Wanted nice and normal Jewish man, do they even exist?
My open call to matchmakers to go beyond the stereotypes they created and help me find one
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Dating in your thirties is a nightmare, Jewish dating is worse, and a Jewish woman in her mid-thirties looking for a husband is over the hill. If you have not glanced over and your eyes locked with the man of your dreams or at least your interest and you start dating you are relegated to the world of online dating, matchmakers and friends setting you up. There is an overload of articles on the perils of dating, online dating, less, however, on Jewish dating. Considering the problems with intermarriage especially among the millennial generation and the recent matchmaking, Shidduch Crisis, one would think more has been written about the subject to help navigate through the unique problems marriage minded Jews face. Like every other issue in the Jewish community, it is swept under the rug and glossed over. If there is anything written they are geared to those in their twenties who are in shidduchim or who still can be involved with youth groups, whether at university, the local synagogue or through Israel trips and would find it easier to meet a nice Jew to date and settle down. What happens to those in their thirties, who are increasingly isolated by the community without being married and raising a family? Answer be forced to take anybody or you are a lost cause.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote an article back in 2008, “How to Fix Orthodox Jewish Dating” declaring, “The religious Jewish dating scene is severely broken.” The article might have been written in 2018 because it is still broken. He claims the problem is “in the religious world where dating is so often dependent on third parties making introductions.” I am not as religious but the same can be said of anyone who finds it difficult to meet a potential Jewish partner, one has to rely on “professional matchmakers or friends who set them up,” and the dreaded online dating sites, which Boteach makes one appear “desperate.”
In the past couple of years, there has been a Shidduch Crisis among the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey. Jon Birger brought the issue forward in the TIME Magazine feature in August 2015 entitled “Mormons and Jews “What 2 Religions Say About the Modern Dating Crisis” identified the Shidduch Crisis. The crisis is based on demographics, there are more young women of marriageable age, which is 18–19-years-old and up in the community’s standards than young men, who usually start getting married after they complete Yeshiva at 22–23-years-old. The growth in the community means there are more women, and it has become a man’s market, with them able to pick and choose leaving many women over 30 years-old and unmarried, some will never marry.
Sex writer Karley Sciortino recently wrote an article in Vogue commiserating “Mid 30s and Single: Did I Wait Too Long to Settle Down?” Although peppered with her brand of humor and more overtly sexual than any of the average Jewish matchmaker would ever approve but her view of the difficulties of navigating dating and finding a husband in one’s thirties is spot on. For Jews living in both the religious and secular worlds, their problems of dating in their thirties are doubled. There seem to be three major problems other than singledom itself, the isolation, higher standard and higher stakes, and the opinion men have of women dating in their thirties, and an extra one in the religious world the opinion of the matchmakers.
There is a distinct disadvantage of being single in your thirties; there is more social isolation. Married couples and those with babies and children usually hang out with those in similar situations because they have more in common and often view single people as a threat. That philosophy crosses over into the workplaces as well, where employers promote married people, especially with children because they deem them more trustworthy and stable. The isolation is only heightened in the Jewish community, where everything from synagogue to the community revolves around families, while many programs and activities for singles cater to college age and in the twenties. Automatically there is something wrong if you are not married in your thirties, even worse if you are a woman. Queens College sociology professor Samuel Heilman, spoke with The New Republic about the Orthodox world’s disregard for the individual and reliance on the community in the article “Ultra-Orthodox Jews Panicked Over Shidduch Matchmaking Crisis.” Heilman explained, “It’s all about communal ties. For the men, it’s about shul. For the women, it’s about school, the children, other mothers. If she’s not a mother, she’s nobody.”
While Orthodox journalist Yossi Krausz claims that single women, “Basically, from the perspective of the community, they don’t really exist.” Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman noted in her article, “Jewish Singles are People,” too that “many singles feel isolated from and stigmatized by the Jewish community,” while many receive “second-class treatment by matchmakers.” Jaffe-Hoffman indicates, “Singles in general say they feel ill-judged by their communities simply for not being married.” Women are often blamed for their singledom, accusing that “women are not trying hard enough, not religious enough (or too religious), not pretty enough, are too fat or too picky.” Although not as drastic in the Modern Orthodox world, the Jewish community, in general, relies on the community of married families with children.
