YU aims to help singles connect
Singles in search of a mate should take advantage of multiple avenues and media, advises Efrat Sobolofsky, who spearheads a social networking group for Jewish singles.
“You can sign up on several Websites, go to a variety of singles events, and try more than one matchmaker,” said the rebbetzin. (Her husband, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, is rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University and religious leader of Cong. Ohr HaTorah in Bergenfield.) “One never knows where you will meet someone.”
Sobolofsky, who holds a doctorate in social work, is the director of YUConnects, a Center for the Jewish Future initiative devoted to creating matchmaking opportunities for Orthodox Jewish singles.
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The group aims to help YU singles and alumni meet through its Website and events such as barbecues, bowling, chesed projects, and lectures.
|Game-playing is a way to break the ice at a YUConnects event.|
Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the CJF, said the program is creating healthy social interactions and appropriate places where young men and women can meet. “When we send 1,000 students a year on chesed and service-learning programs, while its goal is to enable them to actualize their capacity as change agents within the world, often such like-minded students find their soul-mates on these programs,” he said.
Brander added that YUConnects has succeeded in helping to launch a network around the world of informal “connectors,” trained volunteers who function like matchmakers, “and changing the paradigm of how dating happens.”
Brander said he hopes the program will eventually help arm singles with the tools for creating stronger relationships. “We want to set a new prototype for how people should date,” he said. “Dating shouldn’t come with a forensic checklist. People are not hiring a spouse, they are looking for a soul-mate. What is wrong if someone you trust suggests going out with a young lady or young man to just try it? This is not like ordering a latte at Starbucks, or picking music for your iPod; people cannot be customized. I can understand the need to be on the same page, but too often, people are looking to be on the same line.”
As for whether the initiative reinforces negative stereotypes about YU students being overly concerned with dating, Brander said YUConnects offers relief from dating pressure. “It leaves them free to focus on their academics, and when they are ready, they know they can turn to YUConnects,” he said.
The program was launched after Sobolofsky and other communal leaders approached YU President Richard Joel several years ago suggesting that the university help generate more healthy opportunities for young men and women to meet.
YUConnects filled an important need, said Sobolofsky. “As people leave structured environments or places where they can meet other suitable people, it’s essential to help them network with other Jewish singles,” she pointed out.
The YUConnects Website is powered by SawYouAtSinai (SYAS), the Jewish matchmaking online service. To protect participants’ confidentiality, members are not permitted to surf through all the profiles. Instead, members select their connectors to conduct searches and propose matches for them, which follows the model of SYAS, said Sobolofsky.
Many of the connectors attend YUConnects events and become acquainted with participants so they can comfortably introduce them to the most appropriate participants. Connectors also helps people at events sort through the information and meet others who share common values, she said.
But the program doesn’t stop there: It also offers workshops on dating and relationship-building, and can even refer individuals or couples to relationship-building specialists, she said.
In the past three years since the inception of YUConnects, 42 couples have become engaged through the program, she said.
One success story was Yeshiva College’s own student council president, Shloimie Zeffren, a business major, who credits YUConnects in part for his recent engagement. “One of the connectors at YUConnects was very helpful in making it happen,” he said, declining to divulge more details. He added that he’s not the only one who has enjoyed the fruits of YUConnect’s labors. One of his friends also is getting married to someone he met through the organization.
The events are not for everyone. Some students appreciate the opportunity to meet others and consider it a part of their educational experience, others may not be comfortable attending co-ed events, and others may not be ready to date altogether during college, Sobolofsky said.
The YUConnects model is ideal, she continued, because it meets the needs of a broad range of groups within the YU community. “If people want to go out and meet people, we have events to help people meet,” she said. But if students are too busy studying to attend events, or if a young man is busy learning in the beis medrash or a young woman doesn’t feel comfortable putting herself out there, they can be set up through the Website, she said.
Despite all the successes, challenges remain. Among them, said Sobolofsky, is that a stigma is associated with what are considered “singles events.” The other obstacle is the male-female ratio. Of the nearly 900 members in YUConnects, the majority are women.
Sobolofsky notes that such statistics are common among many dating venues because of a hesitation among men to participate. “We’re working on changing that,” she said.
“As the program and the multiple venues demonstrate success, the numbers of participants has been increasing. Success breeds success.”