The Pew Research Center’s “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” has many disturbing findings about the fate of American Jewry and its rate of assimilation. The report is often quoted as stating that the Orthodox will grow at a rate that will overtake the rest of American Jewry due to the larger families that the Orthodox have.
The reason the Orthodox survive and thrive is not that the families are larger, but it is a community that works at making shiduchim (matches) that’s lacking among the other 90 percent of American Jews where finding a Jewish spouse is often hit or miss. Nowadays, 80 percent of Jewish singles intermarry. This is especially true outside of the major Jewish centers, such as here in Arizona where the overwhelming majority of the people that most Jewish singles come in contact with at work and in school – the two most common places where people meet and fall in love – are not Jewish.
Arizonan Jewish singles need a supportive Jewish environment where they can meet other Jewish singles on a regular basis to allow relationships to develop and it needs to be a communitywide effort. When individual synagogues hold singles events, often the usual suspects show up – 10 or 15 people who already know each other from shul. I suggest that Jewish organizations work together to form a program to nurture safe Jewish meeting places for Jewish singles in a Jewish environment.
Meeting in nonkosher Chinese restaurants on Jewish fast days or bar hopping on Friday nights, as some Jewish singles groups have done, does little and probably hurts the building of Jewish identity. There is some progress with younger Jews with Moishe House and ShabbatLuck, but those in their 30s and 40s are almost totally neglected.
I have been running singles programs in the Valley for about a decade and have received some support, but a wider network is needed to offset this threat to the Jewish people. What’s alarming is the resistance from some rabbis and synagogues.
I asked the rabbi of one synagogue if I could place fliers for a singles event in his synagogue and I was told that all of the members of his shul were couples and he claimed that none had any cousins, aunts, uncles, parents or children who were single.
Another rabbi, who has since left the Valley, treated me venomously at the suggestion of hosting an event, and another time I was told I could leave fliers at a synagogue only to find they had been thrown out when I returned a few minutes later. Some places will only publicize their own events.
Matchmaking should not be just one single meeting another single. When I visited my frum sister in Jerusalem, she was on the phone every few days suggesting shiduchim to friends. For the Jewish people to survive, matchmaking must become a communitywide effort. Everybody knows single Jews. Get to know them well and then suggest them to other Jewish singles. There needs to be shift in thinking of the Jewish people as a whole, not just as individuals.
I recently ran into a single mom who lamented her single status and was resigned to being alone for the rest of her life. I had thought that she was happy and content in her single motherhood. Singles have to take responsibility to let others know that they are seeking their beshert (soulmate) and give up the romance-novel fantasies and accept others with all of their faults and warts. Unrealistic fantasies – such as 60-year-old men who will only go out with skinny women under the age of 30 or women who want a tycoon so they won’t ever have to work – have to fall by the wayside.
I knew one fellow who went to many singles events where he’d talk to many of the women. He looked a little funny, but he was a really nice, sweet guy. But no one would have him. When his cancer returned, he refused treatment. He said that he had no one to live for and he passed away a few months later.
All stripes and colors of Jews must learn to work together to stem the tide of assimilation. Otherwise, we are back to the days of the end of the second temple where groups of Jews were fighting each other. This sinat chinam (baseless hatred) destroyed the Jewish people then, and it must stop now if the Jewish people are to survive.
For the sake of full disclosure, yes, I am seeking my beshert. As the second yahrzeit (7 Kislev) of my brother Benjamin approaches, I think of the notebook of his that I found in which he yearned to find a suitable mate. He died alone. I dedicate this article and effort to his memory.
Hershl Weberman is the founder of Chulent West-Not Just for Singles. The next event will be Dec. 9. Contact him at Hershl49@aol.com or 602-710-5007.