The problems with dating are even more glaring in one’s thirties. The “stakes are higher” and one is even more choosy, there is no just no use in dating someone where there is no future. Sciortino commented, “Essentially, we are far more discriminating in our 30s than we were in our 20s, which is both a blessing and a curse. We know more about what we want and what we won’t tolerate — but to a point where almost no one is good enough… Sometimes I think I should’ve picked someone when I was 25 and stupid, and then just made it work.”
Unfortunately, in this modern age, most of the men at least I have encountered and observed want the women to adopt their interests and are not do not care about the women’s, they go on and on about themselves. When you are younger, it is easier to comply and just go with the men’s interests, because you are still exploring what you want. When you are older, you have a mind of your own, a career, hobbies, distinct likes and dislikes, a view of your future, and you want someone who appreciates the same things or at least respects them. I know I do not want to trade my life for a man and lose myself in the process. One man called me a pistol, I know what I want from life it is difficult to just settle.
As for the high stakes, all the Jewish men in the dating sites look at the process in one way, how fast they can see you and move on to the next. There is no such thing as wining, dining, or respect, the cheaper the date the better and considering these men their looks, personality, and temperament, they should be trying to sell themselves. However, they all look at women in their thirties as damaged goods. Sciortino puts it best as she recounts a male friend of her saying, “So the women who are my age-ish, who are still single, are kind of the leftovers. They’re the people who couldn’t get their [act] together, and they’re kind of crazy — believe me, I know, because I’ve dated them all.” One man I encountered was in his early sixties, but because I would not video chat, he thought I was crippled or 300 pounds. He did not believe the obvious, I do not want to put on a stage production complete with set, lights, make and wardrobe for someone I just talked to once, you want to see me meet me, in person.
The men might think the women are the crazies but what about them; they should look in the mirror? Most of the men are subscribed to all the Jewish dating sites for years. If they say, the only good thing to come out of a bad date is bad dating stories I got plenty of them. There are the men only looking for money and a woman to support them, they are in a class by themselves, they are only interested in how much you make, you do not make enough, they are out of here. There are the men that only talk about themselves constantly their interests, their anecdotes, and the world revolves around them. There are the men that view everything as speed dating one look and they just run literally out of the date. There are the men who still think they are schoolboys and want you to do their homework, assignments, and essays. There are those are in love after one meeting and want to marry you, how can they, they do not even know me. There are the controlling and abusive men who want to keep track of your every move or else. There are the men who have fetishes, enough said. Then there are the criminals, who afterward you find their mugshot and that they spent time in county jail.
There are the strange and delusional like the 63-year-old that believed he feels like he is 25 so he will say he is 43. The serial divorced that will have five children and want to start over and look at you as a thoroughbred broodmare at Keeneland’s horse auction, telling you, “you are still in your thirties you can have a couple of children,” they can mess up. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the man who pops out after a couple of weeks that he had a life-threatening illness, one where he could possibly not have children. There are the grieving widowers and divorced men who still love their former wives and consider dating as an interview where they are hiring a nanny to watch their children. The worst is the man who promises to marry you then goes and gives back your engagement ring two days before New Year’s Eve.
If there is anybody on the dating that looks good, good looking, educated, well rounded, they usually are too good to be true as in do not exist. Like high-end parties that hire good-looking people, models to mingle and pretty up a party. One becomes suspect that these great guys, just stay on the dating sites but never move to a relationship are plants to make the dating sites full of the crazy, odd, misfits look more appealing. What is certain the men are not what they seem, they routinely lie about their background, credentials and past relationships, with past marriages in the closet and a whole lot of baggage.
Although Jewish online dating services are geared towards marriage, the men seem to show no actual interest in the women whatsoever. For these men, it is all going through the motions, no finesse or charm not even respecting the women. They never call or email and pick you up for a date when they say, they seem to enjoy letting a woman wait for them and make a fool of them. Some hide behind the religion, as one told me “men and women can’t be in the same room together alone,” oddly he was not very religious. Most want to show they are more religious than they as if it is expected, the Baal Teshuva, is a fixture on the dating sites, and as a moderate, I find their fanaticism a turn off, especially when you find out their very unholy existences beforehand.
