By Tova Ross
Issue of June 11, 2010/ 29 Sivan 5770
Since the beginning of time, Jewish singles have typically relied on someone – or something – to help them meet their future spouse. Whether it’s a community matchmaker, the introduction of a friend of a friend, the steps of an Upper West Side shul on a Friday night, or dating websites, Jewish men and women have utilized communal resources to meet and marry. Now, Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future has introduced its newest initiative: Creating Connections, a global program aiming to empower Jewish communities to help their singles meet in a healthy environment.
“It’s an issue of importance across the religious spectrum,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, director of the Center for the Jewish Future. “I don’t like to say there’s a shidduch ‘crisis,’ and I don’t think singles like that word either. I simply think there are not enough opportunities for singles to meet each other in healthy and appropriate ways. What Creating Connections does is set up social networks for young men and women to personally interact, with the events being run by trained connecters who can then help mentor them during their courtship.”
The program is an outgrowth of YUConnects, a Yeshiva University program that began as an online dating database for Yeshiva graduates. About 90 synagogues across North America, Israel, England, and South Africa participated in Creating Connection’s recent kickoff Shabbos. Communities hosted co-ed Shabbos luncheons and Shabbatons; held Saturday night activities; and delivered shul drashas focusing on the topic of shidduchim. Over 1,500 singles took part in the numerous events. In the Five Towns, the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst held a shabbaton that involved over 100 singles. The singles merged with another shabbaton that was held at the White Shul for a Saturday night activity. Other Five Towns shuls, like Congregation Beth Sholom, also participated by inviting a speaker to discuss the topics of dating and marriage.
The idea for the world-wide weekend was first discussed at Center for the Jewish Future’s annual national leadership conference last year. A task force was assigned to deal with promoting Creating Connections, and the program came to fruition after much hard work by Rabbi Brander, Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, YUConnects’ director, and other people involved with the Center for the Jewish Future, including Five Towns attorney Margie Glatt.
A number of different Jewish organizations banded together to help promote the weekend, including the Orthodox Union, Young Israel, Gateways, Saw You at Sinai, and Make a Shidduch Foundation.
“The goal of this initiative is to empower communities to help singles via multiple entry points – by inviting them for a meal, by hosting co-ed events in a healthy environment, and generally reaching out to singles in their communities,” said Rabbi Brander.
He went on to say that in today’s times young people are accustomed to personalizing everything match their own individual taste, be it a coffee drink or a social website. “I think singles have laundry lists of their ideal mate, and they need to realize that someone exactly like that might not be their best match,” Rabbi Brander explained.
In the Five Towns, most of the major synagogues took part in some way during the weekend. Liorah Berger, a “connector” (matchmaker) on YU’s dating site, was instrumental in the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst’s Shabbos success.
“We had meals, a Kiddush, a shiur, and a Saturday night activity,” said Berger, “and singles had a lot of opportunities to mingle and get to know each other. Many dates resulted from the weekend, and so many people who hosted said they were interested in pursuing further opportunities to host and mentor singles in the community, beyond this shabbaton that took place. I am so impressed with our community for participating in this great mitzvah.”
In the Five Towns, Yeshiva University professor and psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz, chief advisor and mentor to YUConencts, delivered a talk to parents at Beth Sholom about the correct dating values that they can help instill in their children. “There’s much more in the way of confusion about what matters and predicts success in the relationship today, because clear male and female roles are less clearly delineated. With proper guidance, young singles can sort out what’s important and what matters in a successful relationship,” Pelcovitz declared.
Dr. Sobolofsky spoke at the Rinat shul in Teaneck about navigating the dating system. “We’ve heard wonderful feedback from the weekend. YUConnects is continually growing, and Creating Connections is part of that,” he explained. “We hope to inspire communities around the world to do something proactive and positive to help singles mingle and create connections with each other – whether it’s a drasha tied to the topic of dating, an interactive lecture, or a communal meal at shul.”
Rabbi Brander said that so far 55 dates have taken place in the past few weeks since the big event.
“I think this weekend showed people that you don’t have to be a professional shadchan to set people up,” said Berger.