A Song in His Heart Inspired by world music, rabbi brings eclectic mix to HoCo’s Temple Isaiah

Rabbi Noam Katz performs at the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial conference in Orlando, Fla. (Provided)

Rabbi Noam Katz performs at the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial conference in Orlando, Fla. (Provided)

What happens when a New York native, based out of Canada, sings  Jewish songs with African instruments?

The result is a musician who has played for audiences ranging from a classroom of kids at Jewish day schools to an audience of 5,000 at the recent Union for Reform Judaism  biennial.

Rabbi Noam Katz has recorded three albums of English and Hebrew melodies, including his second album, “Mirembe, Salaam V’shalom,” which features musicians from Africa and the Middle East as well as his Ugandan-inspired version of “Am Yisrael Chai.”

Katz, who lives in Toronto and works at the Reform Leo Baeck Day School, is spending this weekend at Temple Isaiah in Howard County as a musician-in-residence.

“I grew up at the Eisner Camp,” said Katz, 37, who spent more than 15 consecutive summers at the Massachusetts-based Union for Reform  Judaism summer camp. “I was always mesmerized by the work of the song leaders to get up in front of the camp and start leading everyone in communal singing. There was great power and energy, ruach, in that ability.”

It was at camp that Katz fell in love with Jewish music. He described the moment he fell in love with Jewish prayer as “sitting on a hill at camp [listening to] a 19-year-old song leader in shorts, sandals and a tie-dye shirt playing folk melodies.”

If you are helping to create  positive and memorable meaningful Jewish moments for people, that’s what brings me great satisfaction as both a rabbi and musician. — Rabbi Noam Katz

While working at different URJ camps, Katz began to see music as an agent for building community and engaging Jewish text and values.

Rachel Kessler is a family educator at Temple Isaiah and met Katz at Eisner Camp in Massachusetts and Kutz Camp in New York.

“I’m so excited that he’s coming, and I think it’ll be an amazing weekend for the community,” said Kessler. “I’ve known him since I was a kid, and it’s been great seeing him grow as an educator and as a rabbi.”

Although Katz did not become a rabbi until later in life, he saw the possibilities of music to help teach Jewish values and text early on.

“The greatest feat of an educator is to teach without students realizing they’re being taught, and music is a medium to inspire and energize while you can educate,” said Katz. “When I travel to communities, I get to expose people to melodies, texts and core Jewish values, but I do so through music, conversation and story-telling.”

Aside from cultivating community in North America, Katz spent three months in 2003 in a small African  village in Uganda with the Abayudaya Jews. While the Abayudaya have since become more well-known to North American Jews since his visit, Katz was told he was the third  long-term volunteer to visit the  community.

Katz took inspiration from the Ugandan community two years before he visited when he was able to meet one of its leaders, J.J. Kaki, in Boston at a mutual friend’s house.

“At the time, [Kaki] was one of the first of the Abayudaya community to come to the United States,” said Katz. “That was the first time I heard their history and community.”

He explained the Abayudaya  incorporate elements of their language, Luganda, when they sing Jewish melodies in Hebrew. Most of the time this means ending words on an open vowel sound. That same night, Katz created his version of “Am Yisrael Chai” using what he learned about combining Luganda and Hebrew.

Temple Isaiah Rabbi Craig Axler has hosted Katz before at a previous  congregation in Philadelphia and  was eager to do it again when the  opportunity arose.

“He brings an incredible sweetness and mensch quality to what he teaches and leads,” said Axler. “That incredible sweetness is what you  notice most about him, and his  powerful music draws you into  participating with him.”

Katz said transitioning from a large crowd, such as the biennial, to a comparatively small one at synagogues makes little difference to him.

