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JewishJournal.com

May 13, 2009

JDate’s Challenge: Everyone Wants In

http://www.jewishjournal.com/cover_story/article/jdate_its_not_just_for_jews_anymore_20090513

In what Jewish JDaters call “annoying” and “vexing,” and Jewish mothers call “a shonda,” (shame) non-Jews make up at least 2 percent of users on the Internet’s most popular Jewish dating service. Are they trying to undermine Jewish continuity, or are they just looking for love in all the wrong places?

“They’re not in it to ruin the Jewish people through assimilation,” said Esther Kustanowitz, a Jewish writer (and JDater) who manages the Web site JDaters Anonymous, among others. “They just want to expand their search for someone special.”

It’s true: While I was hoping for a more insidious answer — “Jewish girls are better in bed; Jewish boys love non-Jewish girls!” — the truth just happens to be that banal. Kate (daters’ names have been changed to protect their privacy), a JDater who is not Jewish, said, “I guess I chose JDate because I knew a lot of people who had done it, and I think it’s one of the older and bigger sites out there.” No secret plot to infiltrate the Zionist clubhouse. Kate is just casting a wide net, trying to cover her bases.

She hasn’t been very successful. “I was only approached by a handful of [or maybe two] men. I would guess not being Jewish had something to do with the low response, [even though] no one ever mentioned it in any way.” Kate thinks her age (41) had much more to do with her lack of attention than her religion. She is discontinuing her membership this month.

Most non-Jews on the site are up front about their religion, confirms Veronica, 31, a Jewish JDater. “I remember a profile that started out with the line ‘First off, I’m not Jewish,’” she said. “He went on to write that if that’s an issue for you [the reader], then you’d probably not be a match for him.”

But not all non-Jews are so up front. Jane, a divorced mother in her 40s, tells of a man who “waited to reveal that he was not Jewish until I actually met him,” she said. “Besides not being Jewish, he was sneaky, lied about his age ... and he was late! Of course, I’ve met plenty of Jewish, sneaky liars who are late on JDate.”

Crafting an identity on JDate can be tricky, even for Jews. So the issue lies not so much with non-Jews attempting to deceive Jews as it does with non-Jews attempting to define themselves using criteria that wasn’t intended for them.

“Sometimes their religious affiliation is a lie of omission,” Kustanowitz said.

When you first fill out a profile, you are asked several questions about your levels of observance. Do you keep kosher? Do you attend synagogue? JDate gives you the option of answering within a range of “never, sometimes, only on High Holidays,” and, to the dater’s sometime frustration, “will tell you later.”

“While sometimes ‘keeps kosher: not at all’ and ‘synagogue: never’ can indicate a secular Jew, sometimes they indicate someone who abstains from those observances because they’re not Jewish at all.”

Amy, who is also not Jewish, checked off “not religious,” but also says she wasn’t hiding anything. “I’m Asian, so my heritage was clear from the [profile] picture.” In fact, she said, “in an effort to be funny and irreverent, I put a photo of me in a Santa hat.”

Amy wasn’t approached very often. She once received a note that said, “I’m sure you’re cool, but I’m here to try and meet somebody Jewish.” Amy never went on an actual date with someone she met on JDate. Not surprisingly, she is no longer a user. “It got to the point where the funny story [of being Asian, wearing a Santa hat, on JDate] was more interesting than the actual service. The novelty wore off when the dates never happened.”

So why was Amy on there in the first place? “Since my last boyfriend was Jewish, it seemed like a good place to start,” she mused. “I have wonderful relationships with Jewish people and have dated quite a few.”

Those concerned with the purity of the Jewish bloodline need not despair: Despite all the stories of non-Jews on JDate, the population of users who choose “willing to convert” under religious affiliation is a mere 2 percent, according to Arielle Wolin, manager of public and community relations at JDate (however, this doesn’t account for the “will tell you later” segment).

“None of our success stories, including the 21,000 reported in 2008 alone, have reported that they are currently interfaith couples,” said Wolin, noting that some people featured in JDate testimonials have converted for marriage.

“We value honesty and feel it serves as a foundation for any successful relationship. That holds true for an entire profile, including one’s statements about his or her level of religious observance. Per our terms and conditions, if we discover that any member has misrepresented him or herself on the site, we will remove them,” Wolin said.

What may be most surprising about the non-Jews who use JDate is how little they attribute their lack of success to their religion. They appear not at all contemplative about the fact that they are throwing themselves into a pool of people who have decided they would like to try to find a Jewish mate. Phrases like “I like Jews, so why not?” and “Some of my best friends are Jewish” come up a lot.

While there’s no doubting the success of the site, the strict nature of the initial user survey, which ensures that you’re searching for what you think you want, is not perfect. As we all know, love is a funny thing. Our mental checklist rarely jibes with the person who, in the end, makes us the happiest. Veronica, the Jewish JDater who discontinued her account last week, agrees: “I have tried almost every dating site out there and can honestly say that JDate is the worst one. It just seems that there is very little room for self-expression on there. That might be a result of it trying to stream so many streams of Jews. Or it might be a result of being a Jewish site, and having it under such high scrutiny. You know, like the Hebrew National hot dog: It needs to answer to a higher authority.”

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