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Don’t-Knock-It-Till-You-Try-It.Com

by Michael Aushenker

November 23, 2000 | 7:00 pm

Two summers ago, I was staying with an old Cornell buddy in Manhattan - we'll call him Andrew - who was in a state of despair over his personal life. Andrew - a thoughtful, introverted individual - never quite felt comfortable in large social situations. Even during the height of hedonism (college), I remember how he would eschew the party scene to pull workaholic all-nighters.

But on this sunny August afternoon in 1999, Andrew was more miserable and depressed than a 29-year-old had the right to be. He had gotten mixed up with a fellow teacher at the small elementary school for kids with special needs where he worked and was now trying to extricate himself from this doomed affair. She would not stop hectoring him at home, and work became a hotbed of uninvited drama.

Andrew asked me for advice but soon regretted it, because my prescription for happiness was a bitter pill. I suggested that he needed to be more proactive in his soulmate search: singles functions, parties, maybe open a JDate account. He balked at that notion, as clearly it was not his style. I said, "Look, I'm not nuts about it either, but no man ever found a girlfriend by spending the weekend in the dark, curled up in a fetal position on the floor, like a scene out of 'Trainspotting.'"

Among those activities that Andrew would no doubt have rejected is Aish HaTorah's Speed Dating. Two years ago, you couldn't anticipate a sillier concept than this round-robin-style mixer boasting seven dates in 70 minutes (save for the idea of a deadlocked election decided by a Florida recount). Yet Speed Dating has become nothing less than a smash since its 1999 debut, now regularly staged by Aish in cities all over the globe, including London, New York, Sydney, Kiev, Toronto, and, of course, Los Angeles, where it all began.

Now add another feather to Aish's shtreimel: SpeedDating.com, the newly launched Web site that transposes the concept to the Internet.

Here's how it works: For $60 per year, members complete a profile complete with uploaded photo, then check the site regularly for SpeedDating.com events. Players have seven minutes to chat online with each virtual "date." After round seven, they receive e-mails with match results. If both participants test positive, e-mails are exchanged.

Based out of Aish HaTorah's Jerusalem offices, SpeedDating.com may be a long cry from the days of meeting your mate at a sock hop. But as gimmicky as it sounds, stranger things have happened on the road to finding one's beshert.

Take Andrew. Something from our conversation must have stuck, because by the time I visited him again earlier this year, Andrew was gushing about the new woman he met... online. As it turns out, Andrew had posted a profile at a dating Web site, from which he received exactly one response - from a 26-year-old Chicago-based attorney planning on moving back to New York. Before they knew it, a casual e-mail exchange had escalated to photos, then visits. I myself started receiving uncharacteristic e-mails from Andrew gushing over his new girlfriend in a way that I had never seen him gush before in our decade-plus friendship. Before Andrew flew out to Chicago in May to help his new girlfriend move, I told him that their trip from the Windy City to the Big Apple would be the ultimate test: After being sardined in a U-Haul for many hours and hundreds of miles, they would know if they could go the distance, relationship-wise. They passed with flying colors.

And to say that they hit it off is to say the least: Andrew proposed in October. As I continue with singles functions and the occasional online date, I savor the larger irony that Andrew - so vehemently opposed to finding love online - may now have to repeat that story of how they met for all of eternity to friends, family, future progeny. It goes to show: Nobody ever really knows from which seemingly crazy avenue, blind alley - or information superhighway - one's soul connection might emerge.

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