“If you are helping to create positive and memorable meaningful  Jewish moments for people, that’s what brings me great satisfaction as both a rabbi and musician,” said Katz, who also referenced Yoda, a character from the popular movie franchise, “Star Wars,” as an influence. “Yoda said, ‘Size matters not.’ There is a Yoda puppet on my desk, and I tell people his name is the same as the Hebrew word for knowledge. He’ll always be one of the gurus of  our time.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com [Read more…]

JT Honored by American Jewish Press Association

The Baltimore Jewish Times earned several awards in the 2015 Simon Rockower competition, which is held annually by the American Jewish Press Association. The awards were distributed during Jewish Federations of North America’s  annual General Assembly in Washington on Nov. 10. The JT competed in the 14,999-and-under circulation category.

JT editor-in-chief Joshua Runyan, who is also editorial director for  Mid-Atlantic Media, won first place for Excellence in Single Commentary for “Life-or-Death Struggle,” an Opening Thoughts column that examined the Jewish perspective on the death-with-dignity debate. Digital media editor Melissa Gerr was also a first-place winner, earning the Jacob Rader Marcus Award for Journalistic Excellence in American Jewish History with “Jewish Patriots,” a profile of 19th-century military heroes Uriah P. Levy and Mendes Cohen. In the Rambam Award for Excellence in Writing About Health Care, senior reporter Marc Shapiro earned second place with “Medicinal Reefer Madness,” which examined Maryland’s evolving medical cannabis program.

JT art directors Lindsey Bridwell and Ebony Brown won first for overall graphic design for the Feb. 21, May 23 and Nov. 21 editions. They also won second place for excellence in graphic design for JT covers “Horror in Har Nof” (Nov. 21, 2014), “Witness to Conflict” (July 18, 2014) and “Down to the Wire” (Oct. 31, 2014).

The JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week, won second-place awards for excellence in commentary, editorial writing and feature writing.


Veterans Hold Ceremony at Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery

About 10 people gathered at Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery to honor Jewish veterans Nov.15. The ceremony was led by Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz of Congregation Netivot Shalom.

“We live in this country, and I think we often don’t take the time to reflect on it,” he said.

Both of Kaplowitz’s grandfathers served in World War II, and he said people often are removed from the hardships that servicemen and women face.

“I think in our community we often think about the Israeli army without really taking time to reflect on the American troops who are allowing us to live our lives as we live them,” he said.

The service lasted about 10 minutes and included a special memorial prayer for veterans. Attendees then placed stones on the graves in the three Jewish sections of the cemetery.

Corey Ringer, an Army veteran who served in Korea, Germany Japan and the Philippines, said it is important to remember that many who died in conflicts such as WWII and the Korean War who are buried there were conscripted.

“It’s a weird feeling as a soldier when someone says thank you,” he said. “And a lot of the people here served and didn’t have a choice in the matter.”

Ringer said he thinks faith plays a large role in his life and the lives of others who have been in the military. He said service is a point of pride in his family.

“I’m very proud of my military  service, and I’m proud of my wife’s military service which is still ongoing,” he said.


Two Area Leaders Honored at JFNA’s General Assembly

Erica Belkin Allen, is the assistant director of congregational  education at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. (Provided)

Erica Belkin Allen, is the assistant director of congregational education at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. (Provided)

Two Baltimoreans were honored at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly last week in Washington.

Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, was awarded the Mandelkorn Distinguished Service Award. Named after Ben Mandelkorn, founding president and first executive  director of the Association of Jewish Community Organization Personnel, it is given to veteran leaders for their sustained contributions to their  respective Jewish communal organizations.

“I want to thank the Baltimore Jewish community for its incredible love and support,” Terrill said during his speech. “I am so incredibly  fortunate to work and live in a community of people who understand the importance of what we do and are committed to the things we care about.”

Erica Belkin Allen, assistant director of congregational education at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, along with four other emerging Jewish educators from across the country, were also announced as recipients of the Pomegranate Prize.

Established in 2011 by the Covenant Foundation, an organization dedicated to recognizing the diversity of strengths within the field of Jewish education in North America, the Pomegranate Prize recognizes emerging leaders in Jewish education, specifically those in the field for 10 years or less.

“I feel very flattered about receiving the award and am really gratified that I’m a part of a community that makes the effort to recognize its  educators,” said Belkin. “I’m excited to benefit from the professional  development, advice and mentorship from the Covenant Foundation.”

