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Jewish Journal

Singles Seeking More

"They want interactive involvement in events."

by Michael Aushenker

September 12, 2002 | 8:00 pm

A TV show taping might mean a lot of things to people in Hollywood, but it doesn't necessarily scream: "Killer mate-hunting opportunity!"

Yet, that was exactly the goal of the entities behind a recent taping of motivational speaker Rabbi Irwin Kula's upcoming show "Simple Wisdom" -- one of several events that may indicate that Los Angeles' maturing Jewish singles aren't satisfied to simply hook up in the bar or club scene.

Perhaps that was evident by virtue of the evening's host -- or rather, "by virtual." The event -- a taping of three episodes of "Simple Wisdom" complete with catered mixer breaks filling up the downtime -- was sponsored by the Beverly Hills-based Jewish dating service JDate, a division of MatchNet.com. With the rise in the mid-1990s of the Internet as a matchmaking tool, JDate has become one of many online dating services promising to make dating easier in an age when dating is not so easy.

So why was this crowd of 70 singles gathered, of all things, to comprise the studio audience of a show hosted by the president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning & Leadership?

According to attendees, it's not enough anymore to meet over drinks at a bar or barbecue. Kula's advice-dispensing program, for instance, offered a cultural component -- TV-friendly sermons peppered lightly with biblical allusions to Ishmael and Isaac, Cain and Abel.

The singles also felt more comfortable in a venue where meeting members of the opposite sex is not the focus, but the byproduct. And savvy matchmakers, such as JDate, are tapping into that idea.

"We are spreading out and reaching for more diverse events," said JDate CFO Natalie Papagni. "We've realized that there's the potential of the JDate community. They want interactive involvement in events, such as this, connecting more on an intellectual level. They appreciate the quality and the opportunity to experience more diverse things."

"The idea is to create an event that's not typical with an activity at the center of it," added Talia Vanson, JDate's national events manager. "If you meet someone, it's an extra."

The suggestion of turning the tapings into a singles' night rose during a conversation between Vanson and her Santa Monica neighbor, Harvey Lehrer, vice president of Jewish Television Network (JTN), which is producing 13 episodes of "Simple Wisdom" for a spring airing on PBS.

"We thought it would be an ideal audience for these topics," Lehrer said. "We sort of tailored the night to their interests. Obviously they responded. We've got a great crowd."

Dan Azaren, an attendee who works in marketing, was certainly glad he came down to hear Kula expound on the episodes' topics of intimacy, family and -- not by coincidence last -- sex.

"He comes across as very sincere," said Azaren, 42. "He tries to relate messages in personal terms and break it down into terms we can all understand."

Haleh Houshim, who at 30-something was perhaps the youngest of the attendees, came down to the studio decked out in a conservatively sexy dress and heels. Houshim was drawn to the nature of the event, particularly the offering of Kula's prescription for good living.

Linda Caplan, a single mom who has recently gotten back into dating, agreed. "It's a good way to meet someone without having to go out," she said.

Evidently, there are many Jewish singles all over the world who feel that way. JDate's Web site boasts a membership of about 380,000, with 15,000 joining per month -- that figure is broken down to 285,000 in America; 56,000 in Israel; 28,000 in Canada; and 9,600 in the United Kingdom.

"Everybody uses the word 'intimacy,'" said JTN President Jay Sanderson, who filled the studio bleachers with audience members. "Looking at the turnout tonight, it's obviously something they yearn for."

But does dating via computers resolve intimacy and other dating issues? Yes and no. Two JDaters who had just met at the studio tapings and fell into an easy rapport were Azaren and Devorah Cohen, 48. Cohen said she uses JDate to supplement her dating.

"I lead a busy life," Cohen said. "It's hard to meet people in your age group that have the same values."

Viewing the profiles on JDate, she added, cuts to the chase.

"You can go for months without knowing if they even want to be married," Cohen said. "With JDate, you know upfront. You save a lot of time."

"You're able to screen and access a large group in little time," Azaren agreed. "But when you go out, there are obvious subtleties that you don't see [in the profiles]."

Like whether or not there's chemistry or emotional stability.

"You find out about how old they are," Cohen reasoned.

"Theoretically," Azaren responded with a knowing smile.

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