On Valentine’s Day, I’d like to sing the praises of American Jewish men. I’m aware it’s a rather large group, but that’s the point: The United States is a sea of plenty for Jewish men. Whereas in Britain, where I grew up, there are only about 300,000 Jews. If you remove married men, women and children, you’re left with enough eligible Jewish bachelors to inhabit a synagogue or two.
There are, however, millions of men in the U.K. who look like Benedict Cumberbatch or Hugh Grant. Lovely chaps, all of them, but none embodied the stocky, dark, curly-haired Jewish types I longed for when I was growing up in the 1970s. Think Paul Michael Glaser, the guy who played Starsky. Or Tony Curtis.
My first encounter with a real-life Jewish American boy came when I was 16. I was on a summer Israel tour, that rite of passage, and one night, I met Lance from Michigan. I’d never met a Lance before. Only Jeremys, Howards and Simons. It was thrilling. He was stocky, with a “Jewish nose” and thick hair. We flirted, I fell in love, he left on an Egged bus.
I was left with the confirmation that yes, such beings do exist in real life, and a deep knowledge that one day we would meet again and marry. (That knowledge proved to be illusory, but if anyone knows a Lance from Michigan who went to Israel in 1979, please pass on this story. Maybe our children could marry.)
At 26, I decided to move to New York. I’d like to say it was because I had taken a job at the BBC’s New York bureau. But in fact it was just that I knew I’d be living in a world inhabited by Jewish guys.
My dating pool suddenly expanded. Jewish men were everywhere: waiters, dentists, squash instructors. It constantly amazed me. I would meet a guy at a bar or a party and their last name would be Rosenbaum or Cohen. Definitely not Clemington-Smythe. My bubbe would have been proud. I was ecstatic.
It’s not like I hadn’t dated – or even been in love with – non-Jewish men in England. But I just found there was a level of comfort and warmth — heimischeness, if you will – with my Jewish tribesmen. And the American Jews also had an exotic assertiveness that thrilled me. They have a confidence in their manliness, in their heritage. They’re descended from the Jews who made it through harsh winters and pogroms in the shtetls. They’re risk takers and life embracers.
Jewish American men don’t try to assimilate. They don’t seem to rein in their mannerisms. And they are, as my mother would say, “shtarkers” – they’re strong.
Of course, there’s the stereotype that Jewish men are nebbishy Woody Allen types – and some are! But what these men may lack in brawn, they make up for with their scintillating smarts.
So on this day of pagan/Christian celebration of love, I’d like to take this moment to make a toast to all American Jewish men. May you all continue to thrill this nice Jewish girl from London. And all Jewish girls, from wherever they are, throughout the decades to come.
Suzanne Levy is a British-born writer and TV producer now living in Los Angeles.