Clifton shul opens its doors to area singles
When a member of the Clifton Jewish Center approached shul president Steve Goldberg in January with a plan for reaching out to area singles, the synagogue leader was enthusiastic.
Still, he said, "I was surprised by the success of the program and blown away by the technology used to create it."
The program listed on Meetup.com as North Jersey Jewish Singles 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s+ was the brainchild of Martine Jaffe, a Wayne resident who has belonged to the CJC for some 35 years.
"I joined because my [then] mother-in-law was executive director," she said, pointing out that at the time, it was a "vibrant" congregation with a large Hebrew school, Kadima group, and members of all ages. Today, said Greenberg, the 150-member congregation tends to be older, with a few young families and a sizable number of singles. And, like many shuls, it is struggling to build up its membership.
Significantly, it was at a membership meeting that Jaffe first conceived the singles initiative.
"I was given a list prepared by the rabbi," Ari Korenblit, she said. "And there, among the list of possible synagogue activities, was a singles program. This planted a seed."
"As a single, I had noticed that there’s nothing in the area," she added. "The closest is the JCC [on the Palisades in Tenafly], but even that is far away."
Jaffe said that she has found online dating to be "uncertain and unsafe. Some people don’t tell the truth." Having heard of the Website Meetup.com, which connects people with like interests, she decided to explore that option.
"I went with a friend to a Meetup event to see what it was like and how it was structured. It was nice, very informal," she said.
In fact, Jaffe was so impressed with the idea that she went before the synagogue board the following day to ask for help in starting a singles group through Meetup.
"We told Martine to do whatever she wanted; we’d back her up," said Goldberg, the father of three, who has lived in Clifton for 1′ years.
The first North Jersey Singles event, launched within two weeks of Jaffe’s proposal, was a Bagels and Conversation breakfast held on a Sunday morning. Morphing into a monthly program, the event has drawn as many as 100 singles.
Even Jaffe was surprised by the success of the program.
"It’s a rule of thumb that no matter how many people say that they’re coming, twice as many actually come," she said. She pointed out that the number of members registered online stands at some ’50, but many who attend the group’s activities have not registered. "I’d say we have about 300 members who’ve come to our events," she said.
She is also surprised by the distance some people travel, she added, reeling off the towns members hail from including, among many others, Fair Lawn, Wayne, Pomona, Passaic, Freehold, South Brunswick, Clark, and even Manhattan.
"Some people come 30 to 40 miles to attend these events," said Goldberg. "This tells me that there’s a real need for Jewish singles events based on conversation."
While the bulk of members are between the ages of 45 and 60, there are about 50 members between 30 and 40, said Jaffe. A meeting will be held on Sept. ‘4 to decide what kinds of activities will best work for this group.
Efforts were also made to start a group for singles over 65, but "transportation seemed to be difficult for many of the over-70 group," said Jaffe. "But some of these singles still come to our meetings and are happy to have the opportunity."
While Jaffe has been the driving force behind the group, her goal "is to make this group an institution a permanent part of the CJC’s activities." She pointed out that the rabbi and adult education chair have tried to plan their adult education classes to coincide with the Sunday breakfasts so that singles may attend those sessions as well.
"It’s a synagogue-wide initiative. Everyone supports it," she said. And while the singles program, still relatively new, has not brought any new members into the synagogue, "it has given new life" to the shul, said Goldberg, and, particularly, to some of its single members.
Goldberg added that the Clifton Jewish Center "is committed to doing things for the community. It’s our role, whether we break even or lose money." He noted that even with the small fees paid by program participants, the synagogue still incurs custodial and other expenses when hosting the singles events. In addition, the synagogue has invited members of the North Jersey Singles Group to join the congregation for High Holy Day services. The cost is $36 for adults and no charge for their children.
While Jaffe continues to add new singles activities in addition to organizing singles Shabbat dinners, she recently started a book discussion group and held an evening event including Israeli dancing and a movie "a lot of the men have told me they want the Bagels and Conversation." During the summer break, "they didn’t know what to do with themselves."
North Jersey Singles offers people a chance "to do something," said Jaffe. "It gives you a place to go, even if you don’t meet the love of your life." She cited the Meetup philosophy urging people to get off the computer and out into the world, meeting others face to face.
"It’s a chance for Jewish singles to network with others, men and women, with the possibility of making new male and female friends," she said. "I hope the people who come will exchange phone numbers and become friends. It’s a means of creating a social network and a way of bringing back the community."
Oakland resident Jeni, who preferred that her last name not be used, has attended several of Jaffe’s events. In looking for singles activities, "I try to find something I enjoy doing and make male and female friends," she said. "It’s a chance to get away from working all the time a chance to de-stress." The Clifton group "is doing a nice job," she said, adding that "it takes time to set the pace and focus of a group."
Noting that "the male-female ratio at an event doesn’t always matter," Jeni pointed out that at meetings such as Bagels and Conversation, "it’s nice to have a 50-50 split."
"There are a lot of groups for singles, but not for Jewish singles," she said. "It’s nice, for example, when an event recognizes the Jewish holidays, particularly for those who don’t have family nearby."
Describing a singles event that took place several years ago at Temple Beth El in Hillsborough, she said that the gathering, which took place over Sukkot, "started in the sukkah."
"Some people wouldn’t have had the opportunity [to be in a sukkah] otherwise," she noted, since many singles are not affiliated with synagogues. For this reason, she said, she appreciates the fact that the Clifton book discussion group is selecting books with Jewish content.
Jeni said she’s disappointed that more synagogues are not reaching out to singles.
"I’ve discussed this with many rabbis," she said. "If you’re promoting family, why aren’t you doing more for singles? Not only would couples provide membership for the synagogue, but it would be doing a mitzvah."
For more information about North Jersey singles visit meetup.com. The Clifton Jewish Center can be reached at (973) 77′-3131.