In September of ’07, JDate sailed away on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise. For psychotherapist Janice Levitt, the days were a trip through Jewish history in the land of antiquity and the nights a study of flirtatious behavior aboard the Jewish Love Boat.
Who wouldn’t want to find Mr. (or Ms.) Right under the stars on a Jewish Love Boat?
After being on JDate, the Jewish singles network, for over a year, I had met several Jewish men in Baltimore as well as an occasional out-of-towner. All of this confused and concerned my married friends, who continued to ask me: “Aren’t you afraid of meeting a dud? Aren’t you afraid of meeting strangers? You are attractive; why do you need this JDate thing? Isn’t it more effort than it’s worth?” Teasingly, I typically retorted that JDate is my life. And in truth, it has become my social life, at least as far as finding eligible bachelors is concerned. As a psychotherapist in private practice, I obviously do not have the option of meeting men at work, nor being introduced to them by my clients who are often seeing me for couples counseling.
JDate provides an opportunity to meet men with a personally written profile that can be verified via “Jewish geography” – invariably someone I know knows him or has a relative or friend or dry cleaner “who knows the family.” However, even with this experience behind me, I was unaware of JDate travel until a friend from high school called to ask if I would like to be her roommate on JDate’s September cruise to Eastern Europe. Conveniently, I did not have to consider if the trip would conflict with the Jewish Holidays. At that point in time, I assumed that JDate was a Jewish-run business. It was not until the cruise that I learned that JDate was only one of the “dating services” operated by Spark Networks Limited. Their other services include ChristianMingle, BlackSingles, BBWPersonalsPlus, and CatholicMingle. And I thought that it wasn’t even “such a Jewish thing” anymore to date within one’s religion.
On September 27, I left for my cruise with a ride from a JDate friend to Baltimore Washington Airport. There, I waited for a much delayed flight that got me to JFK Airport just as my flight to Venice was taxiing for take-off. I pleaded for another flight ASAP and was given a flight scheduled to depart in …24 hours. I was heartbroken about missing an evening in Venice.
After we set sail, everything fell into place, and with my JDate name tag hanging securely from my neck, I entered the Top Hat Lounge for a welcome reception exclusively for JDate Members. I had expected the entire ship to be JDate Members, but there were several hundred singles form various countries and U.S. states, primarily California and New York. There were also four of us from Baltimore, two of whom had planned to room together until one of them found a boyfriend on JDate and roomed with him instead. The JDaters from outside the U.S. hailed from England, the Jersey Chanel Island, France, South America, England, and Israel. (Could it really be difficult to meet Jewish singles in Israel?) Almost everyone I met that evening mentioned someone who had married via JDate, but few knew of them personally. At that reception, it was rumored that when JDaters’ profiles say that they are looking for an “activity partner,” it is code for sexual partner. That explained why no one ever wanted to bicycle with me. It was exciting meeting so many people from around the world who all had one thing in common, a Jewish identity. This became even more significant to me the next day while touring Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Our travel guide happened to be a young Jewish man who had returned to Croatia for graduate school. As we began our visit to Dubrovnik’s Jewish Cemetery, we learned that the Jewish population initially came to Croatia in 1492 because of the Spanish Inquisition. An additional migration of Jews occurred as a result of the Holocaust. Although there were restrictions on the number of Jews who could enter the country, officials were more lenient in Croatia than in other parts of Europe.
We then drove along the Riviera to Dubrovnik’s Old Town, a walled city with a 136th century Gothic exterior. There, we visited the synagogue in the Jewish Ghetto, where our guide wept as he explained there hadn’t been this large a group in the synagogue since WWII. There had been a concentration camp in Croatia and there were now less than 80 Jews in the country as a result. The Jewish population will soon be non-existent, as the remaining Jews are in their 80s. Our tour guide also explained that he had had to go to Israel to be married by a Rabbi, and later he and his Israeli wife had had to travel to Israel for their son’s briss. When he completes his Masters degree in tourism, he will move to Israel with his family.
It was rumored that when JDaters’ profiles say that they are looking for an “activity partner,” it is code for sexual partner.
