“Is He Jewish?”

On the Lox Club, an exclusive new dating app, an obsession with Jewish continuity papers over an absence of Jewish content.

Mari Cohen
March 3, 2021
The Lox Club is "culturally Jewish . . . like a deli," according to its website. Photo: Kablonk RM/Golden Pixels LLC/Alamy Stock Photo

AS MY GRANDMOTHER’S ALZHEIMER’S progressed, she became fixated on two questions. When my sisters and I visited her at the memory-care facility, she always asked if we had boyfriends. If the answer was yes, she had a follow up: “Is he Jewish?” 

Up until just a few months before her death, my grandmother attended Friday night services at our Reform synagogue almost every week with the help of an aide. By the time I was old enough to wonder what kept her coming back—belief? The music? The social scene?—it was too late to ask. But long after she’d lost the ability to remember much about our lives—where we lived, who was doing what at work or in school—she continued to ask about our romantic partners. My family joked, darkly, about the extent to which the communal imperative of Jewish reproduction had become ingrained in her psyche, a stalwart train of thought that hung on even as other memories fell victim to disease. Our answers to “Is he Jewish?” were always “no,” which never seemed to trouble her much. “That’s okay—he’s a nice guy,” she would say when reminded that my sister’s now-husband was raised Catholic. Nevertheless, at the next visit, she always asked again.

I thought of these circular conversations recently when I explored the interface of the Lox Club, a new paid, exclusive dating app that markets itself as a service for “Jews with ridiculously high standards.” The platform makes clear that while non-Jews are putatively welcome to join, the main goal is intra-Jewish dating. The website describes the app as “like a deli; it’s culturally Jewish but you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it.” But “that said,” the about page continues, presumably in the voice of the app’s founder, Austin Kevitch, “my grandmom wants me to meet a nice Jewish girl.” 

Kevitch has not expanded on why a nice Jewish boy should seek a nice Jewish girl—in the eyes of his grandmother, or, more to the point, of himself or his users. (He did not respond to interview requests for this story, but has told the press that while he’s not observant, he created a Jewish app because of his appreciation for Jewish culture.) Nor does the app itself shed any light on that question. Despite all the “deli” branding, the Lox Club’s engagement with Jewishness is tenuous at best; references to Jewish identity and practice are mostly absent, heavily overshadowed by the kind of WASP-y motifs—golfing, banking, crew-necks—that signify membership in the American upper class. (Sometimes, there are nods to Israeli culture, often with a focus on militarism: the website brags that the app might help you find “gorgeous, tan Israeli soldiers with long flowing hair that can take apart an Uzi in seconds.”) Compared to other exclusive apps like The League, the Lox Club’s main distinguishing feature is its implicit promise to pair Jews with Jews—but its interest in endogamy, like my Jewish grandmother’s repetitive questions about nice Jewish boys, feels vestigial, devoid of any driving purpose. 

In this way, the app encapsulates the state of Jewish dating: Choice of partner is often the only arena in which young, assimilated Jews experience pressure to uphold an identity whose place in contemporary life is otherwise hard to pin down. The Lox Club is banking on the strength of Jewish anxiety over “continuity”—code for the longstanding fear that intermarriage represents a threat to tradition. But on the app, as in the broader culture, the obsession with Jewish continuity papers over an absence of Jewish content, and proves a poor substitute for developing a deeper vision of Jewish life.

JDATE, THE FIRST and best-known Jewish dating site, debuted in 1997, shortly after platforms like Match.com had begun to take off. One of its founders, entrepreneur Joe Shapira, was able to capitalize on both the emerging online dating app market and an American Jewish trend, in which the community’s leaders spoke with alarm about how its ranks could shrink if Jews did not prioritize marrying other Jews. As historians Lila Corwin Berman, Kate Rosenblatt, and Ronit Y. Stahl argue in a summer 2020 article for American Jewish History, such continuity discourse had been rampant since the postwar era, buttressed by the emerging field of Jewish sociology, which focused on tracing patterns of Jewish intermarriage. 

Berman, Rosenblatt, and Stahl argue that the obsession with preserving the community has often had a misogynistic valence: Sociologists’ dire pronouncements about the future of Jewishness have generally revolved around claims that Jewish women are abandoning traditional childrearing and homemaking roles. (The critique of the field’s gender politics has become especially potent since its most prominent scholar, Steven M. Cohen, was repeatedly accused of sexual harassment and assault in 2018.) Beginning in the post-World War II era, sociologists argued that American Jews were in danger of disappearing into the American mainstream due to intermarriage and flagging fertility rates—concerns that fit neatly into a Cold War context that prized the American nuclear family unit. Fears that the Holocaust had decimated world Jewry increased the emotional tenor of conversation. A 1990 National Jewish Population Survey that revealed increased intermarriage rates set off a fresh round of doomsaying. In a 1994 Commentary article, the conservative Jewish historian Jack Wertheimer blamed the “sexual revolution” for thwarting the flourishing of the Jewish family, castigating synagogues that spoke out against anti-gay discrimination, and criticizing working women who left their children with non-Jewish caregivers “from vastly different cultures.” Corwin Berman, Rosenblatt, and Stahl argue that continuity discourse helps police the boundaries of the heteronormative Jewish family, limiting the roles available to women and the space for LGBTQ people in the community—and curtailing more expansive ideas about what American Jewish life might look like.   

