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Wandering Jews

Shul hopping with Traveling Shabbat Singles

January 21, 1999 | 7:00 pm

I had my qualms. Having endured every form of group torture in the name of uniting Jewish men and women, I initially resisted the Traveling Shabbat Singles ad. But I buckled. After all, bachelors can't be choosers.

Here lies the beauty of Steve Epstein's brainchild. Every week, Traveling Shabbat Singles invites Jewish singles in their 20s and 30s to meet at a designated synagogue for services and socializing. The idea of seeing different temples and meeting women appealed to me. To put it succinctly: two birds, one stone.

When Epstein informed me that the group had yet to make its maiden voyage, I was skeptical. But there was something exciting about joining at the ground floor. Epstein's optimism didn't hurt, either. For it was out of personal frustration that he begot Traveling Shabbat Singles four years ago in Washington.

"I'd go to different synagogues, but I would find that there were very few singles in my age range," says Epstein, 36.

In the coming weeks, Epstein will expand the club's scope and schedule post-service soirees at members' homes. Here are some snapshots of our first month:

Week 1 -- Dec. 4. Temple Akiba of Culver City Some 35 of us like-minded temple explorers trickle in from a long week to find Epstein and staff awaiting us with icebreaking name tags and smiles. Inside the sanctuary, the choir energetically welcomes Shabbat. Echoing the upbeat, unpretentious sentiment is Rabbi Allen Maller. As the avuncular Maller unspools a laid-back sermon on the lore attached to the upcoming Festival of Lights, I take inventory of our group. A woman catches my eye -- but she's with a male friend, and I can't determine what their story is. After Maller's "Ask the Rabbi" Q & A, I stick around for coffee, but my female prospect leaves early with her escort. I pass on the trek to a nearby Coco's for some post-socializing socializing, and, despite the lack of romantic synergy, I decide to give Epstein's operation another shot.

Week 2 -- Dec. 11. Friday Night Live at Sinai Temple of Westwood Since seeking out 30 people amid a throng of 1,500 is an exercise in futility, Epstein relaxes his agenda. Tonight, Sinai's Rabbi David Wolpe ties together the miracle of Chanukah with the magic of everyday existence. Cantor Craig Taubman serenades Shabbat with his sexy rendition of "L'kha Dodi." The usual shmoozing, studying and Israeli folk dancing ensues. Over by the catering table, I meet a woman who has the subtlety of a frat boy in a "Unabonger" T-shirt. I decide that the Chinese chicken salad looks more tempting.

Week 3 -- Dec. 18. Adat Ari El of North Hollywood Having met someone during the week, I invite her along for the ride. Upon pulling into the Hollywood Bowl-sized parking lot, we are enveloped by the good cheer of this family-oriented congregation. Inside, another evening unfolds with the ubiquitous Cantor Taubman. As we take our seats, my date meets a male Traveling trooper. Turns out they know people in Florida, blah, blah, blah. That's OK. My gut has already told me that she and I are not destined to share the same ketubah. To my delight, that woman with the male companion returns (sans male companion!). This person -- whom I'll call "Olive" -- and I start to bond. But since I've brought a date, Olive and I are hamstrung.

Week 4 -- Dec. 25. Adat Shalom of Westwood I find Olive among the Shabbat Singles crew. With much humor and vigor, Rabbi Michael Resnick chews on the heart of the week's Torah portion: Jacob's painful reunion with Joseph. When the service ends, the surrealism begins at our impromptu Traveling Shabbat Singles gathering at Jerry's Famous Deli. Amid Broadway one-sheets and a poster of a screaming Al Pacino, Olive and I converse. Moments before our round table disintegrates for the night, an all-out brawl (complete with broken bottle) breaks out across the room, and half the deli suddenly explodes into a scene from "Last Man Standing." Time stops. The Pacino poster gains eerie relevance. Then, law and order are restored when Jerry's beefy bouncers snap into action. The troublemakers evidently forgot all about the "goodwill toward men" part of Xmas. Our merry little posse exits the eatery to a Christmas carol of sirens from five squad cars racing to the scene (drunken punks + peace on earth + slow night in Westwood = an episode of "Cops"). All this action, plus the first month under our belts -- Who says Jews lead dull lives?

So here's the score: My Week 3 date started dating her Florida connection. While Olive and I socialize regularly, we have opted to take the "just friends" route. And I have yet to meet my beshert or find my ideal house of worship.

So why return for more? Perhaps, like the group's founder, I am something of an optimist. Every Shabbat seems pregnant with possibility. Word of mouth continues to spread, members continue to return, and new participants, such as Dawn Resnik, appear each week. As Resnik puts it, " It's nice to get a different perspective from different rabbis. And I really like our group."

Indeed, there's a cozy sense of comfort and continuity within our mobile community. And somewhere in my quest for stability, I have discovered that the journey itself is a lot of fun.

For information, call Traveling Shabbat Singles at (310) 712-3402.

Teresa Strasser will return next week.


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