Love & Sex

Mutual of Omaha

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And so it is written:

Just a few short decades after Portnoy pursued the gangly shiksas of his adolescent dreams, seeking America in a thicket of blonde bush, an army of nice Jewish girls will learn handjobs with their Hebrew, tonguing with their Talmud — platoons of little Lewinskys, mini-Monicas preparing to service the Davids and Aarons and Noahs of the world with all the earthly delights envisioned in the Song of Solomon. We may not have known how to make a brisket or keep a kosher house, but Erica Krieger took it up the ass and Katie Sussman could suck two dicks at once.

Henry Miller may have had his Paris, and Isherwood his Berlin, but for me, nothing will ever ring of decadence quite like the B'nai Brith Youth Organization of Omaha, Nebraska.

We're a lusty people, we Jews.

The Jewish youth group in Omaha was an active one, and split into sex-specific chapters, foreshadowing the fraternities and sororities to which so many of my fellows would later fall prey. Our activities were varied and numerous — encompassing everything from Hanukkah toy drives to the sexual harassment of Hooters waitresses — but especially important were the elaborate dinner dances each chapter hosted in turn. They were formal, these little Semitic proms, involving corsages, limos and costly party frocks, for which the kvelling parents of our tight-knit Jewish community were only too happy to shell out several times a year.

"Karen! Your Rebecca! So adorable with my Jonathan!" a tearful mother would exclaim, shoving a camera into the face of her grimacing son, whose braces would gleam as he attempted to affix a rubber band laden with baby's breath to the plump wrist of his unsmiling date.

"Ruthie, such a handsome a boy. And from a good family!" the other would say. "I think we'd better call the caterers! It's a match!"

They were joking, of course, lampooning the old-world matchmaking of their great-grandparents, the Yiddish-speaking bubbes and zaydes who lived in the nursing home, surrounded by candied fruit and believing the nurses were Cossacks. They were kidding, these college-educated, baby-boomer mothers, but deep down, they weren't.

At the beginning of ninth grade, after my first of these dances, some of the juniors and seniors invited me to an all-night after-party. There would be drinking, they explained, and only the very coolest of the underclassmen were asked. I was delighted, but — "There's no way my parents will ever let me go. Not in a million years."

The sexual etiquette of youth group was as implacable as anything in Edith Wharton.

"Just call and ask them," said my friend Liz, two years older and experienced in such matters.

"I'll have to lie — I'll have to tell them something — there's no time — "

"Don't lie," she said. "Tell them everyone's going to a party, and you'll be back in the morning."

To my great shock, my mother, who practically demanded the Social Security numbers and medical histories of everyone I might get a ride from, sang out merrily: "Have fun, honey! We'll see you when we see you!"

I had found the secret weapon. The real Jewish conspiracy.

It was at this party that I drank my first, second, third and fourth beer. It was also there, sitting on the same bed in which the aforementioned Katie Epstein ascended into immortality, that Jake Plotkin — pouty-lipped and still two years away from morbid obesity, Jake Plotkin who used to eat dead flies and once called the rabbi "dickmunch" — became the first person to touch my breasts. I had a kissed a boy once, during the end credits of Son-in-Law with Pauly Shore; I myself had explored the fascinating mystery of my vagina regularly since I was four; but it was Jake Plotkin who put his fingers in my underwear that night and said, "Gross! It's all wet!"

When I rejoined the party, Liz pulled me aside, furious. It was bad, what I had done, very bad indeed. I had shamed her. Indeed, I had put her own reputation on the line. It was not proper protocol, not at all.

"But what about Katie Sussman?" I asked.

"Katie Sussman is a whore," said Liz. "And Katie Sussman is ADOPTED."

A taste of honey is worse than none at all, so the song goes. Crushed, I sulked on a corner of the L-shaped couch, drank the fifth beer of my life, and did not speak to Jake Plotkin again until we graduated from high school.

