Looking For Love In Jerusalem

Jerusalem is to some American Jews what New York is to some aspiring actors: a good place to wash up for a while and dream of better things.

And when it comes to love in this city of gold, the same holds true. You meet your soulmate at Hebrew ulpan classes after immigrating to Israel, on the 10 crazy days of Birthright, or the longer term Israel programs of Masa and other organizations.

But if nothing comes out of those three options, you stick around like a leftover parade float. Sort of there, sort of here, with a deflated “ope.”

One American guy I met when searching for an apartment back in October of 2018 said to me, in absolute seriousness, “I don’t want to be living with you. Like, at all. And that’s not anything against you personally! I want to find a woman, fall in love, marry her, and live with her. In the next 9 or 10 months.” This guy worked as a comedian, so I didn’t know whether to take him seriously or not. Then again, that explained all of his posts in Facebook groups for people searching for an apartment. He really did write about wanting to meet a great girl and having her move in with him.

I don’t know how successful he’s been, but I wouldn’t recommend using Facebook groups in place of Tinder. Thankfully, I decided not to move in with him.

Though, even Tinder plays a funny game. Most of the profiles are either fake, don’t have photos of people, or have just the most horrendous combination of sleazy, mostly-naked, and badly-cropped selfies ever to grace this earth (I’ve confirmed this with my female friends as well – this is an accurate description regardless of gender).

So in the pursuit of love with an Israeli Jew (and to practice her Hebrew), a friend of mine spent a lot of time on Tinder…only to get smitten with a Palestinian guy because he was the opposite of all the other profiles.

Of course, in Jerusalem everything is political and needlessly complicated, even that cute sparky crush-ey feeling. My friend is an observant Conservative Jew who wants to marry Jewish. But hey, she likes this Palestinian guy! He’s cute, they flirt, that’s great. But it’s also difficult because “we can never be together.”

I tried telling her to stop talking to him and spare herself emotionally. But this guy is also her personal connection to the occupation of the West Bank, and to the checkpoints, and to Palestinian life (she’s currently on a journey to the political left), so she can’t stop talking to him. It’s important for her to know these things – even at the expense of feelings and emotions.

She and I once met an old man with a bee hanging out of his forehead (yes, literally dead and hanging out of his forehead by its stinger). “Jerusalem is a place for the brokenhearted,” he told us. Go figure.

This happens to a lot of the young Americans hanging around in Jerusalem. Young, politically aware, lefty, anti-occupation, religiously engaged Jews who want what everyone wants: that warm feeling of someone to call our own. But also, someone political.

So they throw parties to fundraise for trips to the West Bank and hang out, but everyone already knows everyone else because it’s a small crowd. Where do you find love if you don’t already have it?

Maybe in a stranger’s eyes as you both ride a packed bus, feeling slightly violated by the harsh stops and starts of the mediocre driver that throws the passengers into one another. Or maybe not. It seems an unfortunate place to fall in love.

And for those who aren’t on the left, but are religious, the best these young Jews can hope for is to find someone nice to talk to at the Shabbat dinner or lunch table. That, or get a matchmaker to arrange a good date (although a friend of mine who did that ended up not liking the girl he went out with, in the end – I think because she was a Trump supporter).

All of these are real examples from the lives of people I’ve met this year in Jerusalem. There are happier stories, and sadder stories, but for many transplanted American Jewish Jerusalemites it seems like this average search for love stays like white noise in the background.

But that’s okay. The fruit and vegetables smell good, the cellphone plans are cheap, and Jerusalem can sometimes be nice to those that walk her stones. Besides, there’s always JSwipe to try for those who want it.