FEATURE: Mixed-race Jews have JSwipe dating woes

Jenn Czobel

When Jenn Czobel downloaded JSwipe to her phone, she expected it to be like Tinder: a dating application where users choose to chat based on photos, geographical location, mutual friends and a short biography – except it’s meant just for Jews, or those who fancy them. 

What she didn’t expect was to have zero matches. On Tinder, she has several hundred. 

“I don’t look like I’m Jewish, and the people on JSwipe are obviously on there to find someone with whom they share similar values,” says the 28-year-old account manager from Toronto. 

Czobel’s mother is from Vietnam and her father is from Hungary, so she doesn’t look like the majority of Jews in Toronto.

David Yarus, founder of JSwipe, thinks her religion should matter, not her race. 

“What’s peculiar, though, is that the profile says ‘Jewish’ or not. It says: ‘Willing to convert,’ ‘Other,’ ‘Jewish,’” he says. “So if hers says ‘Jewish,’ it doesn’t fully make sense to me.”

In fact, Yarus thinks, as does popular culture (see: Priscilla Chan, wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg), that her Asian features should be working in her favour, a reference to the stereotype that Jewish men are attracted to Asian women.

“That seems almost like the opposite of what I would ever think feasible to have happen. Because at the end of the day, this is, actually, potentially the dream situation for Jewish dudes: she’s half-Asian and she’s Jewish,” he says. “So it should be that she’s getting double the matches.”

The truth is, most people prefer to date people of their own race, especially white people.

Research from the popular dating site OkCupid shows that white women in particular almost exclusively reply to messages from white men. White men, on the other hand, are much more open to dating women from different races, except for black women. 

And although JSwipe specifies religion, not race, in its profiles, Judaism has always conflated the two. 

That’s because Judaism is not just a religion in the modern sense of the term. Rather, it also has a national and tribal component, as well as ethnic, cultural and even racial aspects.

But despite the fact our Israelite heritage, with its link to land and kin, has been diminished by centuries of dispersion and greater stress on the religious side of Judaism, it still seems that for anyone who’s serious about being Jewish, a prospective mate should ideally meet all criteria – cultural, religious and racial.

And observant as a half-Asian Jew may be, would it ever be enough for most people in our community?

Geoff Grossman, a 29-year-old who is half-Chinese and half-Caucasian, explains that he was the only visible minority at his Toronto Hebrew school, “until my little sister started attending.”

He uses both Tinder and JSwipe, but doesn’t take either very seriously.

“I can’t imagine just swiping. I used to live with a guy that used to swipe right [say yes to profiles, enabling the exchange of contact information] all the time, and it was a complete gutter system. I’m not like that.”

He says the typical reaction he receives from Jewish girls on JSwipe is essentially, “‘Why the hell are you on JSwipe? Your eyes are different,’” he says. 

Grossman says his online experience mirrors real life. 

“I’ve done it a couple times, just to shoot myself in the foot – going to [the midtown Toronto pickup joint] Alleycatz or one of those Jew-balls, matzah-balls stuff,” he says. “It’s just an exercise in futility and painfulness.”

Although many Jews – white, black or green – view such events as futile, painful and often requiring several over-priced tequila shots to endure, non-Caucasian Jews in our community face different challenges 

“I have obviously met people at Jewish events, Jew-dos. But I think initially, they probably just think I’m tagging along with my Jewish friends,” Czobel says.  

“I think that once they find out that I’m Jewish, it puts me into a different category in their mind – a wife-able category.”