Pomegranate Prize recipients are awarded $15,000 to generate new  educational adventures in their communities and advance of their own skills as educators.

“We are aware that within the field of Jewish education … there is  attrition happening,” said Harlene Appelman, executive director of the Covenant Foundation. “The Pomegranate Prize is our attempt to  acknowledge that challenge and, in response, bolster and retain idealistic, creative and energetic professionals in the field.”


The Power of Solidarity Amid terror, French Jews show resolve

French Jews remain guarded but resilient following the attacks in Paris last weekend that left 132 dead and hundreds injured.

Led by the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, some 200 French Jews and Israel’s ambassador to France gathered at the Synagogue de la Victoire on Sunday evening to pray for the victims and those healing.

Shocked Parisians gather outside the Bataclan concert hall after the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Shocked Parisians gather outside the Bataclan concert hall after the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

“Our people, who have been tested more than others, know the healing power of solidarity and unity in the face of the pain of torn families, broken couples and orphaned children,” said Michel Gugenheim, chief rabbi of Paris.

Activities at Jewish institutions were suspended due to security concerns and out of respect for grieving families. As of Tuesday, no Jewish victims had been identified.

Washington-area residents with ties to France immediately checked in with their loved ones and expressed outrage and grief over the attacks.

Victor Obadia, a member of Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Rockville, and his wife contacted their loved ones in France immediately following the attacks. Fortunately, their immediate families were unharmed, but a family friend was killed in the attack.

“We have a lot of sorrow,” said Obadia. “My heart goes to all the families that have been touched by this event, and the barbaric [acts must] stop.”

He blamed the attacks on France being too generous in taking in immigrants and refugees from the Middle East. Obadia faulted the French minister of justice, saying Christiane Taubira-Delannon “has the police arrest people, and she frees them right away from the prison.”

The France of his earlier life, Obadia recalled, was more civil and democratic, and “there was not radicalization of Islam.”

Still, Obadia does not believe the Jews of France will leave.

“For generations you live somewhere, we don’t go,” said Obadia. “We don’t have to be afraid of people like this who are fanatics. If you leave and go somewhere else, you don’t face reality.”

It is better for French Jews to stay and defend their country, he added.

Gerard Leval, a member of Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington, who grew up in France, feels similarly. His family has lived in France since the 1630s and remained in Paris during World War II. They have no intention of leaving.

Leval, who was readying for a business trip to Paris in the days following the attack, described the situation as “reminiscent of the post-9/11” feeling in the United States.

“I spoke to one of my cousins who lives just a few blocks away from where one of the cafe attacks occurred on Friday night,” said Leval. As his family observes Shabbat, they were unaware of what was going on until they reached their synagogue. Instead of the usual contingent of three armed soldiers, there were six.

Since the attacks last January on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store, Paris synagogues have been assigned armed guards. In 2012, four people, three of them children, were murdered outside a Jewish school in Toulouse. The father of one of the victims was present at the prayer service.

“Now ordinary French people are beginning to understand how we Jews have been living in recent years,” said Samuel Sandler, father of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, the teacher who was slain.

Leval echoed the same sentiment.

“I don’t think it changes much for French Jews,” said Leval. “What I hope is that the French people will come to understand what Israelis experience every day” with groups such as Hamas promoting “the same kind of violence for the sake of ideology.”

Korsia, speaking at the prayer service, said French society “will rise up from its grief like American society rose up from the tragedy of 9/11 and like Israeli society, which never lays down for attacks.”

JTA contributed to this report.


Hogan to Feds: “Cease Settlement of Refugees from Syria”

Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday afternoon that he is requesting federal authorities stop allowing Syrian refugees into Maryland until security is assured.

“As governor of Maryland, the safety and security of Marylanders remains my first priority. Following the terrorist attacks on Paris just four days ago, and after careful consideration, I am now requesting that federal authorities cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland until the U.S. government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety,” his statement read.

His statement drew praise and criticism from local officials.

Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said Hogan wants to make sure refugees that come to Maryland are vetted properly.

