January 25, 2012
LDS singles programs: A model for Jews?
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 11:11
As I prepare to marry a wonderful girl in the Los Angeles LDS Temple on Saturday, I can’t help but reflect on how my church has striven mightily to bring this about. From singles wards (congregations) at Brigham Young University to singles conferences throughout the world, singles in the LDS dating pool are brought together on a weekly basis to worship, have fun, date, and marry, preferably in a temple. I have not always enjoyed exploring the Mormon singles scene, but am eternally grateful that the church’s singles program encouraged and guided my fiancée and me towards the ultimate goal of a temple marriage. While I love pointing out areas in which Mormons can learn from Jews, in this case I think that Jews could learn a thing or two from Mormons about providing opportunities for singles to marry within the faith.
In terms of dating, BYU was the promised land for a kid from a small city in central Michigan where he was the only Mormon in his high school class. Student wards had several hundred members, and we worshipped together for three hours on Sundays. On Monday evenings, we were assigned to small Family Home Evening (FHE) groups. FHE is observed churchwide, and usually includes a spiritual lesson followed by a fun activity. As far as I could tell, its primary purpose at BYU was to encourage dating and getting to know the girls in the ward. As an extra bonus, male students who held the priesthood (as almost all men do) were paired up and assigned several girls to visit monthly as part of the church’s worldwide “home teaching” program. Small wonder that such a high percentage of undergrads (22%) and grad students (62%) at the university are married.
The LDS equivalent of Hillel is the Institute program, which provides religious instruction to over 350,000 students at over 2,500 locations. Institute courses are open to anyone between 18 and 30, though most of the enrolled students are single. I attended Institute courses at the University of Texas, and enjoyed both the spiritual nourishment and social opportunities provided by the center. Florina, my fiancée, faithfully attended Institute classes in Romania until she came to the U.S. last year.
Young single adult (YSA) wards for singles aged 18-30 are found in most large American cities and in a few foreign ones as well. The BYU model is replicated (i.e., Sunday meetings, FHE groups on Mondays, home teaching pairs), and dating is actively encouraged. After all, many members of these wards have already completed their educations and are preparing for marriage. In the YSA ward in Santa Monica alone, there are dozens of marriages a year. If I were trying to figure out how to get young Jews to marry each other, I would beat a path to that YSA bishop’s door (bishop = rabbi). In some cities, including Los Angeles, singles aged 31-45 (“mid-singles”) have a separate program.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not praise the church’s singles conferences, which bring together hundreds of Latter-day Saints for a weekend of workshops, dances, activities and dating. I have met some amazing people at these conferences, and Florina attended two of them in Poland and the Czech Republic. Even though neither of us met our bashert at a singles conference, they encouraged us to keep looking and to stay active on the LDS dating scene.
After many years of searching, I wound up meeting my mate by getting on a plane and delivering a speech on LDS-Jewish relations in Romania. Florina had felt prompted to return to Romania from London just before my visit, and decided to introduce herself after the talk. The rest, as they say, is history. Although we didn’t meet in a singles ward, in an Institute class, or at a singles conference, we are both very grateful for the opportunities that these programs provided to improve our social skills and refine our search for an LDS spouse. Their track record is enviable: 85% of married Mormons are married to other Mormons.I pray that the day will come when young Jewish singles, especially those out of school, will enjoy similar opportunities to meet and date their Jewish peers.