May 10, 2024
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May 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

My Journey as a Volunteer Shadchan

When I was 22 and wanting to start dating for marriage, I reached out to several local rebbeim and shadchanim for assistance. I was starting my MBA program during the daytime and attending a couple of weekly shiurim at night. Although I was not learning at the local yeshiva and didn’t consider myself yeshivish, I thought that the local yeshiva rebbeim and shadchanim would still be open to helping me in my search. I was mistaken.

Based on my experiences, it appears to me now, as it did then, that the shidduch system is set up primarily to benefit young yeshivish men. This led me in my journey as a volunteer matchmaker. If I was frustrated with the shidduch system as a 22-year-old, I could only imagine how much more frustrating it is for those who were older. So, I began setting up my male friends with women whom I had previously dated. I knew then that the shidduch system had its faults, but little did I know how much worse the shidduch system was going to get for so many wonderful single men and women.

Over the years, I have been part of several shadchan groups and have set up over 100 pairs on dates, resulting in several marriages. However, it has been increasingly challenging to set people up on dates. I’m finding that men are easily rejecting suggestions based on a photo. I’m also finding that the increase in hashkafa (outlook) segmenting is having a major negative impact on shidduchim. Twenty-five years ago, dating suggestions were described as either yeshivish or Modern Orthodox. Today, there are now many additional sub-segments as well. I know that many singles feel that hashkafa labeling is the issue. In my opinion, the labeling isn’t the issue but rather that many singles are not open to dating someone who doesn’t have the same exact hashkafic beliefs and observance level as they do.

It appears to me that there are many more women who are seeking a “learner earner” man than there are “learner earner” men. In addition, I am finding that there are many more men than women who don’t fit into any neat hashkafic box. They are not yeshivish, or Modern Orthodox, neither are they in-between. These are men who grew up in a yeshivish environment but now have no interest in living a “yeshivish lifestyle.” They have no desire to learn, attend shul during the week, etc. While they do work, they may not have a professional career and didn’t attend a four-year college. I am simply not finding many women who are open to these men.

A few years ago, I founded the Singles Uniting Network (SUN) initiative: I coordinated monthly meetings in several cities, in which single men and women would brainstorm shidduch ideas for each other and their friends. The objective was for singles to think outside of themselves and capitalize on their network to help each other. The initiative produced dozens of dates and a couple of marriages.

The SUN initiative and other singles events I helped organize have allowed me to personally get to know dozens of single men and women. I began observing many trends, one example being that there are simply not enough observant men who fit the qualities that most women are seeking in a spouse. From what I have perceived, there are also many more men than women who have either social challenges, lack a professional career path, or are becoming less observant.

In addition, based on a quantitative analysis on recent study results, I observed that there are many more men than women who choose not to be observant in adulthood. There are also more women than men who become observant as a baalei teshuva or converts. In other words, more women are coming into the frum world while more men are leaving, which may be causing a gender population imbalance.

The observant Jewish community has a supply and demand issue. Adding new dating apps, shadchan groups and singles events will only make a marginal impact. The only way to truly combat the shidduch issues going forward is to address the supply and demand issue head-on. The Jewish community needs to find ways to reduce the number of single men who eventually decide to become non-observant. It also needs to prioritize providing them with the needed social/relationship (and marketable/employable) skills.

As for the supply issue of “marriage material” men, my first question is: Who is looking out for our young adult children once they leave Jewish schooling, especially those who no longer live at home? Who is trying to help keep them afloat religiously? Who are their role models?

I firmly believe that mentorship and education are the keys to bolster men and prepare them for marriage. I have personally observed many men and women who benefited from having someone who was there for them as a mentor. A woman in her 30s recently reached out to thank me. I have never met her in person, nor did I ever set her up on a date. I did, however, make myself available to her for support and guidance when asked. She got engaged last week and expressed to me that my support and cheering her on really made a huge difference.

I recommend that mentorship programs be set up in all communities with singles residing there. These skilled mentors would be tasked with offering dating advice and/or religious guidance. Community shuls should join forces to create a network of mentors. The mentors ought to work together, holding consistent meetings or network via WhatsApp, to support one another and their protégés. They should focus on topics such as dating etiquette, how to develop healthy and respectful relationships, conflict resolution, being receptive to shidduch ideas, and how to communicate what one is looking for (and ensure they know the difference between a need and a want when looking for a life partner). They should also be prepared to discuss topics of emunah (faith) and the value of marriage, inviting singles for Shabbos meals, and trying to help singles feel connected to Judaism and valued by their community.

My recommendation for mentorship programs is to support singles in their 20s and 30s, but I also feel that much needs to occur prior to that, during their Jewish schooling. I have the impression that more and more Jewish schools are emphasizing social emotional learning (SEL) for elementary students. But what about the high school students? Are they being provided the social skills to develop new relationships for when they enter the dating and professional world?

I recommend that SEL learning be incorporated into the daily curriculum for high school students. SEL helps students with relationship skills, self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and making responsible decisions. Examples of SEL activities for students include setting goals on paper, journal writing, reviewing current events, giving each student a mentor, sharing success stories, connecting literature to life experiences, and participating in chesed activities.

For many years, I have watched dozens of wonderful single men and women in their late 20s, 30s and 40s struggling in their pursuit to find their bashert. Some of them eventually did find their bashert. Many of them have not. Without significant change on a national level to directly address the supply and demand issue, I believe the shidduch issues will continue to get worse. It will most likely get worse in the yeshivish community because their “solutions” are all about addressing the “age gap theory” while ignoring some of the qualitative differences causing a supply and demand issue. It will most likely get worse in the Modern Orthodox community because the trend has become for more and more singles to wait to date for marriage until their career is established. And we know that it becomes much more challenging to find a shidduch when singles enter their late 20s and 30s.

We can greatly improve the situation if our Jewish schools, shuls and parents will work together to implement coordinated solutions. My hope is for a large Jewish organization(s) to plan a conference bringing together those who have the power to implement the needed changes. Who will step up to help the current and future singles community? The time is now to enact real change.

David Katzoff is a volunteer matchmaker and advocate for singles. He is a professional research analyst. He can be reached at [email protected].

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