It’s unclear whether JDate founder Shapira was similarly preoccupied with the Jewish communal future or just looking for business success, but in any case, he knew how to speak the language: he later said the service was designed in large part because of his “concern for Jewish continuity.” JDate—which encourages members to include information on their Jewish denomination, frequency of synagogue attendance, and kashrut practices—spoke directly to communal fears, and thrived as a result: It boasted 350,000 worldwide members and at least 1,000 successful matches by 2002, and garnered enthusiastic support from the mainstream Jewish community. In a popular story from 2007, a New Jersey rabbi who had offered to purchase JDate memberships for singles in his congregation received a slight group discount; other rabbis went on to try the same trick. 

Newer Jewish dating platforms have brought a similar approach to the app market. In 2015, when Shapira debuted his Jewish dating app, Jflix, in the US, he said in a press release that he was excited to appeal to a younger Jewish community and “slow down assimilation of its members.” David Yarus, who in 2014 founded the Tinder-inspired Jewish app JSwipe (which has since been acquired by JDate), has described his mission in similar terms: as a method to get millennials interested in continuity. 

By contrast, the Lox Club’s references to continuity discourse are less direct. The specter of intergenerational pressure to carry on the tradition of endogamy hovers vaguely in the background: Like Kevitch, who hopes to make his grandmom proud, multiple Lox Club users who spoke to Jewish Insider in December referenced their parents’ or grandparents’ wishes for them to find romantic partners within the Jewish community. One early-30s Brooklyn-based journalist on the app told me that she has never dated a Jewish person before, but became interested in seeking a partner who would be comfortable attending synagogue with her. She acknowledged that she’s also absorbed the importance of dating a Jewish person from external messaging: “I went on Birthright a while ago,” she said. “I was dating a lapsed Catholic at the time and there was so much emphasis on dating a Jew and marrying a Jew. That’s something that’s been driven into me as a Jewish woman, probably since birth: ‘Marry a Jew, marry a Jew.’”

WHEN YOU CREATE your Lox Club profile, you are given the chance to identify “the most neurotic thing” about yourself. It’s one of the few Jewish-inflected options in a sea of typical dating app prompts. The average Lox Club man skips it, based on my own swiping experience. Perhaps he is not neurotic. He is founding startups. He enjoys boating. He is engaging in ventures with capital. He is doing a lot of consulting, especially about management. The most spontaneous thing he’s ever done was join the Israeli army. He would like, in a dream world, to dine with Elon Musk. And neuroticism is not, after all, a desirable trait: just like many men on other dating apps, he is looking for a partner who “doesn’t take life too seriously.”  

According to Kevitch, the things that set Lox Club users apart from the prospective partners you’d find on another app are Jewish “cultural values,” such as “ambition,” “family,” and “empathy,” as he told Jewish Insider. But “ambition,” the value that the app showcases most avidly, functions as a proxy for class: The most consistent trait across all the Lox Club profiles I saw in my weeks on the app was career success, mostly in the corporate world, or occasionally in film or music production. To be selected for the app, which claims (somewhat unconvincingly) to have a waiting list of 20,000, applicants write a paragraph about their career goals, which then shows up on their profile. 

Lox Club users have noticed this emphasis. For some, it’s an asset: One startup account manager living in the Los Angeles area told Jewish Insider that the guys on Lox Club are “young,” “hot,” and “rich”—“guys that your grandma would be proud of.” For others, though, the focus on careerism has been a disappointment. Marissa Solomon, a 27-year-old New York communications professional and writer, said she was disappointed to find the app “bro-y,” lacking in “creative type people” and instead rife with “startup venture capital people.” The Brooklyn journalist noted, “It maybe negatively feeds into Jewish stereotypes. It feels like everybody is proving themselves in their success.” In this sense, the Lox Club feels like a continuity campaign reinvented for the girlboss era, less interested in encouraging women to be good Jewish homemakers than in glamorizing the idea of a Jewish match between two hard-driving employees working in Amazon’s upper echelons. (The Lox Club, though open to LGBTQ singles, seems to have attracted mostly straight users; a college-aged Bay Area man told me that he was planning to cancel his membership because there are so few gay men on the app so far.) 

Lox Club members I spoke to had mixed reactions as to whether the app actually felt “Jewish” at all. Jackie Hajdenberg, a 24-year-old journalism school graduate living in New York City, said the app’s interface “looks like it was ripped from Hinge, down to the text, and the swipe function, and some of the prompts.” Adam Masters, a 22-year-old tech startup employee living in the Chicago area, said that knowing his matches are also Jewish makes him feel more comfortable reaching out, but that there has been “zero conversation about being Jewish between me and anyone on the app.” After you swipe through several potential partners, the app will tell you, “Don’t eat all the lox at once,” but those references are “the only times you’d ever know [the app is] Jewish,” Masters said.

In some ways, reading too much ideological content into the design and experience of the Lox Club feels futile: it seems less likely that Kevitch is preoccupied with questions about Jewish continuity than that he saw an opening in the market and took it. Still, the app is one more reminder that the persistent ambient noise about endogamy in the American Jewish community has eclipsed other conversations about what it means to have a meaningfully Jewish life. If, even unwittingly, the Lox Club is part of a project to preserve the “Jewish future,” then the app makes that future look bleak indeed: the vision of Jewish culture that appears here is fueled by elitism and even militarism, and marked by an enthusiastic participation in the white American ruling class.  

Despite my deep skepticism of continuity discourse and the fact that I’ve mostly dated non-Jews in my life, I, like many of the people I interviewed, wouldn’t mind finding a Jewish partner. Dating and building a life together involves connecting around values and interests, and sharing an interest in Judaism could, indeed, be nice. But my other values matter, too, and I don’t think I’ll find many people who share them on the Lox Club. Swiping feels like reaping what our mainstream community has sown for years. Much as I love lox, it makes me lose my appetite.

Mari Cohen is associate editor at Jewish Currents.