“I think he’s taking a prudent step to make sure the citizens of Maryland are safe,” he said. “He has not made a request to cease and desist.”

Dels. Sandy Rosenberg (Distrist 41) and Shelly Hettleman (District 11) released a joint statement that said the Jewish and American traditions support immigration.

“To deny entry to our shores is to deny the opportunity that a free society provides to the outcast yearning to breathe free, to the stranger in a strange land. Those are the words in the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty and in Exodus 2:22, respectively,” the statement said. “We do not deny entry to people of a particular nationality or region. If we erect such barriers now, eventually they will not be limited to others among us. Instead, we ensure, to the best of our ability, that proper screening takes place before people are admitted to this country and that they are then provided the opportunity to succeed here.”

According to The Hill, 28 U.S. governors, all but one of which are Republican, have expressed opposition to letting Syrian refugees into their states.

Working Longer Economic conditions change the face of retirement

Why are baby boomers retiring later than other generations? Will millennials be able to retire in their 60s? Will Social Security be around in 50 years? These questions have raised new concerns about the ability of seniors to retire in the wake of a still-recovering economy.

Yet, there may be good news for millennials according to Dr. Shantanu Bagchi, an economics professor at Towson University. Bagchi says the increased life expectancy in the United States from the low 60s when Social Security was established to the upper 70s today has given baby boomers an incentive to work longer, thereby generating more money for Social Security.

“Once you account for the fact that individuals are going to respond to these longer lifespans by living longer, they’re ultimately contributing to Social Security,” he said.

Bagchi says that many middle- and upper-middle-class people are working longer because their jobs do not require a retooling of skills, particularly those in academia where the retirement age is around 80.

“The folks who are doing that are not required to do any new skills or take any additional risks,” he said. “The skills that they’ve picked up in that kind of job are relatively easy to transfer.”

Bagchi emphasized that the population most at risk is the next generation of blue-collar workers, which he thinks will have a difficult time obtaining the skills necessary to succeed. He expects competition for part-time jobs to increase between generations but that millennials will have an advantage when they apply for full-time work.

“In full-time professions, even if there is increased competition for those types of jobs, the folks who come out of college today are going to have an edge over older workers,” he said.

At Jewish Community Services in Baltimore, career coach Sherri Sacks said many of the people she sees have had some type of life change that has affected their economic situation.

“Some need to work because paying for medicine is a large expense,” she said. “For some, Social Security alone isn’t enough. Some have to choose
between food and prescriptions.”

Sacks said of the seniors she sees, some are supporting their children, and some are supporting their parents.

She said JCS has 13 coaches and each specializes in a different area of expertise in trying to find jobs that match the skills of their clients.

“We look at their resume, we look at their most recent work experience,” she said. “We ask about their computer skills and technology and how up to date they are with that. And there are some people who have restrictions as far as not traveling at night or too far.”

Sacks said JCS ends up referring a number of seniors to a training program or a community college in order to get a “refresher” course on areas with which they are not comfortable, such as technology. She said being computer literate makes networking easier and can often make the difference when it comes to finding a job.

“I think that what we need to update seniors with is social media,” she said.

Sacks said she thinks the later retirement of baby boomers is due to them not being able to cover their expenses with Social Security alone and that future generations will not have the benefit of a healthy economy that their parents had.

“I think that younger generations may need to recognize that people are living longer and working longer,” she said. “It’s not as easy to save money and have an extra cushion. People have to work longer to support themselves.”

Bagchi says the lack of political will in the country to balance the budget is one of the largest economic threats facing millennials. He tells his students that programs such as  Social Security and government pensions will still exist in 50 years, but there may not be as much to go around.

“What I tell them is that the odds are extremely low that there will not be any Social Security when they retire, but it will look very different from where it is right now,” he said.

Bagchi says the economic concerns of millennials are valid, but the jury is still out on exactly how difficult it will be to obtain jobs.

“They will have jobs in an economy that is severely fiscally unbalanced compared with what their parents were raised in,” he said.

