Making a Difference
How We All Can Help Jewish Singles Achieve Their Goals of Marriage
By Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.
A young single woman wrote us recently to ask for our suggestions to help her expand her opportunities to meet suitable dating partners. Since she had become religiously observant as a young woman, her parents and family members couldn’t play an active role in networking on her behalf. She had tried what she termed the "shadchan route", but was having a hard time relating to the matchmakers she had met. Since the Torah-observant community offers very few opportunities for singles to meet members of the opposite gender (and conditions aren't much better in the general Jewish community), our reader turned to us for help.
The Numbers behind the “Singles Crisis”
Unfortunately, we had to agree with her assessment of the situation. As a whole, the Jewish community has failed to address the difficulties faced by the singles among us, even though we are faced with a demographic crisis. Approximately 38% of Jewish adults are single and the median age of Jewish singles in the U.S. is now 41. In addition, many Jewish adults feel alienated from a faith that by traditional places a great emphasis on families, and we lose an alarming percentage of Jews of marriageable age to assimilation and intermarriage each year (300,000 over the past decade).
This isn't just a problem facing the more secular branches of the Jewish family tree. Tens of thousands of single Jews, be they yeshivish , modern Orthodox, traditional, non-Orthodox, or unaffiliated, would like to get married but have trouble finding suitable Jewish dating partners. Their difficulties are compounded by the fact that contemporary secular culture treats marriage as one of many lifestyle choices. As a result, many singles don't see enough successful courtships to figure out, on their own, how to date in a way that enables them to develop relationships that can lead to happy and stable marriages.
This isn't a problem that Sasson V’Simcha can tackle with a few well-worded suggestions. We need to work together as individuals and as a community, using a proactive, multi-pronged approach. Unfortunately, the organized Jewish community continues to drag its feet when it comes to addressing this issue. That’s why we need a grass-roots approach to the problem, without waiting for official committees or boards of directors to become involved. Our singles can’t wait any longer.
How You Can Become Proactive
You can become proactive whether you are single or married and interested in helping single friends and neighbors. Take one of our suggestions, adapt it to your community’s perspective and needs, and run with it. Feel free to write or call Sasson V’Simcha for “technical support”.
1. Find unconventional solutions.
Ever hear the expression, "think out of the box?" It means to explore unconventional solutions to problems. Our first suggestion – to become more involved in your Jewish community and to maintain that involvement, is one that singles as well as married men and women can follow. This is one of the most effective ways to develop social networks, and social networking has been and continues to be the primary way that most people meet the person they marry.
Community involvement is more than a great way to forge a stronger connection with neighbors, develop new friendships, meet new dating partners, get acquainted with people you can set up with your friends, or meet people who will set you up with their friends (and perhaps one will be your future spouse). It’s also a way to give back, to remember that you’re not the center of the universe, to enhance your sense of compassion, and to feel a stronger connection to the Jewish world.
Look into community-service or chesed projects that will enable you to work on a committee or with a group of others, as well as a recreational activity you’d enjoy. Some of these can be same-gender activities, such as a men's or women's service organization, exercise class, sports team, or musical/theater group. Even though you won’t meet your next dating partner at the Kosher Gym’s ladies-only day or all-male Pilates classes, a new friend from that class have a brother, sister, cousin, best-friend, or co-worker who’s just right for you. In one community, several marriages have resulted from social networking that occurred at same-gender Saturday evening melaveh-malka programs.
2. Become a social resource for singles.
The idea behind these melaveh-malka programs is that married friends, alone and together with their spouses, can be great social resources for singles, and part of thinking "outside of the box" involves developing more friendships with married people of one's own gender. We know that for some people, it is easier said than done. In some singles enclaves of New York City, for example, married couples are hard to find. In other neighborhoods, singles and married may live close by but may not socialize too often because it is easier for them to identify with those who are at their own stage in life. That's a mistake all of us can ill afford to make.
One way to increase married/single socialization is by becoming involved in a local synagogue that has a number of married couples in your age range, rather than a synagogue that primarily serves an unmarried population. If you’re single, ask the rabbi and the shul president or membership chairman for suggestions as to how you can become more integrated into the fabric of the synagogue community. If you’re married, you can invite unmarried men and women for Shabbos meals, welcoming their participation in programs and committees, and plan activities that singles can join without feeling out of place. Some communities have expanded this last idea by organizing monthly Shabbtons during which local families invite several unmarried men and women to their Friday night or Shabbos afternoon meals. Hosts and guests get to know each other in a pleasant atmosphere, and after Shabbos the hosts as well as the guests can follow up on ideas for shidduchim.
