I had started attending these Jewish young professional social-networking events, off and on, about a year ago. A college friend, who was far more actively Jewish than I am, had suggested I come along to a Shabbat or two, and I had no real reason to say no.
I usually take one of three approaches when entering Jewish situations: pure shame and embarrassment (I never went to Jewish camp, all right?), irreverent pride (like most Jews, I’m an atheist) or claustrophobia, the homogenous Jewish kind. This time it was #3. There were just too many damn Jews in one room.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my people. But being put in a room of all Jews is worse than being put in a room with all white people, or all prep school kids, or all Brooklynites. The Chosen People aura is often too much to stand, and the mixture of claimed oppression, wealth, professional success and limited career variety makes talking to each successive man there a confusing bit of déjà vu.
But this particular trivia night kick-off event was tolerable, as far as Jew events go. The bar was less chichi; the crowd was bigger. I think many of the men had arrived single and ready to mingle: Jewish wives were on their minds. I talked to many men that night. I forget if this outing was pre– or post–recent breakup, but I did my semi-flirtatious thing, and I left feeling a little bit Manischewitz-drunk and a lot more Jewish.
I must have made an impression on one young Jewish lad, because about two weeks later, I received a LinkedIn request with an accompanying message. (We’ll call the gentleman Ian, although if he or anyone close to him reads this piece, they’ll probably recognize his style. That’s OK with me.) The first message was a harmless introduction, with a simultaneous attempt at self-deprecating humor and self-congratulating smarts: “I won the award for most confused and/or bewildered person in the room, and then I also won the trivia.” I didn’t respond to that one, but when he resent the same exact message a few days later, I responded with distant informality, careful not to show too much interest.
He did seem to pick up on my lackluster reply, but still the next exchange came on with fuller force:
I was actually fairly certain that this [your missing my initial message] was the case, but I didn’t know how to draw your attention to it except with another message. And that second message couldn’t just say to look at the first message, because that wouldn’t be graceful, but I wanted us to converse and so you got what you got. Sorry.
I did go to the Hanukkah party. I wanted to bring a friend this time, in order to have someone there to smack me if I started in with the whole false self-deprecating bit, but my college buddy canceled and I wound up only being able to secure an acquaintance from Connecticut. I hadn’t ever seen him in a group before and he was painfully shy. I spent the whole time worrying about him.
Everything’s good here. Starting a new job with the WWE next month, maybe. Long story. I also have a party with chinese people instead of jews on Friday that I’m actively recruiting a sidekick for (I wish I knew you well enough!). Do you want to know how I even tracked you down?
This tracking-me-down bit was somewhat disconcerting. Still, I figured the poor guy was a bit of a sad, or lonely, sack, and I thought of my mother and how she always taught me to do a mitzvah and be kind to those who could benefit from a little kindness. So the mitzvah consisted of another polite response, less than half the length of his, asking him about his job and appeasing his request to ask him how he found me. And this is when he became my Jewish Stalker.
As to how I found you, well, I noticed at the event that the rabbi who precipitated my being there also seemed to know your friend. After I didn’t see you at the last event, I decided to get her name from him, and then I spent 3 minutes on facebook. I probably could have just spent 5 minutes on facebook and completely circumvented the rabbi, but I felt that integrating human interaction into the process somehow made it more ethical. I’d love to speculate about my psychology in any of this, but my message is already twice as long as yours and that does make me feel awkward. Again, feel free to ask.
We know about those cyber-stalkers, spreading like weeds aplenty in this generation of ours. But a stalker who fesses up to his stalkerdom? Who can’t help but to out his own neuroses, demonstrating them to a relative stranger via the most professional of online networks of all — that is, THE professional network — and hold out hope that these are the lines that will win his sweet, sweet, Jewish gal over? I’m sorry, Ian. This is just not good practice.
Over the next few weeks and months, Jewish Stalker sent me emails asking me out for coffee. I declined, politely, but he persisted with a few more unanswered messages. About a month later came an email titled “Coffee Embargo,” in which Ian scolded me for not going out to coffee with him. This scolding is ostensibly not for his own sake (though he notes I’m missing out), but for the baristas’:
When you decided to remove yourself from circulation, did you give any thought to the poor baristas of New York? Think about it — a few of them must have young, misanthropic families to whom the business you bring in means everything. You are making barista children starve, Rachel Oppenheimer. Yes, many of them probably aspire toward having that gaunt hipster physique anyway, but you shouldn’t force that decision on any child. For shame!
For shame, Ian, why don’t you have a little? Again, I didn’t respond. Next email:
I’ve written it into my calendar to try to be clever one last time on March 15th. The only noteworthy March days I could think of were the Ides of March and St. Patrick’s Day, and I didn’t want to commit myself to attempting anything complex on St. Patrick’s Day. I guess I could have also considered the equinox, but meh. Please just indulge me and my awful sense of humor then and that will be it. No need to reply. They should really check up on me more here at work.
He follows the March email with an unanswered Gchat:
yo. i’ve rethought monday’s ides of march addendum. it would be one thing if i had reason to believe that i would have any better chance of getting a laugh then — i would sell all of my blood relatives into slavery for a laugh, for real — but i just can’t justify trying again as a healthy exercise in the abstract. you’re in the clear, but there’s probably a wee fairy weeping somewhere.
I always appreciate the “yo,” but really, please, for the love of the Jewish God.
Most recently, though surely not ultimately, Ian sent me this Facebook message. It’s pretty ironic:
It seems like I have now managed to acquire an entire nuclear family of New Jersey–based stalkers at one of those Jewish events. Can you please tell the universe that this punishment doesn’t fit the crime?
Sorry, man. It totally, totally fits.
Rachel Oppenheimer works at the City University of New York on a community college transition initiative that serves academically under-prepared students in New York City’s five boroughs. Outside of work, she trains for the 2012 New York City Marathon and religiously watches ABC’s acclaimed The Bachelor.