July 25, 2024
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July 25, 2024
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Choosing Kedusha Over Karaoke: Re-Imagining Singles Events

Chanukah is upon us and that means extra events filled with music, latkes, sufganiyot and more. Since some of these are singles events, I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect and suggest a lesson regarding them that can be learned from Chanukah itself.

But first, I’d like to go into reverse gear. I wrote an article for The Jewish Link this past February regarding the challenges some friends and I faced while planning an event at that time for older singles [“The Crisis Within the Shidduch Crisis” February 17, 2022]. I want to finally extend a very belated thank you to all of you who responded and offered encouragement and help. I also want to publicly apologize for stating that we would follow it quickly with an event for singles of ages 50-plus. As it turned out, we didn’t then and may not now have the additional resources for this in the near future, so I ask anyone interested to please contact me individually and I’ll work on arranging matches or a separate event.

My group seems to be on the way to reaching a winning formula. We tried to get as many donations and sponsorships as possible to keep costs down while charging a nominal fee to maintain participants’ commitment and involvement. We also set a larger age and hashkafa range than most other events to stress that although these factors are very important, they should not be the only focus. Finally, through incorporating tzedaka, making brachot, and hearing divrei Torah, we stressed the importance of seeing the event as not only a gathering for singles, but also as an opportunity for spiritual growth. We hope to plan other events in the coming months.

I would like to offer some additional ideas regarding possible directions for other planners. I stress that I speak solely for myself and that I defer to the leaders in my group for shaping our future events. They were the driving force behind making the previous ones successful and no doubt will also be in the future.

Dating in the frum world is like being in a crowded airport: absolutely no one is where they ultimately want to be. Positioned somewhere between arranged marriages on the one hand and the active bar-hopping nightlife of a big city on the other, frum daters often don’t know how to proceed. Also, there is intense pressure hovering over every date. In every other interaction the questions “Do I want to spend the next 5 minutes with this person?” and “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” are qualitatively very different, but on a shidduch date they get combined and lead to further stress.

Enter the singles event. It offers the promise of both easing the anxiety associated with individual dates as well as increasing the chances of leading to viable matches since there are many singles in attendance. However, if these events are not run well, they can lead to more problems. What worked in the past clearly cannot work now. The observant community today recognizes that there were serious halachic issues with the mixed dances common in the 1960s and 70s. However, it should be noted that since the participants basically had good intentions and society had not yet regarded being family-minded as an insult, Hashem made it work out for good and many couples who met at such events formed wonderful marriages and raised righteous children.

Fast forwarding to our generation, there are many event organizers who are under the assumption that physical contact is the only issue involved. That is, there seems to be the belief that even if a singles event takes on the atmosphere of a comedy club or bar, blessing can still result. On the other side of the spectrum, many events are held with a focus on modesty but fail to really help singles. Socially awkward individuals sit on one side of the hall while singles at the other end talk non-stop, totally oblivious of the comfort level of anyone else. In other words, an event which could have the potential to foster the positive communication skills needed for healthy relationships ends up making dysfunctional tendencies even more amplified. Clearly, we need a change.

Here are some suggestions I have:

1. Focus on small group discussions. The way to maximize an event’s effectiveness is to focus on small group discussions addressing preselected meaningful topics. Ideally, I see this happening through groups of 6 singles (perhaps along with facilitators) which are rearranged every 10-15 minutes. I feel that personal introductions and icebreakers are unhelpful and just waste valuable time that can be spent on more meaningful interactions. After these discussions, participants can exchange contact information if they share a mutual interest in each other.

Small groups minimize the possibility of a conversation dying out, a phenomenon common in first-time one-on-one interactions. In addition, small groups present a more comfortable setting for socially awkward individuals to open up. Also, I want to stress that while it makes sense to create groups based on shared interests, age, and community alignments, this should not preoccupy the efforts of event planners. Many if not most of the great marriages that came about before the universal adoption of shidduch resumes would have been non-starters if these documents were as common then as they are today.

2. Incorporate chesed opportunities. Besides being a very noble gesture associated with any event, chesed opportunities at a singles event can help participants view how others relate to giving, one of the most important components of a healthy marriage. One possibility I thought of would be having groups make get-well cards for hospital-bound children. (I myself would like to relive the long gone days of construction paper, glue sticks, and safety scissors.) I also thought about having all participants contribute to a pooled tzedakah collection before the event and have some structured competition earmarking a single organization to receive the total amount. Chessed at a singles event is a win-win for everyone involved.

3. Have talks focused on married life rather than dating perspectives. I find that singles events often include a talk by a rabbi or motivational speaker who discuss relationships in general terms. While these talks can be inspiring, given that the singles population at these events is marriage-minded, wouldn’t it make more sense to discuss the realities of married life and dating in light of them rather than successful dating perspectives alone? For example, I would like to see a panel discussion involving married couples at various stages of life, featuring newlyweds, parents of young children, and empty-nesters, as well as hear the wisdom of octogenarian couples if our communities are still blessed to have them. Other useful lecture topics could be discussions regarding financial planning for newlyweds, and factors to consider when choosing a community and rabbi. I feel the more thought and discussion that goes into understanding marriage beforehand can minimize potential conflicts down the road.

This is a lesson I see from Hanukkah. It’s not just about marking the “Chanukat Habayit,” the renewal of the Beit HaMikdash and Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel. Many of our Sages also point out the connection between the words “Chanukah” and “Chinuch,” education. That is, the challenge for the Jewish People now in exile is to educate our children properly rather than to achieve the physical military success of the Maccabees. I’d like to suggest a third approach which combines the two. That is, seeing singles events as ways to educate ourselves regarding how we can each build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael.

Let’s try to use new perspectives on singles events to change our communities for the better. Singles events have the potential to not only help singles but also enliven a community to promote healthier marriages. These events can be both modest and energetic as well as informative and engaging (pun intended).

Ari Blinder is a mathematician and educator living in Highland Park. He can be reached at [email protected]

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