Realities of Retirement Low-income housing one of many issues faced by boomers

Members of CHAI’s Northwest Neighbors Connecting gather to testify in Annapolis on behalf of the Maryland Department of Aging.

Members of CHAI’s Northwest Neighbors Connecting gather to testify in Annapolis on behalf of the Maryland Department of Aging.

Fact; More and more, members of the baby-boomer generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are retiring. From now until Jan. 1, 2030, about 10,000 of them will turn 65 every day, according to a Pew Research study. And the reality of retiring can throw curveballs that not everyone is ready to handle, especially on the where-am-I-going-to-live front.

“Weinberg Senior Living is an affordable housing resource by design and is for low-income seniors,” said Mitchell Posner, executive director of Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. “There is an insatiable demand regardless of economy, and we’re blessed to be able to have 1,700 apartments.”

CHAI, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, has 15 independent-living buildings and one assisted-living building, all of which use a “service coordination model,” according to Cindy Zonies, director of resident services at Weinberg Senior Living.

Posner added that there are several reasons an individual may look into low-income housing: one example being individuals whose savings were negatively impacted by the recession. This means working longer to recover.

“Every resident has access to a service coordinator, and we have partnered with Jewish Community Services,” said Zonies. “JCS has a presence in all of our buildings,
and it assists our residents with needs they have as they age to keep them independent.”

Zonies added that Weinberg homes offer a variety of services such as a subsidized eating program, transportation to grocery stores, malls and restaurants and educational, social and intergenerational programming.

Posner and Zonies emphasized that there is ongoing wait list, and applicants are better off getting on the list early so they will be prepared for the day when they may be in need of low-income housing.

However, some Pew Research studies have shown that many baby boomers desire occasional assistance but don’t want to move to another residence.

In an effort to help baby boomers do just this, CHAI established a Supportive Community Network several years ago that aims to create a self-sustaining village, where “people come together to provide volunteer services and support for each other,” according to its website.

Among other services, SCN encompasses Northwest Neighbors Connecting, which links residents in nearby neighborhoods into an interdependent community that relies on each other.

“The purpose of Northwest Neighbors Connecting is to support older adults’ ability to age in place,” said Chava Ball, director of NNC. “With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, that’ll put a huge drain on our senior facilities, and, quite honestly, there won’t be enough. If we can provide resources to let people stay in their homes longer, it buys us a little time.”

Ball explained that NNC gives individuals a support network if they need assistance while maintaining their independence. A member might volunteer his or her time to drive another person to a doctor’s appointment or to go food shopping. While a ride to run an errand is just one example, members provide a wide variety of services and programming to each other.

“Northwest Neighbors Connecting is not built on us providing services, but allowing [members] to give and take whatever their particular need is,” said Ball.

Miriam Rittberg teaches a conversational English class to Russian seniors in Millbrook. Being a member of NNC, she heard CHAI was looking for volunteers, and being a retired teacher — who also enjoys meeting people from other countries — the position seemed like a good fit.

“This group is very eager to learn and a delight to work with. It’s not a job in any way; it’s just a pleasure to help them,” said Rittberg. “If they need to go to the doctor, then we learn the vocabulary [you use at a doctor’s] so they can feel more comfortable [in] taking care of what they need to do.”

NNC has been established in the Cheswolde, Cross Country, Glen, Fallstaff and Mount Washington neighborhoods. And, according to Village to Village, a national organization that assists in creating communities such as NNC, a new community is being developed in Pikesville, northwest of the I-695 entrance.

Ball said that when individuals have all their decisions made for them, it lessens their purpose to carry on. NNC, in part, aims to combat this.

“The longer they can maintain their ability to choose, in my opinion, it is an advantage,” she said.


I Jew! Interfaith marriage is on the rise, but so are alternative ways for Jews to meet Jews

The image of dating in the Jewish world has come a long way from the days of fix-ups and the parental expectation that children marry within the faith. Today, there are virtually endless options for finding your beshert, but many are concerned about the trend toward interfaith marriage and are creating opportunities to counter this reality.

