February 11, 2005/Adar 12 5765, Volume 57, No. 24

Kollel initiates matchmaking effort

Contributing Editor
Making matches - helping unmarried friends, cousins, sisters, brothers meet and marry - goes back to biblical times, the imperative to sustain Jewish life through marriage and family.

But what are men - and women - to do in today's fast-paced world with its highly dispersed and assimilated Jewish population? Jewish meeting, matching and mating is a problem.

"It's one of the most important issues facing communities across the country," says Rabbi Zvi Holland, dean of the Phoenix Community Kollel.

So the kollel has initiated a new effort to provide informal matchmaking here. Cindy Landesman and Noelle Lustig are heading up the project.

"We want to be here for people who understand the value of marriage and family but have not yet found the right person," says Landesman, who serves as the kollel's director of women's programming.

Landesman, 29, has been married to husband, Raphael, another Kollel rabbi, for eight years. The couple, who were introduced by Cindy Landesman's cousin, just had their fifth child.

Lustig, 35, who is the kollel's program coordinator, explains that their goal is to compile a database of Jewish singles seeking to marry and then help compatible men and women meet. They also plan on sharing their list with other kollels around the country with similar demographics in order to widen the pool of potential matches.

An initial meeting in December drew 25 people, both men and women looking for life partners and others in the community who want to help them find them.

"I went to the meeting because there is such a huge need," says Aileen Becker, who met husband, Jeff, through the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix's Young Leadership Division program. She joined YLD when she relocated to the Valley six years ago as a single mother with two school-age children.

Becker ascribes some of the difficulty in meeting, marrying and starting families to the changing social landscape. Many young people delay searching for life partners until they finish graduate school and become established in their careers.

"They are pickier, they wait longer and it's harder to find somebody," she says.

But at some point, finding a spouse becomes a priority, especially for women who want to have children and are conscious of the biological time clock.

"Some might not have the opportunity to have a family," she notes, a disappointment for them personally and an issue communally. "Our numbers will decrease."

Liz Rothstein, who also has signed on to help, says she volunteered because she sees Jewish marriages as essential to ensuring Jewish continuity.

"If Jews don't get married, then there will be no Jewish people," she says.

Rothstein met her husband, Mark, at a Shabbat lunch at a friend's home. "It was not a set-up," she says. "Nobody put us together." But she found her dining companion so engaging that they spent most of the afternoon talking. The next day she phoned him and asked him to meet for coffee. The conversation continued; nine months later, they married. The couple now has two young children.

Rothstein said she feels a responsibility to get involved. She noted that singles are often hesitant or uncomfortable about letting others know they are seriously looking for a mate; a friend or community member can be a comfortable intermediary.

"If I don't help, who is going to go for these people?" she says.

Interested singles are asked to fill out a questionnaire with basic information; matchmaking volunteers will use them to facilitate appropriate introductions. Holland emphasizes that the process is informal; the group will not do extensive investigation of prospective matches.

"All of the principals in the network are acquainted with each other," he says of community members and the kollel rabbis from other cities. "And at the end of the day, we hope that people will be truthful."

Traditional matchmakers usually engage in intensive research of prospective matches; fees for such private services range from $2,500-3,500 in major cities. The kollel project is free.

Online sites are other popular resources for meeting Jewish singles.

Lustig, a newlywed, met her husband David on Frumster.com, a site that appeals to many people who are seeking a more observant lifestyle. Frumster claims on its Web site to have helped make more than 320 marriages in just three years. It promises "high-quality singles" and "careful screening" and says it attracts users worldwide.

Seeyouatsinai.com is another online service; it combines the skills of a private matchmaker with the appeal of the Internet.

Each user is matched first with a personal matchmaker, certified and trained by Sinai, who works individually with each single.

"Many people out there are honestly and seriously looking for the right person and cannot find that person," says Marc Goldman, who says he started the site a little over a year ago to fill a yawning need.

"We wanted to find a discreet way for people to meet each other," he explains, from Sinai's New York offices. He reports that the site is responsible for 25 marriages in the past year, 20 in the past six months.

Rothstein says her brother met a Jewish girl on the popular site, JDate.

"If you are shy, it's better," she says, of the Internet's appeal.

Barbra Schwartz, a single woman here, says looking for a mate is not all that different from looking for a job.

"You've got to use all your resources," she counsels. "You've got to network, go online, use family and friends." She laments the limited Jewish community programming. Holland says the kollel is just trying to provide another alternative. Following a second matchmaking meeting Jan. 30, Lustig reports that she is working on two matches. And as Goldman, who met his wife before starting Sinai, says, making matches may be a mitzvah, but it's hard work.

"Every shiddach that God makes is harder to accomplish than splitting the Red Sea," he says, quoting a midrash. And that's just the match.

For more information on the Kollel matchmaker group, contact nlustig@aztorah.com or clandesman@aztorah.com or call 602-433-0300.

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