The sexual etiquette of youth-group society was full of unspoken regulations and hierarchies, as labyrinthine and implacable as anything in Edith Wharton. But the overriding principle was this: one simply did not hook up at after-parties with the local Jewry. It was too close to home, too easily traceable.

There were seminars about the sanctity of Israel, but the main attraction was the promise of sex.

A nosy mother might notice the hickeys on your date after a dance and think you were a slut, or worse, a couple. This would not do. No, the proper place to shamelessly indulge one's appetites was at the iniquitous Valhalla of Yiddishkeit known as "Convention."

Convention — a heady weekend twice a year when all the Midwestern youth of our fellowship, the Jewish teens of St. Louis, Kansas City, and we Omahans, their country cousins, gathered in a faceless suburban "hotel" to "explore our Jewish identity." Swap the word "identity" for "genitalia" and you'll have something closer to fact. I attended sessions during the day, seminars about the sanctity of Israel in which the Palestinians went curiously unmentioned, discussions about the Holocaust during which I strove to produce convincing tears. But the main attraction was the promise of sex: Todd Klein and Jessica Lieberman discovered having honest-to-god intercourse (generally frowned upon, unless you were a senior) by a hapless maid, Stephanie Rakoff and Josh Nieman in a sixty-nine ten minutes after being introduced in the buffet line at dinner, a circle jerk on the third floor led by my own Jake Plotkin.

"Don't eat meat — it makes your pussy taste bad," we would advise each other as we selected our underwear for assignations in neighboring hotel rooms, like call girls at a business convention.

I often wonder now about the gay kids. One never seemed to hear about them. Somehow, I doubt the passionate humanism of the Phish-shirted boys in regards to Tibet extended to faggots. If any of the girls dousing themselves in Bed Bath and Beyond Plumberry Body Mist noticed their roommate's longing looks, it was never discussed. I hope they found each other, the girls who rubbed each other's backs with suspicious tenderness, the boys who knew all the songs from Les Miserables. But if they did, it was a secret. Not a secret like Kori Abrams' genital warts, but a real secret, the kind you don't tell anyone.

I didn't tell my overjoyed mother that I had given the rabbi's son a hummer.

Why? Apart from being teenagers in a hotel for the weekend with little adult supervision, what was the reason for this frenzied flurry of finger-banging, those dutiful dry humps, the passionless parade of punani? Were we rebellious sex gods, post-feminist bohemians unafraid to love as we saw fit? Were we celebrating being Jews together, no longer outsiders in our overwhelmingly Christian high schools? Don't forget, this was the Midwest, where the Christians are fucking serious. The church lock-ins and conclaves of our gentile counterparts, with their "promise rings" and perplexing concept of Sin, must have made ours look like Caligula. Weakened by centuries of pogroms, expulsion and assimilation, were we acting out a subconscious, primordial urge to proliferate our race? If we were, would we have given so many handjobs?

A few weeks after Convention, I received a letter from the blue-eyed son of a rabbi. Enclosed was his handsome school photograph and an invitation to "come and visit anytime." Shocked and overjoyed, I proudly displayed them to my mother, forgetting for the moment that I "fucking hated" her and that "as far as I was fucking concerned, I was no fucking longer her fucking daughter." (Lately, we hadn't been getting on so well.)
   I didn't tell her that I had given the rabbi's son a hummer under a banquet table in the Kansas City Marriott, clumsily dribbling a trail of semen down the front of my freshly laundered Nine Inch Nails shirt. But it wouldn't have dampened her mood. She was thrilled, happier than I'd seen her in months. In spite of myself, I was thrilled that she was thrilled, proud that I had made my mother so happy.

But lurking in the miasma of my mother's naked joy, I suddenly discovered a horrible truth about all that Jew-on-Jew debauchery.

Maybe we did it for our parents.  


Rachel Shukert is the author of Have You No Shame?. Her work has also been featured in Best Sex Writing 2008, Best American Erotic Poems, and 2033: The Future of Misbehavior. She lives in New York City with her husband and her cat. Her website is