There's another benefit to living in a community where singles socialize with married friends, and vice-versa. Environment plays a large role in a person's expectations. Singles who feel more connected to married peers are more marriage-oriented than people who live in singles' enclaves and as a result have higher marriage rates. In contrast, unmarried people whose friends and acquaintances are mostly single unconsciously or consciously adopt an attitude that they have all of the time in the world to decide to settle down. Unfortunately, this phenomenon also exists in frum society, where some people truly enjoy their prolonged bachelorhood and don’t decide to focus on getting married until they are 35 or 40, when this goal is harder to accomplish.
3. Create more opportunities to meet.
Each segment of the Jewish community has its own approach to providing opportunities for men and women to socialize in an environment that is conducive to marriage-oriented dating. A number of rabonim have given qualified approval for mixed-gender events for this purpose and frankly, we need to provide more of these opportunities for singles.
These events are most successful when they are relatively small (30 to 70 people), are comprised of many participants of similar ages and levels of hashkafa, have a theme or activity as a focal point, and include a number of trained facilitators to promote conversation and socializing. Singles at these events have opportunities to get to know people they may never have been introduced to in a conventional fashion, and may either agree to go out or introduce the other person to a friend.
When planning an event, remember that small is better. Unstructured mega-mixer-type events seldom bring potential spouses together. That’s because the people who attend usually make connections based primarily on appearance or a sense of chemistry. There are simply too many people to allow for meaningful conversation. In addition, large crowds can be intimidating, Many people are uncomfortable with the meat-market atmosphere that prevails in a large, unstructured group and aren’t able to present their fine qualities in such an environment.
4. Help someone build a network.
We've mentioned the idea of social networking earlier. We believe this to be the number one way for singles to meet dating partners that are well-suited for them. The yeshiva world engages in networking when parents, relatives and friends help men and women find shidduchim. Unfortunately, few singles who are not members of yeshivish communities know how to develop or use a network to their best advantage. Many continue to rely on the belief that they'll simply meet good dating partners, when the truth is that the further removed a person is from college-age the fewer opportunities he or she has to simply "meet" suitable dating prospects.
Why not consider helping someone build their own network by sharing some of the suggestions in this article? In addition, a single who recently became observant, or who recently moved to your city, will need something more because his won’t know many people who have an observant lifestyle or live in or near his new community. It may be a good idea to introduce him to your friends, relatives, and neighbors so that they can become part of his network.
We recommend that before singles engage in networking, they decide upon the most effective ways they can be described to prospective dating partners. They can develop an “elevator pitch” that includes a brief summary of facts (age, where they’re living, religious orientation), a description of where their life is going and the direction they are taking to get there, and the values that are most important to them. It’s also important to describe four important personal qualities about themselves and four qualities they genuinely want to see in their future spouse.
To begin networking, we suggest each person imagine that they are in the middle of a circle and map all of the people they know along concentric circles surrounding the center. On the first circle are immediate family and any siblings' spouses. On the next, other family members. Other circles can include closest friends, present and former teachers and rabonim, community rabbi, neighbors and coworkers, people from the synagogue, clubs, classes and community activities, and relatives and friends of relatives and friends.
The next step is for a single to ask the people in these circles for help. One matchmaker told a now happily married friend of ours that, "You've got to set aside your ego when you date for marriage," and she was right. The first few times a single approaches someone to ask for their help will be the hardest and will require a certain amount of assertiveness. It’s easiest to first approach the close friends and family and then others. We suggest developing a variation on the following for those individuals who are not one's closest friends: "Ruth, I really enjoy the exercise class we take together, and one of the reasons is that I've met some great people, like you. I'd like to ask if you are willing to help me with something that means a lot to me. I would like to get married in the near future, and I'm building a network of people who may know of someone who might be a good person for me to date. I think very highly of you and would like you to be part of that network, by thinking of the people you know now or might meet in the future whom you can suggest to me as potential dating partners. Would you consider doing this?"