Jewish intermarriage rates supposedly are at the heart of Jewish online dating and matchmaking sites, they are sold as the answer to finding a Jewish soul mate, and the statistics are dire. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, the intermarriage rate in the US is 48 percent among all American Jews, 60 percent among non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 25–54, the number inflates to an overwhelming 71 percent not factoring Orthodox Jews, where 98 percent marry within the religion. The intermarriage rate was 43 percent in 1990 and just 17 percent in 1970. The problem is the greatest among millennials where 32 percent say they are “Jews of no religion,” two-thirds of Jews of no religion are not raising their children to be Jewish. As Pew notes, “Jews who have non-Jewish spouses are much less likely than those married to fellow Jews to be raising children as Jewish by religion and much more likely to be raising children as partially Jewish, Jewish but not by religion, or not Jewish at all.”
Assimilation has become more important now than Jewish continuity. The bigger problem is that these intermarriages are not just coming from the children of intermarried couples or those who do not identify as Jewish but a majority who consider themselves religiously Jewish. According to Pew, “Among Jews by religion who are married, 64% have a Jewish spouse and 36% have a non-Jewish spouse. By comparison, just 21% of married Jews of no religion are married to a Jewish spouse, while 79% are married to a non-Jewish spouse.” The number shrinks dramatically “among Jews by religion who got married in 2005 or more recently, 55% are married to a Jewish spouse and 45% are married to a non-Jew.”
The intermarriage problem they should matter more to the matchmakers but unfortunately, the ones I have encountered are only interested in the before and after monetary gift. The matchmakers at the dating sites are either uninterested, just looking out to make sure their customer gets a match regardless if is good or not. Boteach describes the process best, “Very often these introductions are done arbitrarily and almost randomly. You’re a girl, he’s a guy. You have a pulse, he has a pulse. So a mutual friend thinks, ‘Wow, what a great match.” In fact, that is the way the matchmakers seem to work is that way and if you are of a certain age, they expect you to take any man because they think that is all you deserve.
As a woman in her mid-thirties, I can say I was mistreated by the shadchanim, matchmakers more than then by the men, one expects better behavior from the matchmakers. Most of the matchmakers are Orthodox women, even rabbis and they should be concerned about Jewish continuity and be curbing intermarriage hardly. The matchmakers on the dating sites act like the entire Jewish community coming for their help is ultra-Orthodox rather than different levels of observance, and take the issues of the Shidduch Crisis from one region and apply it to other areas, cities, and countries. The matchmakers have the philosophy, “Girls became less desirable, and the boys more desirable, and now a boy can marry anyone.”
Instead, of realizing the problem has to do with demographics and is not within the control of the women, the Jewish community places the blame on the women. The sexism is rampant and they forget we are living in a modern world and someone who is modern Orthodox lives in both worlds. They want the perfect pre-feminism woman, all pretty, and no brains to serve the men and their whims. Rabbi Chananya Weissman argues the women “focus” on “non-Halachic externalities.” Rabbi Weissman wrote, “I would posit that feminism and un-Jewish values have had a devastating effect on the shidduch world… The same women who are supposedly just desperate to get married, who want nothing more than to meet a nice guy who doesn’t drool all over himself, categorically reject the vast majority of men they come across without batting an eyelash — and then say the problem is there aren’t any good guys.”
