Internet dating


Jewish singles face one more question

By Michael Orbach

Orthodox Jewish singles face a mind-boggling number of questions: modern, yeshivish, modernish? Skirts, pants, bulletproof-stockings? Kollel or a job? Black-hat, knitted yarmulke or bald? Minyan or late-sleeper? Stack or Sweep? Aliyah or American-yiridah?

And now, thanks to the new-fangled invention known as the Internet, Orthodox Jewish singles have yet another quandary: JDate, Frumster or SawYouAtSinai?

The process is simple: sign up, answer some questions and you’re 20 minutes away from an e-mail from either your bashert or a strangely still-single Jewish axe-murderer. Jewish dating has never been so easy and yet so complicated. Here is a very brief, in no way comprehensive, guide to the three sites: pros, cons and some sordid history.

JDate, based out of Los Angeles, is the largest of the three sites with 750,000 members worldwide and 450,000 just in the United States. Of the 450,000, roughly four percent of the members list themselves as orthodox, totaling close to 18,000, according to a spokesperson for Spark Networks, JDate’s parent company, though the spokesperson was quick to point out that their main constituency is Reform Jewry.

Due to its size, JDate is the most active of the three websites. The community is large and noisy. Message boards are littered with comments and over 10,000 members are online at any time. Basic membership is free and allows you to search through profiles and send a “flirt” to other members, but full membership runs to $39.99 and a yearlong commitment lowers it to $23.99 per month.

Despite winning a Webby award in 2006 for excellence in social networking, JDate has experienced problems. In 2008, Spark Networks and its websites, including JDate, received an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau of Southland (serving Los Angeles and nearby counties) for “deceptive sales practices, unauthorized credit card charges, and difficulty canceling services.” The spokesperson for Spark Networks explained that the Better Business Bureau sent the complaints to an incorrect e-mail address and JDate is now working alongside the Better Business Bureau to address them. JDate also received negative publicity when an Israeli newspaper revealed that photos used in some JDate advertisements were actually of “adult” models (which would tend to make for a rather awkward answer to the “and what do you do for a living?” question).

One friend of this Jewish Star reporter signed up for a JDate account and found himself on a date with a charming Hispanic girl. A Jewish roommate recommended her to the site. “It’s a nice way to meet Jewish guys,” she said.

Ben Rabizadeh, the CEO and majority owner of Frumster, said his site has close to 40,000 members, though the number of actual paying members was confidential. The name of the site stems from a Saturday Night Live skit. Frumster is similar to JDate, where members can browse through profiles, send messages through the site and post on general message boards, which, like JDate, are filled with people who seem to have too much free time on their hands. The site does have options for Conservative, Reform or other denominations in Judaism, but according to Rabizadeh, 80 percent of members belong to a strand of Orthodoxy. Six weeks ago, Frumster launched a sister-site, Jwed, which caters to all forms of Judaism and has over 2,000 members.

Contrasting between Frumster and JDate, Rabizadeh said: “Jewish dating for marriage is our slogan. We’re looking for people who are serious about the dating process and ready to get married when they meet the right person.”

The month-by-month plan is $19.95, but a three-month commitment lowers it to $10.95. According to Rabizadeh, an additional 600 to 1,000 new members sign up every month and the site also boasts a screening process (apparently, the site is targeted by scammers based in Africa –– they catch four to five a day). One to practice what he preaches, Rabizadeh, who is single, is a member of the site.

SawYouAtSinai is the newest of the Jewish dating websites and, perhaps, the most innovative. It was developed by Marc Goldmann, a 30-something former Wall Street consultant. He was looking to do something for the Jewish community and get hitched in the process (it worked). Membership there ranges from $11.95 to $15.95 per month depending on how long you sign up for.

Instead of members viewing other members, each member is assigned two shadchanim, Jewish matchmakers, who peruse member profiles for possible matches. Since its inception in 2003, SawYouAtSinai claims 7,500 members and has successfully matched 644 members (that would be 322 couples). The site’s unique approach garnered mainstream press attention and rumors of other ethnic communities adopting the Jewish matchmaker concept. Already Yeshiva University has partnered with SawYouAtSinai for their YUConnects dating site.

Speaking by phone, Goldmann was quick to deflect praise to the work of all his shadchanim and to Tova Weinberg in particular. With over 100 shidduchim to her credit, Weinberg is a matchmaking machine and arguably the most powerful Jewish woman this side of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“It’s not because I’m good at making shidduchim, it’s because I dedicate my life to it,” said Weinberg, a retired dentist in Pittsburgh, PA who spends over 10 hours a day on some form of Jewish matchmaking. “I don’t like to cook, I don’t like to shop –– if I gave up matchmaking, what would I do with my life?”

Asked for any secret to her success, she replied: “G-d. Sometimes he lets me be His messenger.”

Looking for an interesting way to end this article, we logged into JDate and began a basic membership profile. We used our editor’s name and described ourselves as a male theology and zoology academic earning over $100,000 a year, with a zaftig/Rubinesque, yet cuddly figure. In our free time we go to art galleries, do line dancing, and play rugby; we speak Portuguese and Tagalog with a sprinkling of Thai. We described ourselves as stubborn, talkative, earthy, low maintenance and obsessive compulsive. In terms of pets, we went for reptiles and also added that we have a relatively serious drinking problem. For our profile photos we uploaded a picture of Alex Trebek and a hamster with a hat.

Finally, for our contact phone number we listed our editor’s cell phone. Or did we? See if this writer is back next week.