A match made by algorithm

A match made by algorithm

Rabbi Matt LeVee talks about his innovative new dating platform

Sheli and Rabbi Matt LeVee made aliyah last year.
Sheli and Rabbi Matt LeVee made aliyah last year.

Rabbi Matt LeVee and his wife, Sheli LeVee, saw members of Rabbi Levee’s community struggling with dating. Ms. LeVee came up with a way to help, and together, the two LeVees worked to implement her idea.

It was 2021, and Rabbi LeVee led the Shenk Shul in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. The congregation consisted mainly of recent college graduates, most of whom were single. The LeVees regularly hosted congregants for Shabbat meals, and the fact that guests were having a hard time meeting people to date often came up in conversation. Many were hoping to be set up by friends or matchmakers, and potential blind dates often wanted to speak to a reference before investing time or emotion in a first date.

As a shul rabbi, Rabbi LeVee often was asked to give references. As the rabbi of a relatively large community, it was not unusual for him to spend five hours on the phone each week giving references. So dating culture “was definitely something I was very much a part of,” he said.

One Shabbat dinner at the LeVees featured a particularly heated conversation about the difficulties of dating. The next morning, Ms. LeVee woke up with an idea and told her husband they were going to build a website to address the issue. “And like a good husband, I listen to my wife,” Rabbi LeVee said. “But it was clear to us that there was a real need, and it was a good idea, so we starting developing the site.”

That was nine months before the couple was scheduled to move to Israel. Rabbi LeVee is originally from Berkeley, California; his family moved to Chicago before he started high school. He went to college nearby, earning a degree in sociology and philosophy from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After college, he spent a few years learning at a few yeshivas in Israel. Sheli Yona grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, but she went to college in Israel; she has a degree in computer education from Michlalah Jerusalem College. Mr. LeVee, as he was then, and Ms. Yona met in Israel; soon, they married. They spent their first year of marriage in Israel and then moved to Washington Heights so Rabbi LeVee could study for rabbinical ordination at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

The LeVees made aliyah in 2022. “I like to think I was moving across the country toward Israel,” he joked. “Now that I’ve made it to Israel, I don’t intend to move any further east.”

The LeVees spent about seven years in New York. In addition to completing rabbinic ordination, Rabbi LeVee earned a master’s degree in education from Yeshiva University. He led the Shenk shul, which is near the campus, for the last three of those years. He taught Judaic studies at Yeshiva University’s James Striar School and became very close with a colleague, Rabbi Benjamin Yudin. At the time, Rabbi Yudin led Fair Lawn’s Congregation Shomrei Torah – he’s now its rabbi emeritus. Rabbi LeVee became very close with Rabbi Yudin’s family, “so much so that I’m currently teaching at Yeshivat Ashreinu – the yeshiva in Beit Shemesh, Israel, where Rabbi Gotch Yudin, one of Rabbi Yudin’s sons, is the rosh yeshiva — but I like to think that I got the job on my own,” he joked.

The LeVees knew that there already were a variety of dating sites geared to Jewish singles but felt there was a genuine need for a different model. “We talked to a lot of friends and to a lot of people in our community,” Rabbi LeVee said. “We heard from people who had good experiences on some of the existing sites — but we also heard a lot of frustration with existing options. We even spoke to a married couple that had met on one of the sites and still felt that it had been a difficult process. A common refrain we heard was that the match suggestions people received on existing sites were often not the type of people they were looking for.

“So we thought it made sense to add another option. Our goal is to empower individuals to meet and date in a way that works for them.”

The platform the LeVees developed is called GamZuli. The name is derived from the famous words of the Tanaitic sage Nachum Ish Gamzu, “gam zu l’tova” – “this too is for the good.” The website explains that “often dating is difficult, but with a mentality of focusing on what’s right in every situation and person, we hope you will find the very best and say ‘gam zu li’ – this too is for me.”

Unlike some of the other dating sites, GamZuli doesn’t have matchmakers suggesting matches, nor does it expect people to browse through endless profiles on their own. Rabbi LeVee is clear that certainly there are benefits to both of these formats, and that sites that use them certainly are useful — but they were not working for everyone.

“I don’t view existing sites as competition – people can certainly use multiple sites at the same time,” he said. “I think the more options that there are out there, the better.”

What makes GamZuli unique in the Jewish dating sphere is that it uses an algorithm to match users based on how they complete a specially designed questionnaire. Each user answers questions that “help us ascertain who you are and what you are looking for,” Rabbi LeVee said. “We don’t just ask yes or no questions; many of the questions are scaled – they ask you to rate how important something is to you on a scale of 1 to 5. We do this because it gives us a better sense of where you put your emphasis, what’s important to you, what your values are.”

In addition to basic questions like location, education, and profession, the questionnaire asks a variety of personality questions. For example, it asks users to rate whether they are organized, laid back, creative, passionate, extroverted or intellectual on a five-point scale. Another section of the questionnaire focuses on a user’s neshama – that person’s soul. That section asks scaled questions about such topics as whether users consider themselves to be spiritual, and about their approach to prayer. Right now, the questionnaire and the site are geared to Orthodox users, but opening it to all Jews at some point definitely is on the table, Rabbi LeVee said.

The LeVees spent a lot of time developing the platform and the questionnaire while they were living in Washington Heights. They eventually launched the site after they moved to Israel last year.

In order to create the questionnaire, Rabbi LeVee researched existing studies on how people connect and consulted with psychologists, therapists, rabbis, matchmakers, and social workers. His friend — and now also his business partner, Yoni Rhine — developed the algorithm.

The LeVees and Mr. Rine hired a programming team to write the coding for the platform, but given that they all each have a background in some aspect of the site’s creation, they designed and directed much of the coding themselves. Then they did a lot of testing to confirm that the questionnaire and algorithm worked. Rabbi LeVee asked couples to fill out the questionnaires separately to see if the algorithm would match them. He also asked singles to complete questionnaires and to evaluate the matches the algorithm generated for them. “We got some very good results,” he said. “The algorithm has all the right factors to give users quality matches.”

Another unique aspect of the platform is that it enables users to meet suggested matches on the site before deciding whether they want to exchange contact information and perhaps eventually meet in person. “So many people have told us that a typical date takes at least a couple of hours, and they realized it wasn’t a match after the first 15 minutes,” Rabbi Levee said. “So if both parties agree to a match, they schedule a time for a 15 minute video-chat on the site. If both people decide to continue, they schedule a 45-minute video chat on the site. After that meeting, if both parties agree, they receive each other’s contact information and take it from there off the platform.

“We understood that some people wanted to do a lot of research before agreeing to a date and would spend a significant amount of time checking references, so we structured the platform to cut through all that and make the process as direct as possible,” Rabbi LeVee said. “For an investment of only 15 minutes, fraom the comfort of your own home, maybe you don’t have to spend hours checking references — you can first just see if there’s some common ground by meeting on the site in a very low-pressure, direct way to kind of cut through some of the things that I think people get too caught up with.”

The platform went live about a month ago. So far, about 10% of registered users are from New Jersey. “We’ve been getting amazing feedback,” Rabbi LeVee said. “It seems like we found something that is working for connecting people.”

Now the site is completely free. While the LeVees hope to turn a profit at some point in the future, possibly by offering some type of premium version as well as the free one, their primary focus now is on “being able to put out a product that people can use now to help address a problem that we’re seeing,” Rabbi LeVee said.

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