Jennifer Landsberg Barnes, right, and her husband Randy Barnes met via a Web site for Orthodox singles.
Move over, yentas: Matchmaking
By Chanan Tigay
NEW YORK, Feb. 28 (JTA) — Bitachon.com is not your grandfather’s matchmaker.
In fact, the online singles site isn’t even quite like some of the other more modern modes of meeting your match, like JDate or Match.com. That’s because Bitachon is geared exclusively toward Orthodox singles looking for their besherts, or soulmates.
That’s why, in addition to gender, age and occupation, the personal details section of Bitachon members’ profiles includes a space for tribal category, as in Cohen, Levi or Yisrael.
Bitachon is one of a growing number of Web sites focusing on bringing together Orthodox singles in an effort to ameliorate what some are calling a marriage crisis among Orthodox singles.
Last week, Bitachon — which was founded 10 years ago as a spot for divorced or widowed people to meet — relaunched a newly expanded site that, in addition to its singles listings and dating discussion areas, includes forums on Jewish family life and life cycles, politics, parenting, children with special needs and the Jewish classroom and areas for single parents, students and teachers.
The site, which has between 8,000-9,000 users, also includes the latest Jewish news, strange news items and an employment section.
The expansion, said the site’s creator, Rabbi Joshua Wohl, isn’t taking the site away from its matchmaking mission. In fact, he says, the whole point of adding new content was to draw in a wide array of new visitors — visitors who aren’t necessarily single themselves but who might know someone looking for a husband or wife and could notice a potential match while browsing the site for news or a job.
“What we wanted to do was to create activity on the site,” he said. “People who come to the site will visit, browse profiles and say, ‘I have a niece or a nephew looking for a shidduch,’ ” or marital match.
“That’s what shidduchim are all about,” he added. “A shidduch is always coming from an angle that is unexpected.”
Rebbitzin Judi Steinig said Wohl’s line of thinking is on the money.
“Everyone should be a matchmaker,” said Steinig, director of the shidduch programming department for National Council of Young Israel, the coordinating agency for nearly 150 Orthodox congregations throughout the United States and Canada. “The minute somebody says to their friend, ‘I have somebody wonderful for you to go out with,’ guess what? You’re a matchmaker. Matchmakers can be housewives, teachers, rabbis, somebody in business.”
Some of the Orthodox dating sites offer online profiles for users themselves to browse; with others, users work with a matchmaker to find an appropriate mate. Sites include Sawyouatsinai.com, Frumster.com, Futuresimchas.com, Frumdate.com and Orthodate.com.
The increase in such sites, industry insiders say, highlights a new direction in the age-old art of matchmaking in the observant Jewish world.
Ruchie Travis, an acupuncture student and a real estate title closer, met her husband, Alan, through an Orthodox online dating service. She is 25; Alan, who works for the United Jewish Communities, is 36. She grew up in the United States; he is originally from Canada. She was raised in a religious household; he has returned to Jewish observance.
“Through a more conventional means, I wouldn’t expect that somebody would have found grounds to set the two of us up,” said Ruchie, who was married in July. But by searching on the Internet, “it’s not limited to who you know and who your friends know. It really creates this worldwide web.”
“We’re superbly happy,” she added.
Marc Goldmann, CEO of SawYouAtSinai — the name is a reference to a Torah commentary suggesting that everyone stood at Sinai along with their mate — has more than 300 matchmakers working for his company in the United States, Canada, Europe and Israel.
Clients visits the Web site and fill in questionnaires about their lifestyle, religious observance, education and interests. Then they begin working with a matchmaker who, Goldmann said, “becomes their advocate,” chatting with them on the phone and sending over profiles of potential partners.
Sinai’s computer-savvy matchmakers are a far cry from stereotypical matchmakers of the past, like Yenta of “Fiddler on The Roof.”
“The typical stereotype was these little yentas who had their 3 x 5 cards, the grandmothers that would go to every place and find out information,” he said. “That’s significantly morphed in today’s environment where now you’re having young people that are mainstream, hip, and understand the need themselves because they have been single.”
Over the last decade, Internet dating has become increasingly popular and accepted in both the general and the Jewish worlds. JDate, a site for Jewish singles, for example, has more than 600,000 active members. The profiles of two Jewish congressmen have even been spotted on the site.
Jennifer Landsberg Barnes got married three weeks ago after meeting her husband through SawYouAtSinai. She is from New York; he is from California.
“As someone who has participated in and run over 100 different singles events over the years, I think” the Internet “is a great way to do it,” she said. “We have the control to be able to say yes or no and not feel like we’re being pushed into a corner” by a friend or relative who is trying to make a match.
There has in recent years been a sense among some members of the Orthodox community that “there are many singles who are not meeting the appropriate person,” Steinig said.
The Orthodox Union has run Shidduch Emergency Conferences aimed at addressing the issue, and Goldmann said he recently appeared on a panel at a different event, “Jewish Town Hall: The Shidduch Crisis Revisited.”
The advent of Internet dating in the Orthodox community has had the added effect of empowering observant women, said Derek Saker, director of marketing at Frumster, which was initially a site strictly for Orthodox singles but has in the last year opened its doors to marriage-minded Jews of all stripes.
“In the traditional Jewish world, a woman plays second fiddle,” he said. “They wait for someone to make a shidduch. They’re very much at the mercy of someone else making the effort on their part.”
By contrast, he said, more than 55 percent of marriages set up through Frumster — which says nine couples get engaged or married through the site each month — emerge from women taking the lead.
Steinig cautions that, useful though it may be, Internet dating must be approached carefully.
“I don’t recommend going into chat rooms,” she said. “And any match that comes via the Internet has to be checked out carefully — but that should be in any case, wherever a match comes from.”
Matchmaking, she added, is “a lot more than a skirt meeting a pair of pants.”