my parents, Rina and Steve -- would definitely not sympathize with my quandary.

Maybe that was an indication that I wasn't doing the right thing, a voice said in my head. But you're not doing anything yet, another voice answered.

I crankily set the storyboards against the wall in my office and thought of how much my job irritated me." In a rush to combine Internet obsession with "branding," the de rigueur marketing craze, the Corporate Powers That Be at the magazine's parent company had me create a show based on the famous magazine that mimicked surfing on the web.

How can I worry about whether or not I can marry him when we're not even seeing each other exclusively?

It is a show tailor-made for short attention spans. We're constantly being challenged to come up with new "click" noises for the not-exactly-clever graphic "point-and-click" dissolves we used between segments. On days like this, I found my job -- ostensibly as exciting and new as a cruise on the Pacific Princess -- insipid.

Oy, am I crabby, I thought as I scrolled through my e-mail.

I skimmed a few work-related items, smiled at a cute "thinking of you" message from Rick and at one from Alison nagging me for socially neglecting her, and then paused at one from the Federation's young leadership group. It was a reminder about a big Jewish singles event sponsored by a local woman who wanted to encourage marriageable Jews to meet one another.

I stared at the subject line: "Don't forget: Greenberg Gathering tonight at New Orleans Square!"

I leaned back in my chair and folded my arms behind my head. I thought for a second and then snatched the phone out of its cradle.

"So what about your Office Lothario?" Alison asked me that night as we drove toward New Orleans Square. "I thought you liked him."

I shrugged. "I do, but it's not like we're exclusive, uh, yet," I said, checking my reflection in the passenger mirror. I hadn't explained the source of my hesitation to her.

I didn't understand myself why I had this drive to find a Jewish mate. Something drove us all to the Greenberg Gathering, like penguins compelled to gather on an ice floe. Was it just an inborn tendency to be clannish?

I didn't think so. Over the last few weeks, I'd been thinking about why I want to marry someone Jewish -- how I want to have a Jewish home, how I want my kids to have bar mitzvahs, go to synagogue. I thought of Rina's kids, Ari and Sarah, singing me Hebrew songs.

That's the kind of home I wanted.

Could I do that by myself? Could I create a Jewish home without a Jewish husband?

Every marriage starts out with a first-date.

-- Dunce, came the in-head reminder. You've known Rick for a total of one month! No one is talking marriage. But the other voice, now sounding suspiciously like my father, answered: Every marriage starts out with a first date.

And, the second voice continued, you know when there's potential for something to become serious. And Rick has that potential. He's a wonderful guy. Even if he lacks that familiarity.

"Hi, Jessica," a decidedly familiar voice interrupted my thoughts.

Harris. We'd not seen or spoken to each other since he stormed out of my apartment months ago.

"I'm surprised to see you here," he said confidently, looking a little too carefully at me. "You hate these things. I suppose Alison dragged you?"

I laughed and shook my head, glad that my heart's pounding was subsiding. "No, I came here of my own volition, believe it or not."

He stayed there for a few minutes, long enough for a few other people to gather around. I was about to move to the side when a small woman walked by and not-so-gently pushed me into a chair. Naturally, it was Becca, who'd taken an immediate dislike to me back when Harris and I were first dating.

I saw Harris looking at me, a cruel smile playing on his lips. I shook my head and looked around. I didn't belong here. Though I was on the other side of town, I felt confident Rick would come pick me up in a heartbeat. And I knew I would feel better being with him.

Without a thought of my kid's bar mitzvahs, I grabbed my purse and called.

December 9, 2000

Article 28 of 66 in the series Jessica's Journal

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Jay Goland, December 22, 2000 12:00 AM

If your goal is a Jewish home, only date Jewish guys

To me your issue is fairly clear you want a Jewish home so only date Jewish guys.That way you are sure. Anything else is a risk. Even if he says he is totally nonreligious and the kids can be brought up totally Jewish, he may change his mind and it may become a point of contention. Also, unless he converts (what are the chances of THAT?) he won't be able to participate in Jewish activities.

