What makes a mensch?

I was wondering, is a mensch of today the same as a mensch of 20 or so years ago? I found this great interview in Time magazine and thought it a perfect companion to my book launch.

In 2006, Wendy Cole interviewed somewhat of a mensch expert for Time Magazine. Here it is for you.

Q & A: Finding a Mensch Mate

By WENDY COLE Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006

Not long ago, a mensch was the kind of guy your mother wanted you to marry. A devoted and kind Jewish son, no doubt, but someone with as much zing as a glass of warm, flat, seltzer.

But what a difference a few pop cultural references make. Menschiness has suddenly become cool. Desperate husband Carlos on Desperate Housewives described his parole officer as one, while the term came up in an episode of the generally un-menschy ‘Jake in Progress.’ John Lithgow was just singing about them on Broadway in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

And a guest on Oprah even described her as ‘Mensch of the Year’ last month for admitting her mistake in initially defending fact-challenged best-selling author James Frey. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, TIME Correspondent Wendy Cole spoke to Mensch expert Robin Gorman Newman about her new book How to Marry a Mensch.

TIME: What’s the story with so many mensch mentions these days?

NEWMAN: It’s become hip. The definition has changed. When I wrote my first book on mensches in 1994, a lot of people didn’t even know what it meant, and if they did, they thought it meant someone was a nerd or a bore. As a dating consultant, I met women who would specifically say they didn’t want to meet a mensch.

TIME: How do you know so much about mensches?

NEWMAN: I like to think I am one, and my husband is even more of one than I am. He’s very loyal, dependable, and big-hearted. He does things for people and he doesn’t expect anything in return. He’s a CPA, and he actually enjoys it, which is a menschy thing right there. A real mensch doesn’t need to get a lot of pats on the back.

TIME: Are mensches better for dating or as marriage material?

NEWMAN: Both. But it takes takes a while to know if you have a real mensch. A mensch will stand the test of time. You can’t know it right away. A lot of them are mensches in wolfs’ clothing. Brad Pitt probably thought he was one. But he sure fooled us, and especially Jennifer. Bill Clinton is another mensch in wolf’s clothing. You can’t be a mensch on demand, it’s got to be a consistent part of your character.

TIME: Can you become a mensch if it doesn’t come naturally?

NEWMAN: You can work at it. It does have a lot to do with how you were raised. It helps if you have mensch role models. One thing that gets overlooked sometimes is that you have  to be a mensch to yourself before you can become one to others. If you’re not good to yourself , that’s a turnoff. An uber-mensch might have the inclination to save the world, but if you’re tired or stressed you can’t spend your time doing favours for others. You have to strike a balance.

TIME: Where do you meet mensches?

NEWMAN: Doing volunteer work is good. It attracts those with a big heart. But you have to trust your gut. They don’t play games with you. I’m a fan of Internet dating, but you have to be more astute to find a mensch that way. It’s tricky to find a mensch online.

TIME: Once a mensch, always a mensch?

NEWMAN: Always. Your character doesn’t change. If it’s in your heart and soul, it doesn’t go away. There can be times when you’re busy and can’t be there for everyone all the time. That’s when it’s most challenging to be a mensch. Your menschiness might have to take a back seat for a while, but that’s okay.

TIME: You have a two-year-old son. how are you helping him to be a mensch?

NEWMAN: We’re very conscious of his manners. We remind him to say please and thank you. He’s already good at saying he’s sorry. But he needs more practice socializing with other children. He’s still a little territorial.

TIME: Any downsides to being a mensch?

NEWMAN: You can get dragged though the mud and taken advantage of. You could burn out. It is hard work to be a true mensch. That’s why I’m a little concerned that the word is being tossed around so casually these days. We have to preserve the integrity of the word.

TIME: How would a classic mensch celebrate Valentine’s Day?

NEWMAN: Every day is Valentine’s Day for a mensch. You don’t need a holiday to show your affection. Whatever you do on Valentine’s Day is just the icing on the cake.

 

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