August 1, 2002
Meetings With Meaning
Singles frustrated with superficial dating encounters can find vastly different ways to do something about it.
Whether it's a seven-minute SpeedDate, a shidduch rooted in tradition or something in between, Jewish singles are meeting and marrying in Orange County.
Sometimes people meet through their involvement in community activities. For Phil and Stacy Kaplan, both new to Orange County in 1995, love was a fringe benefit of engaging in tikkun olam, repairing the world.
"I joined the Young Business & Professionals Group [YB&P] of the Jewish Federation, because I wanted to meet Jewish friends and make a contribution to our Jewish community," Stacy Kaplan explains. "Of course, meeting my beshert was in the back of my mind."
Phil, co-founder and chief operating officer of a digital broadcasting company, joined YB&P to help the community while meeting peers with similar interests. Stacy, who came to Orange County as a result of a job promotion, explains, "I went to a few singles events, but found them to be empty. I wanted to spend my time with a group that had a purpose beyond being a Jewish meat market."
YB&P, which includes people between 25 and 45 who want to further the Jewish Federation's objectives while developing meaningful relationships, has developed a number of leaders in the community, raised over $1 million, participated in many philanthropic projects and lobbied congressmen.
"At least one YB&P marriage is made per year. Several children were born as a result of YB&P, including our baby, Sarah," says Stacy, who is currently "a full-time mommy."
Another alternative, SpeedDating, was started in Los Angeles in January 1999 by Aish HaTorah, a Jewish educational resource organization and yeshivah. Its vision was to reverse the trend of Jews marrying outside the faith by helping Jews meet Jews.
"SpeedDating is a quick and nonpressured way to meet Jewish singles," Orange County facilitator Melanie Rosenkranz explains. In a musical chairs-style introduction, men and women are paired up at tables where they have seven minutes to talk. A staff member then rings a bell and people switch partners. Participants indicate on a form which people they would be interested in seeing again. Organizers provide phone numbers within 48 hours.
"We have been in Orange County for about a year and a half," Melanie says. "Being able to drive to an Orange County location rather than schlep into Los Angeles lets Orange County residents avoid feeling that they are geographically undesirable." SpeedDating has 27 different branches in the United States and Canada. "As of today, we have over 40 marriages/engagements and three SpeedDating babies."
Many young people in the secular world find the singles scene traumatic, says Rabbi David Eliezrie, spiritual leader of North County Chabad Center in Yorba Linda. "In the Orthodox community, the great majority of marriages are long lasting, and the divorce rate is in the single digits," he claims.
Eliezrie attributes that figure to the shidduch, a traditional way of bringing people together in an arranged date, as opposed to an arranged marriage. The decision to develop the relationship is up to the two individuals. Dating begins when both parties are ready to marry.
Before the young people meet, they and their families check each other out thoroughly. The arranger, a professional matchmaker or a mutual friend, provides names of prospects and then brokers the offer between consenting families. The third party can soften the blow of rejection or encourage the couple to date again.
Couples usually meet alone, without chaperones, in places away from the community where they can have time to get acquainted without interference. Dates are typically long and involve conversation about life and goals, and there is no physical contact.
"In today's world, people have chemistry and then logic," Eliezrie told The Journal. "Our way stresses real commitment and real respect. It's normal and sane, compared to the rest of the world."