It’s 2008, and Jewish dating websites are booming. JDate, which requires no proof of Jewish heritage, leads the pack with a membership of 650,000. SawYouAtSinai has 25,000 members. Ohev Sholom a Washington, D.C., synagogue has gone so far as to give free SawYouAtSinai membership to singles, who participate in synagogue events. In this feature Lubavitch.com put on its best outfit and found out what it’s like to find a mate through Chabad’s shidduch – matchmaking websites.
(Lubavitch.com/LNS) No longer is the matchmaker the village busybody who knew families and their foibles.
Today’s Yenta is an algorithm whirring in a server miles away.
“Everyone is crazy for internet dating,” said Rabbi Laivi Forta of Chabad of Aventura. “But it has to be done the right way.”
Around the world Chabad centers have created websites crafted to avoid the pitfalls endemic to Internet dating. All are free, eliminating financial obstacles to the hunt for a spouse. All are designed to ascertain that registered users are Jewish. Linked to Chabad centers, they return some of the personal touch and concern of the old matchmaker missing in newfangled sites.
To receive a password to register on Mazeltov, a site run by Chabad of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, users first present papers to confirm their Jewish heritage to a local rabbi.
“I get screamed at a lot by people who are not Jewish and want to register,” said Liza Goldenberg, who has been running the site since its inception in February 2006. “But there are plenty of sites that don’t have this requirement.”
After registration, Goldenberg calls the potential user to chat. “We only want people who are serious about getting married, who are normal, not pranksters or people looking just to date,” she said.
At least 40 couples met and married through Mazeltov in the past year. Goldenberg suspects that the actual number of marriages is higher. “People are embarrassed to say they found a husband on the Internet, so they don’t tell us.”
In celebration of the site’s second birthday, Goldenberg, a graduate of Chabad’s Or Avner school in Dnepropetrovsk, will be embarking on a road trip across Ukraine and Russia to publicize the site and help people become more comfortable with the idea of finding a spouse online.
Checking up on references is also part of the requirement for joining Brazil’s Ahava.com.br, but like all Chabad sites, religious observance is not.
“Non-religious Jews are 99.9% of our users. Half are not affiliated with a synagogue at all,” said Rabbi Yossi Schildkraut of Beit Chabad Itaim, in S. Paulo, Brazil. To keep Jews of all backgrounds from feeling intimidated by the site, it does not include any Jewish content.
“We have more nice Torah classes, Jewish websites, more rabbis in more locations than any time in history, but the number one problem in the Jewish world is singles finding a Jewish person to marry,” said Rabbi Schildkraut.
“We don’t want people to leave our site thinking it’s not for them because we put up information they weren’t ready for.”
As the head of a Brazilian Jewish matchmaking program for 22 years, Rabbi Schildkraut knows the dating scene cold. Many Jewish people marry outside of the faith, he said, not out of disaffection for Judaism, but because they cannot find a Jewish mate.
“So many people come to shul on Shabbat, but their wife is not Jewish. They couldn’t take being alone anymore. They gave up.”
Seven years ago, Rabbi Schildkraut’s singles program made the leap to the web, and it started raining men. Online dating is less threatening to Brazilian machismo than turning up at a singles event. Now men make up 40% of the 2000 members, well above the 16% of the pre-Net days. In a 2003 Jewish Federation survey, matches made through Ahava accounted for 7% of all non-conversion Jewish marriages in Brazil.
Among the newest sites is Chabad of Aventura, FL’s Chabadmatches.com. Begun in 2007, the site utilizes the Chabad worldwide network to protect its singles from misrepresentation and mismatches. Jewish singles get passkeys to the site through their local Chabad rabbi or by contacting the site administrator directly. Users browse profiles, but they can only chat with their chosen single once their rabbis talk and concur that the two have any potential as a couple.
“We don’t want people to waste time and emotions on someone who is totally not for them,” said Rabbi Forta. So far four couples, ranging in age from late twenties to mid-fifties, are dating seriously.
A more informal, but highly effective example of Chabad’s international network of representatives at work is on the Shluchos Network. Created as a bulletin board where women who run Chabad centers can exchange ideas, many messages on the Shluchos Network describe community members seeking mates. In these situations, the Internet comes the closest to the tried and true method – word of mouth – that has brought couples together for generations.
Aside from mother hen watchfulness, Chabad sites provide other, distinctly Jewish perks. In Brazil, 8-10% of the divorcees registered on Ahava have Chabad conduct Jewish divorces for them, clearing Jewish legal obstacles that would hinder a new marriage. Ukraine’s Mazeltov provides Jewish ritual items for the couple. The tallit prayer shawl Roman wore during his marriage to Leah last week in Chabad of Moscow’s Marina Roscha synagogue was a gift from Mazeltov.
Program supporter Timur Mindich, another Or Avner graduate now splitting time between Kiev and Israel, has underwritten the cost of entire weddings for needy couples who met through Mazeltov. Floridians who find a mate through Chabadmatches have access to a rabbi and cantor for their ceremony.
Despite the miles that separate the Ukrainian, Brazilian and Floridian sites, they have much in common. Each one was started to serve singles in their own area, but they have all received worldwide interest in their services. Portuguese speakers from Miami, Jerusalem and Japan are members of Ahava. Ukraine’s Mazeltov site has members across Russia, United States and Israel, and will be launching a full English site to accommodate the demand.
In Aventura, Chabadmatches.com added a full time coordinator to help busy Chabad representatives register their community members.
“It’s a very important part of our lives, and a very important part of a community. There are so many single and lonely people around,” said the site’s executive administrator Mariana Furmanski.
“All that’s needed is a little dedication from the Shluchim to register their single congregants. The rest is very simple.”
From her mouth to G-d’s ear to the chuppah.