Author Yitta Halberstam was even more biting in her 2012 article, “Purim And The Tyranny Of Beauty: A Plea to Mothers of Girls in Shidduchim,” where not only did she discuss how the boys are more in demand and have more choices than single girls, she blamed it on the girl’s looks. “Spiritual beauty makes a woman’s eyes glow and casts a luminous sheen over her face; there is no beauty like a pure soul. Makeup, however, goes a long way in both correcting facial flaws and accentuating one’s assets, and if my cursory inspection was indeed accurate (and I apologize if the girls used such natural makeup that I simply couldn’t tell), barely any of these girls seemed to have made a huge effort to deck themselves out.” Halberstam goes on to advise Jewish mothers to pay for plastic surgery for their daughters, writing, “Mothers, this is my plea to you: There is no reason in today’s day and age with the panoply of cosmetic and surgical procedures available, why any girl can’t be transformed into a swan. Borrow the money if you have to; it’s an investment in your daughter’s future, her life.” Halberstam’s article caused an outrage in the Orthodox community with over 600 comments and in the secular world would be deemed absolutely barbaric and misogynistic.
I have been told to change my hair, makeup have photos professionally done because men just look at the picture and have to like what they see, even though there was nothing wrong with my looks. Their demands contradict everything modern women are told they should not do for a man, change their looks or themselves. This age is about being who you are and you should be liked on your merits if not, they are not worth your time. Ironically, the sexist double standard does not apply to the men; men are precious crown jewels to be treated with the utmost care, where it is supposed to the reverse. Repeatedly I have been told by matchmakers to dumb myself down, both my career and education not to offend and intimidate the men all to make myself more marketable.
I realize now, the matchmakers’ criticism’s although sexist were mild compared to being told to have plastic surgery or lose weight. Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt writing in her opinion piece “The Dating Shame: Orthodox Obsession With Externals Has Reached Epidemic Proportions,” writes it is common for young women looking to be married in shidduchim to get “plastic surgery, hair blown out, manicures, expensive dresses, high heels.” While the author remembers the “years of starving, the endless salon sessions, never venturing outside without full makeup, the way my shopping trips grew more and more exorbitant as the dating adventures went on.” Instead, of taking the comments to heart, I told the matchmakers I am against that blatant sexism. For the young women in the ultra-Orthodox community, who are less confident because they are still young and impressionable, the criticism can have disastrous and deadly consequences.
Eating disorders are disproportionately more rampant in the Orthodox community than any other segment of the American population. According to Dr. Ira Sacker, in one community the rate was “one in nineteen girls,” “a rate 50 percent above the national average.” One woman commenting on Halberstam’s article recounted a heartbreaking story of her 26-year-old daughter, who died from anorexia after persistent criticism from matchmakers starting when she was 21. The woman was most concerned about how that philosophy and disparagement would affect other young women. She expressed, “I am just so afraid for all the other impressionable young girls who will read your words and reach the same end. This is not a joke, and it is not funny at all. You could literally be killing people by making these suggestions and perpetuating the ethos that underlies them.” Unfortunately, Birger points out the matchmaking practices “leached from the traditional Orthodox community into the more assimilated Modern Orthodox one.”
My punishment from the matchmakers for having an opinion was that I was permanently removed from all the online matchmaking sites as they all are operated on the same platform because I did not want to go with this one man. Trying to be open-minded and not superficial, I revisited a one man I had not given enough of a chance mostly because he was local, that was the biggest mistake of my recent online dating cycle. We had nothing really in common all he was interested in fundraising for his business venture including from me, talking about himself, and bad mouthing everyone else. He had “an I am right everyone is wrong” attitude, which is completely unattractive to even know never mind to date, especially when he was the one that was wrong so often and considering his anecdotes I was not the only that felt that way.
The more I did not want to go with this man the more his matchmakers, who were personal friends of his, forced him literally down my throat to the point that they were stalking me. I complained and instead of reprimanding the man or his matchmakers, sexism and favoritism towards the man prevailed, and I was the one thrown off because the matchmaking site said, since I am not comfortable I should not be on the site. Therefore, the receptionist at the call center decided my online dating fate by erasing my profiles and locking me out on the entire Jewish matchmaking network. I was a victim being punished just as the #MeToo movement was exploding. No one should be blocked from a Jewish matchmaking for marriage site because he or she did not want to go with someone, it is the most personal decision. In this intermarriage climate, these sites should be doing everything possible to ensure every Jew willing should be able to marry another Jew.