The more difficult dilemma it seems is for those of us who either don't plan on having children, or who don't have those feelings of commitment towards a "Jewish home environment". Then it becomes more difficult, given how hard it has become in our society to find a lasting partner.
As a man I have noticed that unfortunatly Jewish functions are not often frequented by many attractive available ladies.... they just don't seem to come. I know that they exist, but they don't come to Jewish functions or synagogue the way gentile girls go to church every sunday. Of course, that is generally the case in Judaism....we go to shul only on the High Holidays and never see the inside of a synagogue the rest of the year. Why? I'll go to a big event and there will be a couple hundred people there but only two women in the room who I would want to date and they are either taken, or not "taken" by me. Iwonder if women feel the same way about men ie not enough attractive men come to Jewish functions. Maybe that's why the comment was made that you "hate these things".

(6) Harvey Webber, December 20, 2000 12:00 AM

I just have read the last 4 installments of this story and I think it hits the mark...

Jessica is in the same situation I have been in the past. Living in an area with little or no Jewish population to date. I have dated many a non-Jewish gal and have to let thing fizzle out because my desire to "marry Jewish". I have been trying of late to strictly date Jewish because I want those same "common goals" of Jewish direction that Jessica mentions such as a Jewish home and children. Fact is, I give Jewish women so much more credit than they deserve lately ... seems silly on my part and usually leads to no use. Quality woman who are Jewish are seemingly so rare. I want to make that "love connection" but fact is I find myself not too impressed with the ones I have met of late. Sometimes, makes me feel the non-Jewish women I have let get away were big mistakes. Yet, just have to keep on trying to find the happiness of a Jewish marriage I long for. Question: Will it come to fruition? Jus thave tokeep on trying I know...

(5) Miles Herman, December 12, 2000 12:00 AM

Very good!

Commenting as a one-day professional writer, I think Ms. Shaeffer's contribution was very well written. I enjoyed very much taking a peak from the main character's perspective of this (apparently) on-going story.

(4) Dahlia, December 12, 2000 12:00 AM

Life imitates art, or--you're getting personal!

In response to the last instalment of Jessica's story, "Gravitational Pull," I remarked how tricky it could be to maneuver the plot forward from the point where Rick reveals he's not Jewish. I even suggested a storyline where Rick converts, because those who convert choose to be Jewish and therefore can articulate probably better than most Jews what's so important and so beautiful about being Jewish. And I named some righteous converts from our history: Ruth, Rabbi Akiva, Onkelos, not to mention a personal friend who is a continuing source of inspiration to me.

BUT I fully expected Aish to remove Jessica from this ambiguous situation straightaway and never to confront and wrangle with such a controversial-- though entirely relevant-- issue as interfaith relationships!!

Some background. Less than a week before my response to "Gravitational Pull," I had quit my job of three months because my boss and I were very attracted to one another. Indeed, at first I thought he was Jewish. Turns out, he is Jewish on his father's side, not his mother's; he had investigated converting, but... (I never learned why he didn't follow through). I simply couldn't stay in such an ambiguous situation, so I left. Of course, a week later my former boss called and asked me on a date. (No, I didn't go.) It was very painful to have to sever the relationship abrubtly (not to mention to leave an interesting and well-paying job where I'd cultivated some nice friendships). I called friends from my Synagogue, and particularly my Rabbi for consolation; I thank G-d for the strength and warmth of the Jewish community in my neighborhood. My Rabbi said that I'd done the right thing, and that if the relationship is bashert, G-d will reveal as much in time. The first part of his response was comforting; the latter, a little disquieting.

I'm looking forward to reading about the choices Jessica and Rick make. Life Imitates Art!

(3) Lauren Mermelstein, December 12, 2000 12:00 AM

regarding Jessica's column

It was the first time I read any of Jessica's stuff. The writing is good ("like penguins compelled to gather on an ice floe") but the concept is wrong and very dangerously flighty. Just because the attendees at one particular Jewish party are dull, is that a reason to give up on the whole religion? Maybe Jessica should show a little tenacity in her goals and ideals. Also, office relationships are not the healthiest things - sorry.

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