February 13, 2003
A Single Problem
Look, I know you're busy. What with the spouse, the children, the job, the synagogue, the gym, the board meetings, the dinners -- it's hard to find a moment in your day, your week, your month, your life.Â But allow me a moment of your time to point your attention to an issue maybe you haven't thought about in awhile: Singles.
Specifically, Jewish singles. Jewish communal life is structured so that you probably don't associate much with this sector of society, and therefore, you don't think about it much; not out of malice, but hey, there's only so many issues to which one can devote one's heart.
Maybe you believe singles are not your problem (something that you could thankfully stop thinking about once you got married) but if you've ever found yourself asking the following questions --
1) Why is my child moving to the East Coast?
2) What can we do about the intermarriage problem?
3) How can we involve younger people in philanthropy/community/activism?Â
-- then you have inadvertently been thinking about one of the biggest unspoken issues facing the Jewish community today.
Consider this: 30 percent of Jewish households contain one person, (compared to 26 percent in the general population), according to 2002 National Jewish Population Survey. Singles now represent a significant sector of the Jewish population. Much like the coveted 18-25-year-old demographic audience TV advertisers are always seeking, Jewish singles should be should be the prime target of all Jewish communities. Yet, for some reason it's not. We're not.
You know how it goes: there are certain specific events devoted to singles (those reviled "singles events"), but for the most part, the Jewish community is segregated. Synagogues, on both the East and West Coasts, are either/or: You attend Friday Night Live/B'nai Jeshrun/Lincoln Square until you get married, and then, you self-segregate, moving yourself off to the Valley/New Jersey (insert suburb here). Outta sight, outta mind.
It's no secret that Jewish communal life is geared toward families. But the world today is comprised more of the nontraditional family, and it's time the community caught up. It's more than just the singles. It's the childless couples, the divorced parents, the single-parent families. An unmarried woman from my synagogue in Brooklyn -- the one your parents always warned you about turning into ("Look at X, such a shame") -- admitted that one of the reasons she adopted a child was to gain acceptance in the community. She said that it's much easier to invite a mother and daughter to Shabbat lunch than it is to have a 40-something year old woman on her own.
Many people on their own shy away from belonging to synagogues and organizations because they feel like they don't fit in. Yes, there are efforts by rabbis and educators and institutions in this city. But not enough. Many singles achieve their prime connection to Judaism through the Internet: JDate, Frumster, Jewish Cafe -- you name it -- these Web sites are so popular precisely because they fill a void, creating the community that single Jews often lack.Â
But there's a problem with these types of communities, and with these types of events that only serve the singles community. For example, the outreach organization Aish HaTorah recently debated closing down its innovative "Speeddating" program -- where single Jews meet other at seven-minute musical chairs-like parties -- because some felt it wasn't modest enough, simply serving as a matchmaking event. For now, the program is remaining open, but the debate highlights a problem for so many singles events/young leadership events, regardless of the religious level of the sponsoring organization: they often lack content. What good is a party -- even if the proceeds go to a good cause -- if you can't hook attendees into getting involved in something more than finding a husband?Â
Matrimony cannot be the only goal of an event, or even a community, even one built so strongly on family values.
Today is Valentine's Day, which although is not at all a Jewish holiday (see Tu B'Av -- this year on Aug. 13 -- for our version of a love fest) it is an extremely hard one to ignore, especially if you're in the business of looking for a mate. The Hallmark blitz reminds many people that they are alone, and in the Jewish community, I'm not sure it has to be that way: single or not, every Jew should be made to feel welcome in the community.
Perhaps our tradition does not prepare usÂ for dealing with non-traditional families, but our future must.
"Making Shabbat dinner, going to synagogue, celebrating the holidays --they're not impossible to do alone," a recent singles' columnist wrote in this paper, "but they're much much easier when you have a partner."Â
Community is a tremendous resource: it provides sustenance, faith, joy, comfort, companionship, love, connectedness and continuity. Should it be denied to the people who need it most? Â