Attention Jewish mothers: Your advice has been taken.
The age-old exhortation to "find a nice Jewish girl" (or boy) brought about 250 of the lovelorn to a Jewish Singles Expo yesterday at the Hyatt Regency.
"We're here because we're single and Jewish and looking," said Lauren Malask, 36, an antique jewelry dealer from Harrisburg, Pa.
Yet a meat market it wasn't, not even a kosher one.
There were workshops run by social workers on topics such as "Dating: Making Jewish Choices." There was animated discussion of religious intermarriage and the risk of Jewish assimilation into a largely Christian society. There was talk of not treating women as sex objects or men as success objects.
And two big questions were hanging out there waiting to be answered: What do women want? And that other puzzler, what do men want?
A middle-aged woman named Carol, who asked that her last name not be used, came as close to answering them as anyone.
"What we ultimately want is not to be lonely," said Carol, a Baltimore
area therapist who, like everyone else at the expo, was hoping to meet someone new.
"Any other singles situation, like a bar, is very impersonal. You're always on guard, on display," she said. "Here the workshops give people a chance to share on the same level."
Sometimes the sharing was more like sparring, another round in the battle of the sexes.
When author Bob Berkowitz ("What Men Don't Tell You But Women Need to Know") asked participants to write down what they most wanted to ask the opposite sex, hostilities erupted.
"Why do so many women talk excessively about ex-husbands and ex-lovers?" one man wrote.
"Why do men say after an apparently wonderful date, 'I'll call you Tuesday,' and never do?" a woman asked to cheers from other women and moans from the men.
And "Why are women always attracted to macho men?" "Why can't guys be honest in relationships?" "Does sex always take precedence in a man's mind?"
"Why are looks so very important?"
Michael Becker, a 38-year-old social psychologist from Harrisburg, Pa., volunteered that research shows that "looks are the most important thing in the original attraction. For better or for worse, that's just the way it is."
Even so, Mr. Becker said, he had come to the expo because "you're better off when you can look at people as people rather than as objects."
He had also come because he had "a certain feeling of guilt" about the tendency of Jews to marry outside their faith.
Lauren Malask agreed.
"As I get older and enter into relationships, I feel more comfortable with people with whom I can express my Jewishness," she said.
A friend, Jan Rhodes, a Harrisburg real estate agent in her 40s, said half-jokingly: "I was married to a Christian. That's why I'm here."
Sara Conway, 44, a paralegal from Pikesville, said that "if we keep intermarrying, there won't be any Jewish people left. We need to keep our identity alive, keep our religion alive."
Rabbi Joseph Katz of the Jewish Community Center, which sponsored the expo along with the Baltimore Jewish Times, said assimilation was a serious concern.
"In most intermarriage situations, the commitment to both the religion and to concern about Israel definitely decrease," he said. "This is a chance for a cross-section of the community to meet. We want Jews to meet Jews."
Leora K. Hoffman also wants Jews to meet Jews -- and, for a fee, she will arrange it. Ms. Hoffman is a Rockville lawyer turned matchmaker. She also writes an advice column for Washington Jewish publications.
Ms. Hoffman, who says her matchmaking has already led to two marriages and many other relationships in two years, said she thinks Jews have a growing interest in maintaining their heritage and raising their children in the Jewish faith. She says she can help them do so more efficiently.
But some people's tastes in mates stump even a matchmaker. Ms. Hoffman recalled a letter from an attorney named Frieda who wanted a German-Jewish man over 6 feet tall (because she liked to wear high heels) with an Ivy League education.
The matchmaker's response: "Are you looking for a man or a pedigreed dog?"
Her advice to singles: "Stop running your personal life like a business. Things don't happen as quickly as you would like. Relax a little bit."
Larry Bernstein, a contractor from Richmond whose one-liners broke up one of the workshops, said relaxing wasn't easy. Like most of the Jewish singles at the expo, people mainly in their 30s and 40s, he was a battle-tested veteran of relationships.
"The older you are, the more sophisticated your education, the more terrified you are. The bottom line is you realize how lonely it is," he said.
But, said Donni Rappaport, 43, of Bethesda, "You have to take risks, hopefully educated, calculated risks. There would never be success if the whole world was afraid of failure.
"It's only a big deal if you let it be a big deal."