111315_cover_RotatorA recent study by the Pew Research Center found that the rate of intermarriage among Jews was 58 percent between 2005 and 2013, up 36 percent from 30 years before. It also found that roughly one-third of intermarried Jews are not raising Jewish children.

The movement away from traditional Jewish marriages has sparked concern from some within the Orthodox community, such as Baltimore matchmaker Mashe Katz.

“A mixed marriage does not allow the same Jewish values that we seem to find when two people of the same faith marry, regardless of their religious convictions,” she said. “They, and definitely their offspring, are lost to our people. There may be some exceptions, but as a general rule this is definitely true.”

Katz has been helping couples tie the knot for more than 50 years and for the past year has written a column called “Ask the Shadchan” for the website wherewhatwhen.com. A school office manager by day, she has always enjoyed helping Jews find their match as a hobby, but it has become more difficult due to changing societal values.

Jewish “frum” dating is much more formalized then it was years ago,” she said. “I started this over 50 years ago. In those days, people went out to have fun within our parameters until they met their beshert. We had a general picture of what we wanted and hoped that we would find the appropriate person for us. The couple worked it out together. Today, we live in a box. Everything has to be done according to rules and date in a certain manner which one may not deviate from.”

Adrienne and Paul Zimmerman met through matchmaker Michelle Mond. (Provided)

Adrienne and Pini Zimmerman met through matchmaker Michelle Mond. (Provided)

Matchmaking is still alive and well for many Jews, including Michelle Mond, who met her husband, Yehuda, while he was playing keyboard with the Zemer Orchestra.

“I got this vibe,” she said. “I don’t know why. I just got this feeling that he was something amazing.”

Mond gave her future husband’s name to a shadchan (matchmaker), who in turn set the two up. She later went into the matchmaking business herself and has since matched 10 successful couples.

“In the Orthodox Jewish world what you’re inherently doing is you’re having someone look out for you and looking out for what’s important,” she said. “All these people are all in the same boat. They’re not in this for playing games or anything. If they’re in the system for trying to find someone, they’re all in the same boat with the goal of marriage in mind.”

Mond, a mother of three, said she often acts as a facilitator between two people who are interested in each other but have not yet made the connection, just as her shadchan did for her eight years ago.

“You have to get two people on board for going out with each other,” she said.

Mond said she knows of seven Jewish matchmakers in Baltimore and emphasized that marrying within the faith is important not simply for producing Jewish children, but also for ensuring that the relationship lasts.

“There’s so much to having a similar background and coming from the same place,” she said. “I think [Jews] should marry Jews. They’re from the same heritage, they’re from the same background. You’re more likely to succeed.”

Rivka and Dovi met courtesy of Michelle Mond, and they will tie the knot on Dec. 20. (Provided)

Rivka and Dovi met courtesy of Michelle Mond, and they will tie the knot on Dec. 20. (Provided)

Mond splits her time between personal matchmaking and working for the site SawYouAtSinai, which serves Jews of all denominations. SawYouAtSinai blends the old and new of Jewish dating by asking users to create a personal profile, which requires references who can attest to the person’s character. It then uses the information to pair the user up with a real matchmaker.

Katz praises SawYouAtSinai and said it is better than some dating sites but advised users to be critical of some profiles.

“One must check references and make sure that what was written on the site is reality and not fiction,” she said. “However, it is a good way for people to meet, and I do know that there have been many successful marriages from this site.”

Online dating in the Jewish world has been a hot ticket since the late 1990s, when JDate burst onto the scene. Founder Joe Shapira said the site was “successful from the get-go,” due to the fact that it was a response to family pressure and cultural affinity encouraging Jews to marry within the faith.

“As a Jew, you get the opportunity to meet other Jewish singles in your community or college, and you go, pretty fast, through your grandmother’s introductions. And then, if you’re not dating a Jew, 95 percent of the people you meet are not Jewish,” he said. “Jewish apps make it less painful to find a Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend.”