We returned to the ship and I went straight to the fitness center in anticipation of the coming cocktail party and dinner: each dinner included four courses or more. JDate karaoke completed the evening. It had been a day of fascination and flirtation. Men positioned themselves on the bus in the morning to explore the female possibilities. As the day wore on, the men tested those possibilities with a variety of women. No one appeared rude or inappropriate; there was just a lot of energy, except for the attractive 40ish man who was a bit too friendly as he posed for pictures with women. It was a foreshadowing of the “player” we would soon see.
Monday began with speed dating. This felt like I was at work interviewing new clients, one after another. Leaving speed dating I met a 30-something radiologist from New York who, like me, was in search of Mr. Right. She and I became good friends.
Breakfast consisted of an amazing buffet which I ate on deck. What a spectacular view. I happened to sit with a couple who was not a part of JDate but coincidentally had met on the site. They had been married for six years and had children. I spent the day sunbathing while other JDaters participated in a scavenger hunt and trivia game. Cocktail hour was next and preceded the first formal dinner – and my flirtation with a Londoner. At dinner, people began sitting at unassigned tables to continue their chats and couple up. At my table, a handsome orthopedist introduced himself with a careful disclosure: “I am not Jewish.” Where else in the world could that happen?
Tuesday began with an excursion to Ephesus, Turkey, one of the five largest cities of the Roman Empire. The main attraction was reported to be the Temple of Artemis, built in 550 BC, but my favorites were the line up of pseudo-toilets and the Library of Celsus. Later in the day we visited the Ephesus Museum where a plaque hung explaining that the punishment for treason was crucifixion. I asked our new guide why Jesus was crucified. He explained that Jesus was “king of the Jews” and was intolerable competition for the Roman Empire. How could I get the word out and reduce anti-Semitism?
Back on ship, some JDaters entertained themselves with shuffleboard, team trivia, miniature golf, and a mile walk. I opted for a JDate Mixer, dinner, a show and the start of nightly dancing at the disco. This was also the part of the trip when my roommate began complaining that I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
The view entering the port at Santorini, Greece on Wednesday was spectacular. We were greeted with an awe-inspiring picture of the circular volcanic island and the Aegan Sea. Subsequent views were also incredibly beautiful, i.e. the Monastery of Prophet Elijah, cliffs of the Caldera, and the bright blue domed churches of Oia. We enjoyed Ouzo at cocktail hour and dinner that evening.
I opted for a JDate Mixer, dinner, a show and the start of nightly dancing at the disco. This was also the part of the trip when my roommate began complaining that I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
Thursday was my favorite day of the trip. The morning was spent touring villages in Corfu, Greece. They were lovely, but the best part of the island was Old Town Corfu, home of the Jewish Quarter. There was a beautiful statue of a family with the inscription: “NEVER AGAIN FOR ANY NATION” dedicated to the memory of the 2000 Jews of Corfu who perished in the Nazi concentration camps of Aushwitz and Birkenau.
The streets and buildings of Corfu were as picturesque as illustrations of a magical land. We found the synagogue and met the head of the sisterhood. As we wandered about I found a pastry shop with amazing desserts. After talking to the owner for a while, it became clear that she was Jewish. She recommended some of her delicacies which she made using her Bubbie’s recipes. She noted that there was no significant anti-Semitism in town and that she had friends of varying faiths. When I asked about love and marriage, she whispered that the Jewish girls of marrying age on the island go to Athens if they want to find a Jewish husband. When a Jewish young woman of the island marries a non-Jew, she must contract with the government to raise her children gentile or the marriage is not legal. Old Corfu was such a captivating island that I did not want to return to the ship.
The last day was at sea with more food, cocktails, and conversation about who was seeing whom and would any romance continue after the ship docked. Rumor has it that in the last six years of JDate cruises, there have been two engagements and one marriage. There were more women than men on the cruise and the ages varied but the people were friendly, well-educated, and eager to have a good time. Although I may not have found the man of my dreams, I would happily set sail on another JDate cruise. After all, who wouldn’t want to find Mr. (or Ms.) Right under the stars on a Jewish Love Boat?
Janice Levitt is a psychotherapist in private practice in Towson, Maryland.