Beliefnet
NEW YORK, Dec. 6 (RNS)--Hundreds of single, hip professionals onManhattan'sUpper East Side set aside their skim lattes and turn off their cellphones on Tuesday nights because they are looking for more than sex inthe city. It's not power yoga or a trendy guru who brings them together.Instead, it's a Torah reading by a 64-year-old grandmother.

The grandmother is Esther Jungreis, whose stage style was describedby The New Yorker magazine as "a cross between Dr. Ruth and GracieAllen." She dons the title "Rebbetzin"--meaning wife of a rabbi--andexplains the Torah while practicing old-fashioned matchmaking in herweekly classes at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun.

"To make matches is not a hobby," she said with a faint Hungarianaccent. "It's not just a nice thing to do. Matchmaking is a mitzvah.Mitzvah means it's a commandment, a righteous deed."

In her eyes, Torah study and introductions for singles are equallyimportant efforts to encourage Jews to practice their faith, marry andhave children.

"One of the first things God did was to make a match between Adamand Eve," Jungreis said. "She was the only female on planet Earth, butGod introduced her, because you have to help people connect."

Jungreis (pronounced Yungrice) has been helping people connect toone another and to their faith for more than 40 years. She is aHolocaust survivor and the author of two books. Her late husband was arabbi, as was her father.

In 1973, she founded Hineni (which means "Here I Am" in Hebrew) toencourage Jews to return to their roots. In 1982, the Hineni HeritageCenter opened in Manhattan, offering programs ranging from Hebrewclasses to socials. There is also an office in Jerusalem.

Jungreis, who prefers to identify herself as Jewish rather thanspecifying Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, began offering the Tuesdaynight classes at the Hineni center, but moved them to the synagogue whenattendance grew.

"I have a lot of faith that the person I'm going to marry could besomeone that is going to that class or will go there," said KimCherovsky, a 33-year-old graduate student who attends regularly.

Many share that belief. During the social hour following her talks,the crowd buzzes with conversation, as singles clutch paper cups of DietCoke and mingle. Those who need advice or an introduction line up tospeak with the 5-foot-tall, smartly dressed Jungreis, who jotsimpressions in Hungarian in a spiral notebook.

Others fill out questionnaires about their dating preferences,including education, height and religious practices. They wait for theflash of the digital camera and join 1,100 others in the "Date-a-base"computer matching service. The program was created for Hineni, and twostaff members oversee the matchmaking process.

Those who come to her classes are looking for a firm foundation.They may seek a connection with a lifelong mate, a sense of meaning intheir lives, or both.

"She always talks about altruism, kindness, and decency," said RandyPresent, a 37-year-old CPA. "She says things you just don't hear in theday-to-day world of corporate America."

Jungreis, a self-confessed computer illiterate, relies on intuitionto make matches based on common goals rather than love at first sight.

"The words 'falling in love' tell you the story itself. You fall andeventually you stand up. What do you stand on?" she said. "It'simportant to have chemistry, but it has to be built on something solid."

Jungreis is not surprised that professionals find her messagemeaningful.

"This is a generation that should be so happy with itself," shesaid. "Life is easy, I mean fax machines, and freezers, and everything'sat your fingertips. [But] people are searching for that which isgenuine. There has been a terrible disappointment in the promises madeby our materialistic, hedonistic, goal-oriented society. It has left uswith the taste of ashes in our mouths."

Her alternative is anything but dry. She finds messages in the Torahtailor-made for upwardly mobile singles in 2000.

"It really feels like a workout for the soul," said Cherovsky. Sinceshe began attending three years ago, she has started to keep kosher andobserve the Sabbath. She, like others in the class, credits Jungreiswith strengthening her faith.

"She has an amazing ability to bridge what's in the Torah with lifein the here and now," said Present.

After reading from Genesis, Jungreis told one gathering, "God didnot create the world so you could play tennis and make a lot of money."

In fact, she tells her audience, God wants people to get married,but they have been led people astray by cultural messages, includingfeminism and the sexual revolution. Some find themselves alone,unfulfilled and separated from their family support systems.

"Singles are truly single," Jungreis said. "They don't have anyoneto rely on."

Her classes offer membership in a community that, Present said,feels "almost like an extended family."

For Jungreis, who has four grown children, two of whom are rabbis,making marriages and building families is both an integral part of faithand a positive response to the challenges and tragedies of life. Asimportant as she believes this is, she's not just reaching out tosingles, she's reaching out to souls.

"Everybody has a soul, and the soul yearns to connect with God," shesaid. "Would you imagine that God would throw us into the world withoutan instruction manual? That's the Torah and that's what I'm committedto."

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