DALLAS (Knight Ridder/Tribune) June 1, 2000-- In March, Sally Mazer decided to move from Dallas to New York, where she thought it would be easier to live as an Orthodox Jew and find a mate who shared her faith. She met her basheret, soulmate in Yiddish, and moved, all right, but to Baltimore. What happened? Jdate.com, a Los Angeles-based online Jewish dating service. As she was making plans to leave Dallas, Mazer got an email from Shmuel Rosensweig of Baltimore, a 41-year-old architect-turned-baker in Baltimore looking for an Orthodox Jewish wife. A brief e-mail conversation ensued, and after their first phone call from midnight to 4:30 a.m. one night they both knew they'd found what they were looking for. "There was such a soul-to-soul connection," says Mazer, 33, who is still overwhelmed by the rapid turn of events. "The whole thing was like a dream. It was really the last thing I expected to happen." At a time when it's estimated that more than half of the world's 13 to 14 million Jews are marrying people of other faiths, Internet dating sites have gained social acceptance among Jews in a way that conventional dating services and personal ads never did. "As the Jewish communities shrink worldwide due to assimilation, we are finding an interest among a large group in finding a Jewish partner," says Simeon Lifschitz, who recently moved to New Jersey from South Africa to start a U.S. branch of YID.com Your Ideal Date. In the short time that the Internet has become a fixture in many offices and homes, several dozen dating sites that cater to Jews have emerged worldwide. And their popularity grows each day, say those who run them. "It's really a revolution in the Jewish dating scene," says Dvorah Alouf, a New York-based matchmaker who took her business online in 1994. Services such as hers Jewish Quality Singles are erasing the geographic boundaries that once isolated Jews, she says. Those who date online, particularly women, are often willing to move far from home even to other countries for the right person. "Most Jews are on the Internet," says Alouf, whose JQS.com has 50,000 members and claims credit for three to four marriages a month. "They are very goal-oriented, and they know what they want." That was the case for Mazer of Dallas, an English-as-a-second-language teacher who now lives in an apartment a few blocks from Rosensweig. Though they're not yet engaged, Mazer said, neither has any doubt about their future together. Robert Moore, a 40-year-old computer database developer in Arlington, Va., knew what he wanted, but he knew the odds were against him before joining Yenta, the 5,000-member Jewish division of Bedford, Texas-based Matchmaker.com. Jews make up roughly 2 percent of the U.S. population and two-tenths of a percent worldwide. "It's like shooting fish in a barrel," Moore says of finding Jewish dates. "What I like is that I can go onto Yenta and I know I'm not going to have to ask someone, `So, are you Jewish?' which is such an obnoxious part of regular life." Online dating may be a new avenue for Jews to meet a kosher counterpart, but it has yet to take the place of in-person introductions, says Shelly Novick, singles and adult program director for the Dallas Jewish Community Center. At least 400 such people are expected to be in Dallas this weekend for the center's fifth annual national Jewish singles convention, which runs through Monday. She said the people she knows who try online dating typically do so if they haven't been successful with Profiles, the Jewish Community Center's bricks-and-mortar dating service.
"If they can get past any kind of stigma . . . then their next step is the Internet," says Novick. "It's a numbers game. The more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet the right one." Most of those who run online Jewish dating sites say the vast majority of members are educated, successful men in their late 30s and women in their early- to mid-30s who don't have time to meet romantic prospects through conventional means. Others, Novick says, are unnerved by traditional singles events or feel as though they've exhausted the Jewish prospects in their immediate communities. Jdate, considered the largest such online site, surprised even its two Israeli creators by gaining more than 110,000 members in the three years since it was created, says Jdate spokeswoman Kathrin Nolan. "I think online dating has become even more accepted in the Jewish community than in the general market," says Nolan. "In some places, it's kind of trendy now." Like their secular counterparts, most Jewish online dating sites require members to complete lengthy questionnaires. But instead of stopping with the typical questions about appearance, personality and life goals, the Jewish sites ask about participants' level of observance (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox); whether the applicant keeps kosher; whether the person is Ashkenazi (of Eastern European descent) or Sephardic (Spanish or Arab descent); and how often they attend synagogue. The answers are usually accessible to fellow members and visitors alike, but only members have access to e-mail addresses. Most sites also allow members to post photos but give the option of hiding them from nonmembers. The cost of joining usually the key to being able to contact others ranges from free to $150 for three months. Jeff Trost, who moved to Dallas four years ago from the East Coast, turned to Jdate last June at a friend's suggestion. He had just gotten out of a seven-year relationship whose demise was due in part to religious differences with a woman who wasn't Jewish, and he resolved to find someone who shared his beliefs. But Trost, chief resident of internal medicine at Parkland Memorial Hospital, quickly found Dallas' Jewish social scene too small and insular for his tastes. "I was sort of attracted to Jdate because it seemed like it was for people outside of that Jewish social circle," says Trost, 29. "The way I thought about it, this seemed like an easy way to arrange a blind date without any strings attached. I figured, if people on this all turn out to be complete and total losers, the loss is that I tried it and I won't do it anymore." Six months later, he met a woman who was also a Jewish transplant toDallas, and the two have been dating ever since. Trost, who has been open about going to a dot.com to date, suffered a fair> amount of ribbing from friends and colleagues. One fellow medical resident used a slide projector to post the photo and profile Trost had used on Jdate in the middle of a medical conference. The joke didn't rattle Trost. "As far as I'm considered, it doesn't matter what other people think," he says. "We used the service, we met each other, and that's all that matters. Sometimes the stars align in funny ways, and for us it was the information superhighway." His 26-year-old girlfriend was less eager to talk about using an online dating service. "It just seems like a really bizarre way to meet someone," says Jennifer, who asked that her last name not be used. "It almost seems like an act of desperation. I think it has to do with people just thinking, `You had to join a dating service?' But it's not like that. It's another way of meeting people." Like Jennifer, almost everyone interviewed for this story had to overcome a certain amount of fear about just who uses the Internet and whether it is a safe way to meet people. Peggy Utay of Dallas has flown to Philadelphia, Charleston, S.C., and, most recently, Anchorage, Alaska, to meet the Jewish men she's made contact with through online dating services but not before running criminal background checks on them first. "I think anyone should give it a shot, but they should just be cautious," says Utay, 54. Though neither she nor anyone else interviewed for this story says they ever felt endangered from their contact with potential dates they've met online, Utay says, "There are a lot of weirdos out there." Online dating, says Alouf, may not ultimately change intermarriage statistics, but it is already providing Jewish singles wider avenues for finding each other.
And, like chicken soup, it couldn't hurt.