JDate matches singles based primarily on location and can be beneficial in finding nearby Jews with similar interests. Shapira said the first JDate marriage occurred between two people in Caracas, Venezuela who lived right around the corner from each other but didn’t know it until they took to the Web. He says JDate is a measure intended to reverse the negative effects of a society increasingly glued to screens.

There’s so much to having a similar background and coming from the same place. I think [Jews] should marry Jews. They’re from the same heritage, they’re from the same background. You’re more likely to succeed.

“With the infiltration of various online services into our personal and business lives, there is less interaction among people,” he said. “For example, what you used to do over the phone years ago is done via email nowadays, and it’s less personal. Therefore, you meet less people in real life. So the decline in personal interactions and the normalization of online life make online dating (a) sort of an extension of your other online activities and (b) an opportunity to meet for dating purposes.”

Just as Shapira created JDate in response to sites such as Match.com in 1997, entrepreneur David Yarus launched JSwipe in 2014 as a response to the mobile app Tinder.

“Marrying someone Jewish is very important to him — as it is to many others — so the ease of finding a match with the swipe of a finger was negated when the first half of the conversation was finding out if his matches were Jewish or not,” JSwipe spokeswoman Stephanie Freeman said.

JSwipe uses a smartphone’s GPS to find other users within a certain radius and allows you to narrow down the type of Jew you are looking to meet based on criteria such as denomination and kosher status.

“We are a niche dating app geared specifically at Jewish culture,” Freeman said. “We provide our community with a fun, free and easy way to find love.”

Despite JSwipe’s target audience, the app is open to non-Jews, and there is even a “Willing to Convert” option.

On Oct. 14, JSwipe’s parent company Smooch Labs was purchased by Spark Networks, which owns JDate, as reported by the Jerusalem Post. Shapira, who left the company in 2005, said he thinks this was due to a general shift away from traditional dating websites to mobile apps.

“JDate has lost a lot of momentum in recent years with revenues declining by more than 50 percent, because dating is moving to mobile, and they could not put together a quality app,” he said.

Shapira has now taken to the mobile world, developing his own app known as Jfiix. Jfiix verifies the authenticity of users using their Facebook account. He said manual inspectors look at each new profile and photo that has been uploaded in order to ensure its safety.

“We have artificial intelligence technology that analyzes in-app chats and flags abuse (i.e. foul language, etc.), and each flagged conversation is manually checked,” he said. “Abusive users are blocked.”

If you are looking for a more professional application, the solution may be on the way. Matzomatch, created by Andy Rudnick, will match people based on their LinkedIn profiles. It will be free for women and around 99 cents for men, which Rudnick said is in response to female complaints that men who use online dating are afraid of commitment.

“At least there’s something where they have to make an effort,” he said.

Rudnick is an innovator in Jewish singles events, having started Christmas Eve “Matzoball,” parties in 1987 after attending a bad Jewish singles event at a hotel in Boston. He realized that it would be less awkward to talk to people if singles met in a nightclub with lights and music.

“It’s just a hotel ballroom, you have to wait in line to buy a drink,” he said. “It’s just not conducive to that kind of environment.”

The first Matzoball party drew more than 2,000 people, more than six times the expected number of attendees. Rudnick said he did a series of radio spots, which proved effective so much so that the line was out the door on Christmas Eve.

“I made my salary for that night and quit my job,” he said.

Rudnick’s idea eventually led him to his wife, who he met 10 years later at another Matzoball party. There have been more than 1,000 marriages in 28 years of Matzoball parties. This year there will be parties in 18 cities including Washington’s Midtown DC club. More than 50,000 people are expected to frequent the clubs on Dec. 24 between all of the parties.

“I didn’t invent Christmas Eve for Jews, I basically put it into a nightclub environment,” Rudnick said.

Despite the increasing popularity of alternative ways for Jews to meet other Jews, the dating method of choice for the old-school crowd remains matchmaking.

Katz said there is simply no replacement for the natural chemistry she senses in the couples she is able to match.

“Hashem gave me a certain insight and feeling that I cannot explain, but many times I see a ‘match’ in my eyes, and it works,” she said. “Hashem is the ultimate shadchan. All shadchanim are his emissaries.”


