I Need a Mans Pants to Wash looks at singles life

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“Quite frankly,” writes Lorie Kleiner Eckert, “I had no idea what would make a singles column Jewish. But then I thought about the Yiddish that all four of my grandparents spoke when I was a child.”

Her book, “I Need a Man’s Pants to Wash,” is a collection of 52 recent newspaper columns designed to help Jewish singles. At the same time, she captures a sense of love and home — a feeling she associates with the early days of her marriage, and even more closely with the childhood home in which Yiddish was spoken. That language, too, she hopes to teach to a new generation.

The author sprinkles 112 Yiddish words into her chatty, lively and often humorous book, which also contains a glossary. Eckert defines haimisher (an important concept in the book) as “cozy, unpretentious, having the friendly characteristics that exist inside a happy home; considered to be a highly valued trait. (This is the male version of the word; the female form is haimisheh.”)

The title as well is derived from one of her grandparents. When Eckert, as a newlywed, asked her widowed grandmother why she hadn’t remarried, the response was: “I need a man’s pants to wash?”

Eckert understood that reply only after 21 years of marriage and a divorce. In using it as her title she’s omitted the question mark. She’s still unsure whether to regard it as a statement or a question — like many issues in her book, it’s left open-ended.

The book is a primer for middle-aged single women coping with loneliness, and its main thrust is attracting a suitable man. The sexual element is acknowledged but downplayed, with emphasis placed on the importance of a meaningful relationship.

Eckert’s preferred technique, to which she devotes the most space in her book, is that of the personal ad. In one of many ads, she portrays herself succinctly as “Attractive DJPF, 48, 5′ 7″, 122 lbs., mother of 3.” What stands out among these statistics is her weight — a remarkable achievement (if honest) that must have taken determination, self-denial and hard work.

All those qualities, combined with organizational skill, come into play when she deals with the respondents to her ads. She’s developed a spreadsheet to keep track of all those no-surname-given Bills, Bobs, Mikes and Norms, of whom the book provides fascinating glimpses. The greatest payoff for this systematized recruitment effort is that, if one candidate disappoints her, she has a backup list.

Besides the usual risks of dating a stranger, for which she suggests safeguards, her particular concern is the threat of anti-Semitism. In the chapter titled “Have I mentioned that I’m Jewish?” she begins, “When it comes to dating, I am nonsectarian…though I am not paranoid about anti-Semitism, I am certainly squeamish and ever cognizant of it, having experienced enough of it to know that it still exists.” Any man in whom she detects that taint is instantly deleted. It’s a valuable lesson to the reader that pride need not be sacrificed because of loneliness.

However, Eckert confesses to one exception, in a chapter called “Equal but opposite prejudices,” she writes about a nameless Christian boyfriend who regarded Jews as a separate race. For the sake of the chemistry between them, she put up with his strange attitude until he made an unforgivable remark.

In her last chapter, “More than just single,” she confesses, “I’m sick of filtering every experience through the eyes of single-hood.” While her book should be helpful to its intended readers, it provides limited knowledge of the author. To know her better, I hope that she’ll write a real autobiography some day.

“I Need a Man’s Pants to Wash” by Lorie Kleiner Eckert (172 pages, Pelican Publishing Company, $12.95).