The New York Times

August 22, 2004
NEW YORK UP CLOSE

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me an E-Match

By STEVEN KURUTZ

THE problem with online dating sites is that they can be woefully insufficient. Yes, you can find out what five items people keep in their bedroom. But what about other more telling information like whether a potential beau keeps kosher all the time or just at home.

Hoping to fill in the blanks is an Internet dating site that caters to observant Jewish singles, sawyouatsinai.com. Started in December, the site has more than 5,000 clients. Unlike most other online dating services, however, where members browse ads for potential dates (and workday amusement), the site takes a more discreet approach; it has matchmakers who view the client profiles first and act as go-betweens among the singles.

In a sense, the site takes the tradition of using a matchmaker, or shadchen, to its high-tech extreme. Gone is the well-meaning grandmother in "Crossing Delancey" or the old-fashioned patriarch of "Fiddler on the Roof," although not the notion that dating should lead in short order to engagement.

"I didn't want a site where you browse," said the site's 35-year-old founder, Marc Goldmann, who, according to his sample profile, is 6-foot-5, attends synagogue at Ohab Zedek on the Upper West Side and is looking for a Lubavitch nonsmoker. "This is for people interested in forming a serious relationship with the goal being marriage."

The setup ensures the dating process is handled "in a modest way," Mr. Goldmann said. "On most dating sites, everyone can see your profile," he added. "We make certain our clients are not being exposed unnecessarily."

Such adherence to tradition helped the site be deemed halachically permissible by the president of the Rabbinical Council of America. The finding, first reported earlier this year in The Jewish Week, means that the site meets the standards of Jewish law as an acceptable way to find a partner.

"I believe in using technology to make advancements," said Rabbi Hershel Billet, a former president of the council. "There are a lot of boys and girls who have difficulty meeting the right person. This site makes introductions - in a modest way."

While finding lasting love in the city has never been easy, the difficulties increase exponentially for an Orthodox Jew. The dating pool tends to evaporate quickly when every person has to meet strict religious requirements and be judged as a potential life mate. And that is assuming you actually meet someone of the opposite sex: in more strict circles, mixed seating at social events like weddings is banned.

The strength of sawyouatsinai.com, according to Mr. Goldmann, is that it relies on the expertise of a matchmaker, but significantly expands the number of singles from which they can draw. "The site allows me access to hundreds of people I wouldn't have access to," said Nancy Karan, one of 120 matchmakers who work as volunteers. "And it allows the person to both get my opinion and to view the profile."

The profiles are a mix of standard online dating fare (height, weight, carefully lighted photos) and the kinds of religious information (frequency of Torah study) rarely offered on Nerve.com or even on JDate. Once a potential match is made, the singles receive a link to a profile and a date is arranged.

So far, two marriages have resulted from the site, and several singles are now happily matched, among them Arielle Wilen. Ms. Wilen, an event planner for a Jewish organization who lives on the Lower East Side, began using the service in December and was set up soon after, with some trepidation. "I would never have dated this guy based on his resume," she said.

The matchmaker persisted, however. Ms. Wilen is to be married on Labor Day.


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