5. Know How to Network.
Networking has to be a collaborative effort. If Ruth agrees to help her friend, she needs to know what to do. She should be sure to obtain and disseminate accurate information about her friend and about potential dating partners, taking good notes she can refer to later on. She should be willing to approach people to say, “I have a great friend I’d like to set up. You may know someone who’s right for her - can I tell you about her?” Ruth should also be able to follow up on any suggestions she receives. Ruth and her single friend can arrange for a time to discuss what being in a network entails. Ruth’s friend should then describe herself and what she’s seeking by using the well-thought-out “elevator pitch” mentioned earlier. Finally, the two of them should discuss the best way Ruth can follow up if she thinks of a potential dating partner.
Ruth’s friend should be able to provide names and contact information of references who can be called by potential dating partners. A reference person should have good judgment and discretion and should know enough about a single to give accurate and truthful information. At least one reference should know the single for a long time, even if the two of them haven't been in close contact in the recent past. It’s important for a single to talk to the people they will use as references to ask for their consent, update them on how their life is going, and discuss the most positive ways for the reference to talk about any potentially problematic issues
6. If you're married, follow through on ideas, mentor, and help make matches.
It isn't just single men and women who can benefit from our suggestions as to how they can meet suitable dating partners. Married men and women in the Jewish community should be taking their own steps to help facilitate more Jewish marriages. We believe that all of us, whether we are married or not-yet-married, should be on the lookout for suitable prospects for our single friends and should follow through whenever we get a sudden bursts of inspiration that "he might be a good match for her".
Too often, these inspirations die a quick death because they are not followed through. We should talk to each of the people we are thinking about setting up, ask them about their goals, the values that are important to them, the way they would like to be described to others, and what they are looking for in future spouse. Ask about the best way to reach them, and who can be called as a reference. Write it all down in a notebook – this information is easily forgotten! If your idea doesn’t work out, you’ll have the information on hand the next time you’re inspired.
7. Think about collaborating with others.
Many shidduchim have resulted from the collaborative efforts of more than one person. Two or more friends may work together to put together an idea. Or, groups of women and, in some cases, married couples, can get together to form matchmaking groups in their communities. These volunteers are guided by a strong sense of ahavas Yisroel and chesed .
Some of these groups include large organizations like the L'Chayim network and Inve Hagefen in the U.S., There are also Made in Heaven in London, Yashfe in Israel, Yad L'Simcha, the Passaic-Clifton (New Jersey) Shidduch Committee, Simcha Link in Chicago, Kol Simcha in Baltimore, and Sasson V'Simcha in Toronto (we share a name but are not related). However, for all of the groups that have met with some success, there are many groups who are floundering.
Our initial observations are that the more successful groups have volunteers and/or paid professionals who have gone through some sort of training on interviewing and matching up people. Each matchmaker devotes a certain amount of time to the project each week. The group has good record-keeping so that their data base is accessible and current, is well-organized so that singles who came to them a few months ago aren't lost in the shuffle, and has someone making sure matchmakers follow-up with suggestions. The groups that are struggling to succeed often lack a number of these characteristics.
Matchmaking isn't for everyone. In our experience, the best matchmakers are genuinely interested in helping people make the best possible match. They have good interpersonal skills, can hear what their clients have to say, try to get to know their clients' viewpoints and goals in life, and understand the issues their clients are concerned about. They sometimes may need to know how to guide a client through the dating process or give constructive criticism in a kind way. It’s also important for them to give their clients emotional support, be organized, and have enough time to devote to follow through on their ideas. Sasson V’Simcha is here to help communities form matchmaking groups and train potential matchmakers and dating mentors. For more information, contact us.
8. Help just one person.
The main thrust of this article is that kol Yisrael arevim zeh l'zeh – we are all in this together. The "singles' problem" is everyone's problem. Most of us are too busy with out own lives to tackle the single’s crisis head-on, but each of us can make an individual effort that can have a big impact. Each happily married couple can choose one single friend or relative they would like to help and offer their friendship, guidance and legwork. The couple can be an advocate for the single man or woman.
They can network – telling their own friends, coworkers, rabonim and family members that they know a wonderful person they would like to help get married, describing the single's qualities and what her or she is looking for, asking if they know an appropriate person to introduce to him or her, and following up on all recommendations. The couple can offer to help the single sift through ideas, be their sounding board, and give them guidance. Jewish continuity, which can only be achieved when Jews marry and raise families, is the concern and responsibility of every Jew, and we all must work together to help our community grow.
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