JWR Only in the Middle East!

Jewish World Review July 14, 1999/ 1 Av, 5759

Going Blind in Tel Aviv

By Joan Weinberg

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) I MADE ALIYAH a few months back. A divorcee, many of the people I meet want to play one of Israelís national pastimes, matchmaking.

My first blind date in this country, a famous Israeli PR man, drove me to a remote beach. Romantic? Not if you count the numbers of other folks in attendance -- prostitutes and their johns.

The first phrase I learn in Hebrew is "Lo osim caha." (It isnít done.)

My second blind date, a modern orthodox realtor in Tel Avivís most expensive neighborhood took me, well, for a ride. After two dates he stopped calling for a month, then tried to trick me into acting as a beard for meetings with his married girlfriend. Chutzpah.

The third was the wrong date with the same name. Both men fit the profile described to me by my matchmaker, who had lost the "perfect match" number and was relying on an old phone directory. (Bezeq, the telephone monopoly, was on strike. Again.) They both drove a Volvo, were wellknown in the same profession, both had an office on chichi Kikar HaMedina, both had had a skiing accident in the same month and injured the same part of their body.

This one jumped on me after Thai noodles. When I got around to the other one, it was merely ho-hum. And awkward. During the lunch to which I was invited he announced between bites, "I eat here all the time. I hate this place."

The fifth one, a pedigree dog breeder, bought me a plate of spaghetti and became insulted when I wouldnít, you know. The sixth was offended when I wouldnít come home to his jacuzzi ("Why not? I live in Herzliya") after an espresso. And it wasnít even a doppio.

The seventh one, a hotel general manager, used my phone to scream at his not-quite-ex-girlfriend overseas, crawled into a fetal position and cried. Then he introduced me to his ex-wife who called me a not-nice word.


The eighth one, a Parisian who lives at a swanky address overlooking Tel Avivís best spread of beach, shook hands, sat down, and charmed me with this opener: "All of the singles in Israel are garbage." Even if garbage does sound kind of sexy with a French accent, au revoir, bebe.

I was beginning to think it was me. I tried to prequalify these men over the phone, but had my judgment about males become faulty once Iíd crossed the Atlantic?

Econophone If they made it past date one and on to date three or four, Iíd let down my guard. There was the blind date millionaire art collector ("One of Israeli societyís greatest 'atches'") who lends his art to museums worldwide, owns a high-tech firm, and who did everything in his power to get me to fall in love with him. Which I started to do. On date four, I had one of the most romantic conversations ever held between a restaurant (sushi and sake) and the cab in which he dropped me off at my home. On date five he announced, "I just want to be friends," adding, "I forgot to tell you. I started therapy two weeks ago. I have trouble being in relationships."

Now I understood why Mr. Great Catch canít be caught.


Then there was the lawyer with such good arachim (values) who works pro bono and joyfully shares the custody of his children, with a head halfway between Fifth Avenue and India, he so yummy in business suit and long tresses. He even assisted me in clarifying my perception of blind dating by asking on date four, "Donít you trust your own judgment? Iím not like the others."

What followed was a singular weekend up north. We whooped it up, ate expensively and exquisitely, listened to divine music (our CD collections were almost identical) during an even more divine sunset, and paid a middle-of-the-night visit to a JNF forest (worth every penny of those donations Iíve been making all these years). He lent me a video about relationships, and made plans for our future, our seder-to-be in the Sinai with his mother whoíd be in town from NY. We were delicious together. Then -- nothing. He never called again.

Now I was shaken; this hadnít ever happened to me in the States. Not once. I was devastated. But not for long.

My next blind date called me so many times, showered me with such attention, albeit from a distance (he lives in the south), that I had a nightmare about being stalked. I neednít have worried. On our first date he took me out for a steak and a swell evening, and he even fixed my bathroom and kitchen sinks before going home. (No snickers about plumbing, please.) Handsome, looks akin to Sean Connery, debonnair, tall, a slight British accent, a famous father from the Altalena, a mysterious job "with the government." My girlfriend was equally taken by him when we bumped into her.

"He called again, didnít he?" she asked. Every day. Then he broke our Purim date. He called with, "I long for you," and "I need you." He broke another date. More calls. I consented to a third date. He called at the last minute to break that one too.


I shouldnít sound so ungrateful. My apartment has never been so clean, it almost doesnít matter when I receive last minute cancellations or no-shows.

This past Chol Hamoed holiday was awash with blind dates. There was the lovely, caring gentleman who looks like Paul Newman and lays foundation for office buildings, hotels and rail stations. Generous, he even tried to give me a wad of shekels to help me feed the street cats, which I rejected. Too bad heís still married. A common practice in Israel Iím told, the attached-but-available routine.

The next one was tall, a white-haired version of David Letterman, a hang glider afficionado whose profession it is to certify that colleges continue to receive accreditation. He married a non-Jewish woman in Germany three years ago and brought her back to Israel where, "Sheís so incredible, she learned Hebrew in a few months.Ē (Unlike you who have been here longer and can hardly write your name. Mind you, sheís only 28, heís in his mid-fifties, and Iím reaching the half-century mark.) Well, seems she thought Israelis were rude ďand it hurt her feelings and made her feel depressed when they didnít recycle their plastic bottles" so she went back home -- pregnant. He flies to Germany every month for five days to see his two-year-old son. Noble. Or guilt. Their German divorce wonít be final for a few more months.

Auf wiedersehen.

I am beginning to have fond dreams about my ex-husband. At least he used to hold the door open for me.

Number three has his feet on the ground. Widowed after 24 years of a happy marriage, then divorced after a four-year mismatch. Slightly rotund, bald, a stammer which I find endearing and familiar (my older brother stammers too), a slight limp. An accountant, just like my brother, and financially stable, very, with the ability to retire by his mid- fifties. He plays the violin with a chamber music group, and sang with the opera twice last year. He lights candles on Shabbat. Nice.

