Elyakim Kislev opens his book on happy single life with a scene from his childhood about growing up in Jerusalem in a modern Orthodox family. He describes how he went to shul with his father and would notice a widower in his thirties, with his only son. He pitied him because no wife waited for them at home with a warm Shabbat meal. In those circles, he was the man you didn’t want to become.
Fast forward to Kislev’s adulthood, and a changed Kislev sometimes felt a bit like that pitied man. He’d attend Orthodox Shabbat dinners (whether in Jerusalem or New York, where he lived and studied), facing subtle judgment.
“You know the situation that you feel at the Shabbat table and there are three couples and you,” Kislev said at a Jerusalem café after a day’s work as a faculty member at Hebrew University specializing in the fields of social policy, minorities, and single studies. “And you say: ‘I’m good with my situation,’ but somehow in the air there is this feeling that I need to justify myself or kind of talk about the person that I’m dating now, so I’m kind of having this statement that: ‘I’m joining you, don’t worry!’”
Today, Kislev, 38, lives in Tel Aviv (“the refugee camp for singles”), no longer Orthodox but “religious” in his own way, pioneering “singles studies” as author of Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living (University of California Press).
Until the last few decades, public policy makers, academic, social, and governmental institutions, literature and films have largely underrepresented this population, regarding “single” as an unelected, default, even undesired status. But while gay rights, women’s rights, and ethnic minority rights have fought to be seen and heard, he is proud to make the case for “singles’ rights.”