Afterward, I tried private matchmakers but in my area, if you are looking for someone outside the ultra-Orthodox world they are a thing of the past. Most personal matchmakers are in the ultra-Orthodox world where matchmaking is the normal way of getting a partner for marriage. For someone of my religious observance, I am too religious to intermarry and not religious for the ultra-Orthodox community. I tried contacting the limited few in my city. One matchmaker would not respond to me because I did not live in the city’s the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Another wanted $400, she gave a good sales pitch but it sounded like just that nothing more, I would pay the fee through an electronic transfer and it would be gone.
Then I got in contact with the city’s Rabbi Love matchmaker, who matches many modern Orthodox, has a high success rate, and matched someone I went to school with. I was looking for him to be my savior, we talked, I explained what I went through, he told me to send my profile then crickets. I contacted him twice more during his Tu b’Av couples match drive and one other time to be put off and ignored. It is sad that even matchmakers resort to ghosting. Matchmakers and rabbis have an obligation, duty, and moral responsibility to help a Jewish single find a Jewish spouse. This is one venture where the rules of refusing someone should not apply if the matchmaker is a rabbi part of their job is to ensure Jewish continuity especially when they are being asked for help; it is part of the mitzvah, “Every Jew being responsible for one another.”
The stakes are higher and matchmakers cannot afford to play games, everyone they ignore or discourage is another young Jew they might lose to intermarriage. Although they think they and the available Jewish men have the upper hand and Orthodox Jewish women could not think of intermarriage let them remember, “When a woman sees no future for herself in the community the logical step is to leave.” For Jewish singles in their thirties, the chances of intermarriage increase, partially due to the greater difficulties of finding a spouse as one gets older and the social isolation. The way Jewish online dating and matchmaking is set up and the potential dating pool only discourages a Jewish single even more. Online dating even in the Jewish world with a religious mission is still at heart a business about making money. The dating sites try to lure one to pay their subscription only to be disappointed once one is signed up.
The matchmakers seem most interested in the money, although require by halacha to give a matchmaker a gift after a match is made, today’s matchmakers are looking for hefty fees before I encountered $400 to $800, though some could ask $1000, and then the traditional post-match gift. Neither should the prices be so high for what is a religious obligation for matchmakers and rabbis to do a mitzvah. Among the ultra-Orthodox and the modern Orthodox, the practice is expansive dowries from $50,000 to $100,000. It’s not just that world, it’s the same among all Jews, I have seen parents of my peers buy the men, even with homes just to marry their daughters off. Most of the men on the dating sites expect to have the women pay for them, host them, pay for business ventures, or support them financially. Another deficit, if you are not a rich Jewish single your chances of getting help from any matchmaker is virtually non-existent. There is a lot of preaching and concern about intermarriage but when it comes to help, there is none.
Since I have been completely left out of the Jewish matchmaking world, I am going to make a public call looking for a nice and normal Jewish man. I challenge any matchmakers to go beyond their prejudices against single women in their thirties, their unfounded criticism of appearance, and reliance on fees and dowries to help me:
Highly educated, intellectual, artistic, petite, relative good-looking and moderately religious female in her mid-thirties looking for a nice, normal, equally career-minded relative good-looking moderately religious Jewish male. A man, who respects a woman and considers a woman an equal partner. A co-star rather than a supporting actress to his star billing. A man who respects that a woman can be both a feminist and a traditional nurturer A man who has interests, hobbies and is open to a woman’s interests and hobbies, without just imposing his own. A man who loves animals because people open to animals are more loving, considerate and compassionate all good qualities in a potential partner.
A man who stands on his feet and is not looking for a woman to support him just because of his gender. A moderately religious man, who appreciates and observes the Shabbat and the holidays but without fanaticism, who equally lives in the secular world and all it has to offer. A man understands that a woman also wants to observe the religion put live in the secular world in every way, from career, hobbies, to the way she dresses. A man who loves and appreciates Israel and is open to aliyah. A man who wants to compromise and share a view with a woman for the future not imposes it. Otherwise, I am looking for a mensch, unfortunately, it should not be a tall order but somehow it has become that in the Jewish community.
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University both in Montreal, Canada. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education & political journalism. She can be reached at email@example.com