He has such a dynamic presence that I didnít feel uncomfortable when he immediately grabbed my hand and hardly let go during our first date. When he did let go, he even trusted me enough to let me drive his car. And he actually called me back the same night, just like he said he would. Marriage material?

Then the system broke down. While his feet may be on the ground, his head is in the clouds. Idan Chadash (the New Age movement) has hit Israel with a shazzam, and from what I can make out, heís one of its major consumers. But instead of brand names, he namedropped obscure gurus from the deserts of California to the plains of Spain.

After our daytime date he was off to a healing session. He asked for a date for that night, but had to cancel; the session tuckered him out and he wanted to stay at home studying Kabbalah. He said heíd call the next morning, a Friday, and weíd meet for brunch.

I waited one hour, two hours. I finally broke down and called him because the shops would be closing for Shabbat. Heíd awakened too late for our pre-Shabbat date. He had to hang up; his next workshop was beginning soon.

While I believe in spiritual development and G-d knows, Israel can use a heavy dose of cooling out, it sure is difficult competing with Buddha.

His entire Shabbat was taken up with a meditation class. ďJoan, you should sign you up for the seminar next month. My mother did it and now sheís a healer.Ē Said he might call if the weekendís workshop finished at a decent hour. No call. Next. (Although Iím not shutting the door completely -- even if all the doors are beginning to feel like those in Hesseís Steppenwolf (ďThe price of admission is your mindĒ).

Whatís a girl to do? And how do Israeli women work with this material? An Israeli-born acquaintance tells me she lets them take advantage, pampers them, feeds them, and then ďI come in for the kill.Ē From what I can see, it hasnít done her much good. Her only steady boyfriend for nine years was married.

My other friends, all of them talented, pretty, thin, youthful, intelligent, are in the same fix. After comparing notes, we have this in common: By date two, every single man we have dated asks us whether weíve ever slept with a woman.

And people ask me why I keep cats.

My blind dates have hailed from all over the Diaspora map: South America, South Africa (over humus in a dirty tent I was informed in great detail about his prowess and his near-death allergies to cats, dogs, fish, meat, most vegetables, and his ex-wife), Belgium (donít ask), India (generous with his time, but wracked with pain the couple of times he bought me a coffee; I ended up buying for him), Italy (his mistress was his restaurant), England (the stiff upper lip is, sadly, too distancing for this American), Scotland (witty, a good son to his ailing parents, but the term skittish doesnít do him justice). Ever optimistic, thereís still Iceland, Singapore, and Zimbabwe.

You may be thinking, so what? Men in (fill in the name of a country) are the same; whatís different about Israel? Two elements stand out. The first is the humous factor.

Iím now assertive enough to say jokingly, if asked where I want to eat, ďAnywhere, but please donít make me eat humous.Ē The second is the Israeli manís penchant for taking a blind date to meet his friends, sort of a kiss-and-tell before youíve ever kissed.

Maybe itís some kind of tribal thing, a throwback to cave days, or just showing off the catch of the day. [Then there are two treats: Unlike American males, Israeli men are not in the least threatened by smart women. In fact, they like us. Iíd surmise theyíve been raised around mothers who are intelligent beings; and itís just something theyíre used to and have come to expect. Refreshing.

The other is brand name recognition. You should see their faces light up when I tell them my surname. Itís like Iím wearing the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. In the United States, I got the flipside response; the most my name might evince was, "Oh, isnít that a Jewish name?"

I donít mean to sound cynical. Falling in love is grand, but itís also falling for make believe -- and this is the land of cold, hard, in-your-face tachlis. Itís damn tough living here and while I hadnít originally intended to remarry, having a partner to share lifeís little lamallahs and lamattas (ups and downs) doesnít seem such a bad idea in Eretz Israel.

My datiya (religious) girlfriend CD informs me Iím on the receiving end of strictly-secular behavior and that this stuff doesnít fly in the religious community; they wouldnít get away with it. All she wants for me is that I should get a ring on my finger or at the very least, "an expensive piece of jewelry" that signifies a commitment. She says the men here are a product of the Middle Eastern mentality, even if most of my dates have been Ashkenazi.

Most of them touchingly identify themselves as children of survivors. Naively, this leads me to expect more of them. Perhaps thatís the point: Might they have even less to give?

CDís refrain rings in my ears when Iím chatting with a new man: "If you want to get a ring on your finger, donít even think about sex before marriage. Unless what you want is just to have fun."

So what do women want? Iíd be happy with just a little k-o-v-o-d (r-e-s-p-e-c-t), a call back, and a recordbreaker: date number six. Heck, given the right guy, Iíd even eat humous. Pass the pita, please.

A postscript: I received a letter of apology from the young lawyer up north, begging my forgiveness; yes, Virginia, there is a G-d. I went out on one more date with Mr. New Age, but it ended with a thud. It seems Mr. Germany moved the week I didnít hear from him, and wants to stay in touch after he returns from this monthís visit to Germany. And Mr. Married Guy moved into position number one when he signed his divorce papers; they should be finalized within a month. He was the only one who called every day just to hear my voice. He even took me for a supermarket shopping spree to prove his intentions. No piece of jewelry yet, but he insisted on buying me the toaster I needed. For my toasted pita. Chumous, anyone?

JWR contributor Joan Weinberg is English-language publications editor for the Weizmann Institute and a former LA Weekly columnist. You may reach her by clicking here.


04/09/99: Air Shows, Alte Zachen and Air Conditioners
04/09/99: Confessions of a Cat Lady

© 1999, Joan Weinberg