Honest Exchange Turkish ambassador to U.S. addresses BJC

Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, addressed members of the Baltimore Jewish Council at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s headquarters to tackle questions concerning Israeli-Turkish relations.

“The relationship between the Turkish and Jewish people in our recent history stands as a complete example of peaceful coexistence, mutual understanding and appreciation,” Kilic said to start his Nov. 5 speech.

Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, answers questions from the Baltimore Jewish Council concerning Turkish-Israeli relations. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, answers questions from the Baltimore Jewish Council concerning Turkish-Israeli relations. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Kilic, who was Turkey’s ambassador to Japan before accepting his current role in April 2014, continued by praising the BJC’s efforts in counteracting Islamophobia. He specifically cited the BJC’s condemnation of remarks made by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson regarding a Muslim becoming the president of the United States.

I believe that the present state of affairs between Turkey and
Israel, which are the only two democratic countries in that region, is unacceptable. The importance of the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations has become more important than ever.

Kilic admitted that relations between Turkey and Israel had “experienced serious setbacks in recent years,” and he was grateful to the BJC leadership for maintaining a dialogue and cooperation with the Turkish embassy.

“[I will emphasize] that the criticism [made by Turkey] was directed to the Israeli government due to its heavy-handed conduct in Gaza last summer and had nothing to do with the Israeli people or Jewish community,” said Kilic. “At the time, the Turkish community and Turkish government made that distinction very clear.”

Kilic added that when Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, visited Washington last April, he attempted to arrange a meeting between the minister and leaders of American Jewish organizations, but the meeting failed to happen after receiving little support. Kilic said this meeting could have helped to reaffirm that Turkey’s criticisms were against the Israeli government and not its citizens.

“I believe that the present state of affairs between Turkey and Israel, which are the only two democratic countries in that region, is unacceptable,” said Kilic, noting Syria’s civil war, terrorism and various sectarian conflicts in the region. “The importance of the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations has become more important than ever.”

A question-and-answer session followed Kilic’s speech.

“Turkey has sustained [rocket] fire from Syria, which it has returned, promptly and aggressively, and yet when Israel does the same for Gaza, there’s a condemnation of Israel,” said Abba David Poliakoff, first vice president of the BJC. “Furthermore, [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has made some statements about Israel that go beyond just relating to a disagreement over the  incident of the blockade [of the Gaza Strip]. Now that [Erdogan] has been elected with a stronger majority, why should Israel not feel worried?”

Kilic began his response by stating that Turkey has retaliated against Syria and warned other countries of retaliation, such as Russia, if it continues to violate Turkish airspace. “But we never attacked a school; we never attacked a mosque — this is the difference between Turkish retaliation and the retaliation of Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” said Kilic, adding that while Erdogan’s criticism of the situation was harsh, “[Erdogan] made a clear distinction at that time: ‘Whatever I say is not to the people of Israel; it is addressing the government of Israel and Netanyahu personally.’”

Kilic and Poliakoff began going back and forth, but Kilic repeatedly emphasized that “[Israel has] the right to self-defense, and [it has] the right to take every measure to protect Israeli citizens,” but in doing so, Israel must take caution to avoid collateral damage, even if that means a sacrifice on the military’s part.

Kilic explained that the Turkish military recently lost 20 soldiers in southeastern Turkey in an effort to capture five terrorists.

Poliakoff also questioned why Turkey did not condemn the United States after an airstrike destroyed a hospital in Afghanistan. Kilic insisted that Turkey did criticize the U.S. for that airstrike.

After Kilic answered several questions, he turned to Poliakoff, who was sitting only a few feet from the podium, and reaffirmed his position on Israel’s right to self-defense. Before leaving, he walked over to Poliakoff and shook hands.

“We appreciate the honest relationship that we have with [Kilic] and other members of his government, and it is vitally important that this relationship stay honest,” said Art Abramson, executive director of the BJC. “What [Poliakoff] said was [during] an honest exchange, and I’m happy it occurred.”