"Shtetlgirl" was having a hard time meeting religious men. She was used to dating men she met in youth programs and schools, but at 22, away from her hometown and living in Los Angeles, she found herself without a structured forum to meet anyone. "Most of the guys I was meeting were not religious, if I met any at all," she told The Journal. Then a friend e-mailed her a link to an interesting profile she had seen at www.frumster.com. "Shtetlgirl" -- her user name -- logged on, checked out the guy, and her inbox has been clogged ever since with nice religious boys looking for dates.
"Shtetlgirl" is one of more than 3,000 members on Frumster.com, a growing religious dating Web site. While there are a plethora of Jewish dating Internet services, many are associated with matchmakers and specific organizations, and few are devoted solely to religious people (Bitachon.com, a smaller site, also deals solely with religious singles).
Frumster is the brainchild of Grayson Levy, a 30-year-old Canadian who now lives in Israel. He began the site last November after his forays in Internet dating went awry because the more traditional Jewish dating Web sites did not cater to the specific nuances of the religious crowd, he said. He would sift through the small percentage of religious members on JDate, and the dates themselves would not work out because he was not religiously compatible with the girls he met.
"I met girls who would say things to me like, 'I can't go out with you anymore because you don't learn enough Torah,'" said Levy from his home in Jerusalem. "Religious people are obsessed with levels -- levels of kashrut, of Torah learning -- so I wanted a site where users could find out how often other users pray and how much Torah they learn and what level of kashrut they keep, and get that out of the way, and then get down to the small talk on an individual level."
Frumster.com is a cheery-looking, easy-to-use site with clear graphics and a simple profiling system. Members are asked to categorize themselves as Modern Orthodox-liberal, Modern Orthodox-machmir (very strict), Yeshivish/Black Hat, Hassidish or Carlebachian. They are also asked how often they pray and study Torah. Women must indicate whether they wear pants or skirts only and whether they plan to cover their hair when they get married.
Unlike JDate, which asks members to describe, among other things, their perfect date and what they have learned from previous relationships, Frumster only asks two personal questions: "Describe Yourself" -- in at least 10 words -- and "Describe what you are looking for in a mate." The latter is optional.
"I ask two simple questions, and I think that someone who is very serious is going to write what they need to express themselves, because they want to, whether I prompt them or not," Levy said. "At the same time, I feel that people get scared off by long forms and give up in the middle, and I have this constant fear that I will lose people who would otherwise sign up." This is the same reason that Levy does not charge to use his site.
Unlike the profiles on other sites, the descriptions on Frumster.com seem abrupt. All "Robert123" writes to describe himself is "I'm a down-to-earth mensch looking for my yadel." (His search would probably be easier if more people knew what a yadel was.)
Frumster members seem circumspect about revealing too much, and extracting the 10-word minimum description of them is, as Levy says, "like pulling teeth." Few of them post photographs of themselves. Many members choose not to answer the second question about what they are looking for in a mate, but when they do, they tend to simply enumerate positive character traits rather than write full sentences of description.
Levy says that Frumster attracts religious Jews of all types, from modern Orthodox to Satmar Chasidim. The majority of members live on the East Coast -- though there are 160 from Los Angeles -- and 25-35 is the largest age group of people signing up.
"I can't guarantee that every person is Shomer Shabbat Kehilchato [keeping Shabbat as the Halachah demands]," Levy admitted. "I don't know what every person does and what their commitment to a religious lifestyle is, but a high percentage -- about 90 percent keep Shabbat and keep kosher inside the house and out."
Frumster attracts an average of 60 new members a day, and while its database has nowhere near the 350,000 profiles on JDate, Levy is confident that his site will continue to grow. There has already been one Frumster engagement (Levy was invited to the wedding), and Levy has also received e-mails from singles thanking him for facilitating the introduction to their soulmates.
"I am looking forward to the time when every week someone calls and says, 'I met someone through Frumster and got engaged.'"