May 17, 2024
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May 17, 2024
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Supporting Singles: Community Initiatives and Traditional Matchmaking

From the perspective of a single. I’ve been writing for The Jewish Link for a few months, and thought it was about time that I introduce myself.

My name is Judy Falk. A lot of people in my community now know me as the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook group, which I created during COVID to help Upper West Side residents connect with one another in both meaningful ways (such as assisting someone who is ill) as well as not-so-meaningful ways (such as borrowing a cup of sugar).

I immediately recognize when people know me solely from my online persona as the Shtetl creator because they call me “Judith,” the name I use both online and professionally, as opposed to “Judy,” the name I am known by most in my personal orbit.

For those who don’t know much about me, here are some facts: I grew up in West Hempstead (during a time when everybody knew your name, but there was no “Cheers”), attended Stern College and then law school, and have had several different legal careers.

I love to do fun things: I’ve run a half-marathon (all five feet of me, in a decent time); I was lucky enough to visit Baha Mar this year (as my first real vacation post-COVID); I’m gearing up to finally take singing lessons (after making my singing debut as Eliza Doolittle in the second grade); and I’m very much looking forward to covering the Nefesh B’Nefesh 2023 summer charter aliyah flight to Israel for this newspaper.

Also, I’m single. I won’t use the expression “older single,” but I guess I just did.

Another expression that I don’t particularly like is the “shidduch crisis.” As a single person, it makes me feel as if I am in crisis, and I’m far from it. I have great family, friends, career, and am involved in my community. I do, however, understand with each and every fiber of my being what is meant by the phrase, and can’t disagree that “Houston, we have a problem.”

What I hope I’ve conveyed through a short introduction of myself is that my life (and the lives of many singles) isn’t defined by not having a partner. I know I speak for many, however, when I say that it can be difficult being single (at any age) in family-oriented communities such as ours. So how can we be more supportive of singles in helping them feel more comfortable, in addition to helping them find their matches?

Here are just a few examples of how you can help.

Create meaningful programming. About 10 years ago, Ohab Zedek member Esther Rimokh came up with the idea of a grassroots networking group for single women, and gathered a small group of friends for a meeting in a pizza place to brainstorm about potential shidduchim. In December 2021, Esther, along with close friend Heather Conn Hendel, had a grander vision for these meetings and together they sought the help of Ohab Zedek to spearhead a more formalized networking group.

Ohab Zedek Rabbi Allen Schwartz fully supported this new initiative, and the shul submitted its “Women in Network” concept to the Orthodox Union’s Women’s Initiative Challenge Grant for Innovative Women’s Programming, 2022. Unsurprisingly, OZ was selected as one of the grant recipients.

As described by the OU, “Women in Network is an initiative to support and connect single women aged 35+. Monthly programming provides a context for Torah learning, chesed, networking and self-care. Each month, participants will be paired to build and strengthen social networks.” Notably, each Women in Network program is highlighted by inspiring motivational speakers who discuss various topics and provide education on how to navigate dating in the modern world.

Make singles feel that they are an integral part of the community. The Jewish Center of the Upper West Side may have a larger singles population than some other shuls, but it makes a conscious effort to make those singles (and, frankly, all of its members) feel at home, particularly with respect to leadership roles. As Rabbi Dr. Yosie Levine stated: “The Jewish Center prides itself on being an institution that models inclusive leadership. Irrespective of age or life stage, the idea is to create opportunities for every member of our community to feel embraced and to feel as though they have a chance to contribute their talents and energies.” I can say that Rabbi Levine’s words don’t ring hollow, as I recently spoke at The Jewish Center’s Summer Chaburah Series.

A similar sentiment was recently shared by Rabbi Benny Berlin, rabbi of BACH Jewish Center in Long Beach, New York, in an article entitled “Embracing the Singles Among Us, A Call to Action for Our Synagogues.” As Rabbi Berlin stated: “While many Jews get married young, more and more are getting married later. This correlates with national trends. Thus, we must adapt our approach and take proactive steps to engage and support these individuals the same way we have programming for women, men, children and seniors.”

Show that you care. Rabbi Shaul Robinson of Lincoln Square Synagogue recently reached out to me to brainstorm ways that his shul and the Upper West Side community can help singles find their matches, whether it’s via events or matchmaking. Hopefully, the brainstorming session will lead to ideas which can create dates. But when people in the position to effectuate change tell you that they hear and see you, it’s a win right there.

Shabbat and Yom Tov meals. I love entertaining friends in my new home on Shabbat and Yomim Tovim. But I’m going to be honest: The trickiest part regarding Shabbat and Yom Tov if you are spending those days on your own is making sure you are eating meals with others, and not at a table for one. If you are able to invite someone for a Shabbat or Yom Tov meal, I can assure you that the invitation is going to be much appreciated! It’s especially important to keep this in mind as we approach the Yom Tov season.

Matchmaking. Whatever has caused the shidduch crisis, wouldn’t it be less of a crisis if every single person reading this article took time out of their day to think of a match they may know for someone else?

Teaneck resident Susie Fenyes has made 28 matches, 25 of which resulted from her being a connector on YUConnects. When people ask Fenyes what her “secret” is, she replies that there is none; rather, her “success is based on putting in time and effort, and not being afraid to try an idea. If for whatever reason you are not comfortable putting an idea into action, ask someone to assist you.” In addition, Fenyes participates in a shidduch group of her shul (Congregation Beth Aaron), another shidduch group of shuls within the area, and of several WhatsApp shidduch groups.

In full disclosure, Fenyes is my second cousin. Perhaps her magic rubbed off on me, as I was blessed to recently make a shidduch for one of my closest friends. She and her husband got married this past January. I can’t count the number of people who have said to me, “Why didn’t I think of that match? It seems so obvious.”

Which leads me to pose this question to all of you: “Which obvious, or not-so-obvious, match can you think of and make happen?”

Judith Falk is the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook group and can be found on Instagram @upperwestsideshtetl. She is a lawyer by day and a former legal reporter. And, she’s single.

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