May 13, 2009
Meet Mr. and Mrs. JDate
According to Jewish tradition, a person who makes three Jewish matches that lead to marriage earns shares in the world to come. If true, Joe Shapira is a big stockholder in heaven.
As the founding partner of JDate in 1997, he’s among the most prolific shadchanim (matchmakers) in Jewish history. No exact statistics are available on the number of marriages arising from the popular Jewish online dating brand, but more than 21,000 JDate couples reported their marriages to their cyber-yenta in 2008 alone. The site spans England, France and Israel, with Russian and Spanish sites in development.
Shapira’s success and personal allegiances become clear from the minute you step into the foyer of his Beverly Hills home, where the flags of America and Israel flank a view of a lush backyard. Born Yoav Shapira in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, it’s safe to say the immigrant to America of 30 years has realized the American dream.
“When I came to Los Angeles, I worked for the guy who developed this entire community, and I was the person who delivered the house to new buyers. Those houses looked to me like palaces, and I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would own one.”
Busts of George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani adorn the living-room coffee table. On the mantle are pictures of other notable politicians (Democrats included) posing with Shapira and his wife of five years, Nickie, 33, who wasn’t Jewish when they met. Her roots are half-Japanese, one-quarter Chinese, an eighth Korean, and an eighth native Hawaiian.
“She converted and she’s one of the most revered pro-Israel activists in town,” he said. Indeed, the Princeton alumna was recently made president of the World Alliance for Israel Political Action Committee (WAIPAC), a position she juggles with her production company, 8th Wonder Entertainment, specializing in urban entertainment. Shapira credits Nickie with his systematic approach to pro-Israel philanthropy, and the couple will be honored for their contributions on Sunday, May 17, at the Israel Cancer Research Fund gala to be held at the Century Plaza Hyatt Regency.
“Converts are usually more committed to tradition than people who were born Jewish, especially Israelis,” Shapira, 56, said. “We who come from Israel for the most part don’t practice tradition in Israel. I very seldom had a Shabbat dinner before she converted.”
In 2004, Shapira resigned as CEO of Spark Networks, the parent company of JDate, four years after taking the company public, a process that he says took the fun out of sustaining Jewish continuity (“Who wants to live with lawyers and accountants all day?”). He holds shares in Spark for sentimental value and now serves as president of Java Equities, a real estate acquisitions and management conglomerate — a job he describes as “less exciting but stable.”
Shapira founded JDate with partner Alon Carmel a few years after divorcing his first wife, with whom he has three kids, but he never used JDate for himself, mostly, he said, “because I have a very outgoing personality, so I never had a problem starting a conversation with someone I liked. I met women everywhere — traffic lights, the supermarket.”
But without JDate, he probably wouldn’t have met Nickie. She came to his office in search of subjects to interview for a book she was writing at the time, a practical guide for finding and marrying Mr. Right. “I was very attracted to her but I couldn’t hit on her in the office because there were other people there, and I kept a strict code of behavior in the office,” he said.
Nickie had her eye on him from day one, too; she even told her sister after the meeting that she was going to marry him.
She sent him a thank-you e-mail, to which he responded with a tactical P.S.: “Let me know when you get tired of your boyfriend.”
“I didn’t know if she had a boyfriend; I was fishing,” he said. Yet she fed his flirtation by calling again for “business” only to leave her number with his secretary. They went out three nights in a row, and the rest is (non)-JDate history.
Toward the end of the interview, Nickie stepped down the staircase decked out in a black cocktail dress, about to head out to a dinner party with Bill Clinton, but she took a few minutes to tell her version of the love story. “His humor and politics, his stature because he’s a tall guy,” she said were the qualities that immediately attracted her to her future husband.
“I wasn’t so involved in any pro-Israel causes prior to meeting him, but I was always a fan of politics. After Sept. 11, I became a lot more hawkish, so that’s when I started to follow Middle East and Israel issues.” Her love for Israel grew with their travels together; she has since learned Hebrew.
Nickie never published her book. “It would’ve been too revealing. I think I got a little older, and I didn’t want those things out there for everyone to see forever.” Although it seems the principles worked.
“I didn’t want to get married,” Shapira admitted, probably much like many who dabble on JDate. But he’d met his match: “She’s a closer.”
Her secret, according to Shapira: “Become the best thing that ever happened to him.”
And for Shapira? “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her, and I knew she wouldn’t stick around. She had an agenda, things she wanted to accomplish — she wouldn’t let me interfere with that agenda.”
Nickie offered some advice for women seeking a mate: “I think a lot of them roll with it without thinking about it in a methodical, organized process.”
Says Shapira, “Our process was very organized.”