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Comparing Ourselves to Ivanka

What intrigued me more than the celebrity news coverage of the Ivanka Trump–Jared Kushner nuptials is how many Orthodox Jews have quickly and eagerly adopted Ivanka — a recent convert to Judaism — as one of their own.

Since the wedding, I’ve received “private” photos of the wedding from one friend, clips from interviews in which Ivanka discusses her conversion from another, and ecstatic emails from numerous other friends, anxious to chat about the latest news that they’ve read. Or, even more strikingly, a friend just confided in me, in all earnestness, that she was feeling depressed — realizing that she probably would never be as successful as Ivanka: After all, she is not likely become an executive vice president of one of the world’s most well-known real estate conglomerates. She is equally unlikely to create a line of high-end jewelry bearing her name or to marry a real estate scion and newspaper publisher.

To most of us, this does not feel like a revelation.

Nor is it something about which to feel bad. But ever since Ivanka showed up at Manhattan’s Kehilath Jeshurun, was spotted at a kosher hotel in Arizona for Passover, and got a custom-made wedding dress, which conforms to some Orthodox modesty standards, Ivanka no longer feels like your usual, untouchable celebrity. She feels like a frum girl — someone whom you might run into at Kosher Marketplace on Thursday night or at the Great Lawn in Central Park on Saturday, chatting with the other Orthodox Jews who often congregate there on Shabbat. She is, all of a sudden, fodder for serious comparison among Orthodox Jewish women and even the impetus for my friend’s anxiety about the course of her own life.

In other words, the obsessive interest about Ivanka does not seem to be the usual Jewish interest, that familiar excitement we get when we discover that someone famous has a Jewish mother or that sense of belonging we feel when we overhear someone talking about Rosh Hashanah on a commuter train. Orthodox Jews feel thrilled, and perhaps a little wary, to see their observances and idiosyncrasies played out in public. But perhaps what’s most compelling about Ivanka is the sense that her story has legitimized the fantasy that Orthodox Jews have shared for generations: for women, she seems to prove that — however unlikely — beauty, wealth, fame and even a career in modeling are all attainable. And for men, the “shiksa goddess” is no longer out of reach; she’s merely an Orthodox conversion away.

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