Jewish matchmaking is a time-honored tradition that, until recently, remained the province of well-intentioned mothers and synagogue elders. Now, thanks to an increasingly popular Jewish dating site, the custom has gone high-tech, with rabbis across the country logging on to help their congregants find love within the Jewish community.
The trend recently hit Baltimore as Rabbi Steven Schwartz—of Pikesville's Beth El Congregation—jumped on the virtual bandwagon by purchasing memberships to the online Jewish dating site jdate.com for his congregants (some of which will be distributed through a raffle within their young members' group).
Launched in 1997, JDate is home to 400,000 Jewish singles in the United States, and is responsible for a growing number of marriages within the Jewish community—including Baltimore—bucking the current trend of intermarriage. Beth El Senior Rabbi Mark Loeb heard that an out-of-state colleague purchased JDate memberships, and he and Schwartz brought the idea to Micah Kleid, coordinator of the congregation's young members' social group, for his input.
"I told them it would be the easiest program that I'd have to market since I've been here," Kleid recounts with a laugh. "After college, it really is difficult to meet someone Jewish. Say what you will about online dating, JDate seems to work."
The site works so well, in fact, that some 20,000 former JDate members reported finding their soul mates online in the past four years, according to Gail Laguna, a spokeswoman for the website.
"As rabbis we feel invested in the idea of hoping that Jews will marry other Jews," Schwartz says. "With JDate you have access to hundreds of people. There's no question in my mind that it's having a positive impact."
Andrew Buerger, publisher of the Baltimore Jewish Times, thinks the synagogue-sponsored memberships—which run about $40 per month or $300 per year—are a fantastic idea. "It's Fiddler on the Roof meets the 21st century," he says. "It's a great way to meet people and it's so non-threatening. You get a sense of the person before you have to agonize over dinner—or be fixed up by your mother."