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Jewesses with Attitude

What Patrick Swayze (z”l) did for Jewish women

I heard the news about Patrick Swayze's death when I logged on to Facebook last night and saw numerous status updates about dancing the merenge and not putting Baby in the corner. Swayze's death is not just sad (he was only 57); for Jewish girls of my generation, it's the end of era. I've written here already about the cultural meaning of Dirty Dancing, exploring the Jewish subtext of the film and Baby's imaginary trajectory after the film ends. But today I'm thinking about Swayze as Johnny and what it is that he offered young girls like me.

It wasn't just his amazing, glistening body in those tight tank tops and dance pants, or his sexy moves. It wasn't just his deep, longing voice in "She's Like the Wind," one of the great, cheesy love songs of the 1980s. No, he represented something more than just a Hollywood object of desire, tantalizingly out of reach. What made the character of Johnny so long-lasting in the fantasy life of Jewish women of a certain age is that the unattainable, sexy non-Jewish boy became (in the movie, at least, briefly) attainable. Baby's love for Johnny isn't unrequited. Johnny loves Baby back. He recognizes what's sexy about her, loves her despite -- or perhaps because of -- her Jewish nose and frizzy hair and tendency to blurt things out awkwardly. ("I carried a watermelon?!?")

Usually, movie love between Jewish women and sexy, non-Jewish men is unrequited. Take The Way We Were for example -- sure, Hubbell (Robert Redford) and Katie (Barbra Streisand) get married and even have a baby, but it's clear that Hubbell doesn't really love Katie the way she loves him. She can only be fully appreciated by a fellow Jewish activist-type -- whom we never see but are damn sure cannot compare to Robert Redford -- not the hot gentile.

But Johnny is different. Even though he and Baby can't ultimately be together, he really gets her. Not only does he like her and desire her, he is changed by her, and he acknowledges it publicly. Sure, he gets the big moment of agency in pulling Baby out of that corner, but she's the one who gets to fly in the lift. She saves him as much as, if not more than, he saves her. After all, he has the time of his life, and he owes it all to her!

The earnest, nerdy, frizzy-haired 14-year-old Jewish girl inside of me will be forever grateful to Patrick Swayze for making me feel like I could be graceful and sexy as I am, for giving me hope that someday someone might be turned on by my mind and my principles (and, well, maybe my body, too). Johnny lives on in our hearts, and may Patrick Swayze rest in peace.

More on: Film, Pop Culture
9 Comments

I think that speaks a lot to the self-hatred that a lot of Jewish girls and women have. Why do we hate our "Jewish noses" and "frizzy" hair? Why are we trying to attain some standard of beauty that is sexist, anti-semitic, and racist? Yes this inter-religious love affair is sweet and inspirational, but why did you need Patrick Swayze to tell you that you were desirable as you were, as a Jewish woman? We need to stop looking for reinforcement that it is OK to "look Jewish" or to be Jewish, we are amazing as we are, and if some blond gentile doesn't see it, so be it. Am Yisrael Chai.

I watched this movie when it came out and had no idea there were any type of Jewish undertones,very interesting.I was always a Swayze fan he was a great actor and I was very saddened by his death.

I saw the movie Ghost for the 20th time on new years eve. I was in the mood. The loss of Patrick was very tragic for his family,friends, and fans. However recall that at the end of the movie Ghost,Patrick teaches us all a very valuable Midrash. When Molly his wife to be, who never was,looks up and sees Sam(Patrick).He says to her Molly, I love you.She answers Dito. Then Sam says as he ascends to Heaven, You know Molly,the love inside,you take it with you. Patrick did this for all of us.He left behind his good works,and his acting forever caught on film and hearts.But he really did take the love with him.

sad news, was really pulling for him, he was such a fighter through it. fun to look back at his work. list of patrick swayze movies.

This is a terrible loss, for his wife-first, then for his extended family and friends, then for Hollywood. He was a great actor and now cancer took his life. Well, life is short and the unexpected does happen!

I'll be honest, I never thought of it from a Jewish perspective. I am interested to read your previous take on the movie. As far as Swayze dying, such a sad thing to see him go and to pancreatic cancer, nonetheless. My great aunt just died of Pancreatic cancer, and her sister died of it several years ago. It is such a painful thing to watch, knowing that they are suffering and even with the care of a nurse, it is just knowing that their days are numbered that makes it so hard. Prayers go out to his family.

i cried when I read this tribute. How true.

Hi,

I just wanted to check to see if you're sure he wasn't Jewish. He certainly was cute enough to be.

Take care, mb

Wonderful piece in tribute to an icon.

How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "What Patrick Swayze (z”l) did for Jewish women." 15 September 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 26, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/swayze>.

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