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.
A 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.”
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.”
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.
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.”