It’s a tough world out there,” says Esther Scharf with a sigh, “and it’s been getting worse over the years.”
The world she’s referring to is that of Jewish singles. Rather than simply fret about the state of affairs, Scharf, a Teaneck resident, is in a group of women actively seeking appropriate matches for eligible unmarrieds.
She had already facilitated a successful pairing when she went to a meeting of L’Chaim, a volunteer organization, at Bruriah High School in Elizabeth 23 years ago. L’Chaim was started by Rockland County resident Beverly Gross with the aim of gathering a core of women committed to networking for Jewish singles.
Scharf continues to be involved in L’Chaim, which meets over the course of two weeks each year – around Tu B’Shevat in the winter and Tisha B’Av in the summer. Each night during meeting weeks, the volunteers “present” candidates fitting a particular category of (mostly Orthodox) Jewish singles: earner/learners, college grads, full-time learners, modern Orthodox, over-40s, divorced, and so on.
Most meetings are in Rockland, but Teaneck resident Jane Carr recently hosted a L’Chaim meeting here that dealt with modern Orthodox singles between 25 and 35.
“I had attended a L’Chaim meeting in Monsey before Tisha B’Av after one of my friends here told me about it,” says Carr. “I was very impressed. Everybody is given a turn to present, using a form provided by L’Chaim. The presenter gives her [own] name, number, and e-mail address but not those of the person being presented. If someone is interested in setting up a match, she contacts the presenter and the presenter arranges it or asks someone else to be the go-between.”
Carr says the meeting she hosted in August was very successful. “We had some Teaneck and Monsey people, one or two from Paramus, and one from Edison.”
Scharf, one of the attendees, also used to serve as a volunteer shadchanit (matchmaker) for the Internet dating site Saw You at Sinai. In addition, she is one of nine local women involved in the North Jersey Shidduch Club, an Internet-based matchmaking group catering to Jewish singles who are Conservative, traditional, and Orthodox. Applicants fill out a brief form at NorthJerseyshidduch.org with personal details, including level of secular and Jewish education. The form also asks for height, hair color, eye color, and body type, but no photo is requested.
“Online and in-person matchmaking are two different things, and both have advantages,” she says. “A lot of the very Orthodox are uncomfortable with dating sites because you have to post your picture and deal with people who are strangers. And with SYAS, you have to pay a fee, and a lot of people don’t like that.”
Those who come to L’Chaim meetings are often interested in finding matches for family members, while others come out of a sense of communal responsibility. “Many people have children or nieces and nephews who are single and getting older, and they’re concerned and want to do their part,” says Carr.
“You don’t need special training,” adds Scharf. “You just need to be understanding of the problems of [Orthodox] single life. Kids are getting married younger, without knowing each other for long, and some end up getting divorced. One woman at a meeting had two daughters who had gotten married very young and both got divorced.
“Another problem is that once you’re out of the college dorm, where do you meet people? Where do you live? Not at home – there aren’t many singles in suburban Jewish communities such as Teaneck. And on the Upper West Side, most of the guys don’t really want to get married; they just want to hang out. My daughter is 30 and she lives there, and she wants to get married ““ not just have a bunch of guy friends.”
Carr also has a single daughter. “I don’t present my daughter at the meetings,” she says. “I have a few different gentlemen I present.”
Rochelle Zupnik, a Rockland County resident who facilitates L’Chaim meetings, says, “Many success stories are shared at the beginning of each meeting…. That is what motivates the volunteers to continue.”
L’Chaim prints a directory with contact information for the volunteer matchmakers, along with each one’s “specialty” category.
“If you are a single male or female and want to be presented at a L’Chaim meeting, you would simply call a woman who knows you well and ask her to attend an upcoming L’Chaim meeting and present you,” says Zupnik. Men are rare, but not unwelcome, volunteers as well.
To become a L’Chaim volunteer, call (845) 352-0373.