QUESTION: I have two grown-up children who would prefer to marry-in. They’ve done their fair share of Friday night dinners and Jewish social events but have yet to find their match. Is it becoming harder to meet a partner and are synagogues doing enough to help people find one ?
Rabbi Brawer: Anecdotal evidence would suggest it is more difficult for girls to find a boy than it is the other way around. On a regular basis, I am asked if I know any eligible young men. There seems to be no shortage of eligible young women. Whether this is new or has always been the case I can’t be sure, but I suspect that finding one’s soulmate has never been easy.
The Midrash relates how a Roman matron once asked Rabbi Jose how God occupies his time (Bereshit Rabbah 68:4). “He is busy pairing couples,” answered the rabbi. “Seriously?” scoffed the matron, “anyone can pair couples, I’ve got a thousand male slaves and a thousand female slaves, I will show you how easy it is to pair them up.”
“It might seem easy to you,” replied the rabbi, “but I can assure you, it is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea.” The matron paired up her slaves, but the following morning she was inundated with complaints from the misaligned and unhappy couples. “You are right”, she confessed to the rabbi. “I had no idea how difficult matchmaking could be.”
If anything has changed, it is that today we are confronted with unprecedented choice. Technology has shrunk our world. At the click of a mouse one can bring up profiles of thousands of potential matches. And while an element of choice is positive, unlimited choice can be paralysing. There is always the possibility that something better waits just around the corner.
There are a number of excellent match-making initiatives in the community. The United Synagogue has for many years run a singles introduction programme called “Strike a Match”. Recently, Daniela Pears and a group of dedicated volunteers launched a cross-communal introduction service called “We Go Together” for individuals between the ages of 30 to 85.
Additionally the ECJS (European Centre for Jewish Students) puts on inter-European retreats, holidays and seminars for students and young professionals.
I don’t think there is a lack of opportunities for singles to meet. And facilitating meetings and introductions is all that anyone apart from the couple can do.
The real challenge is to make a commitment and that lies entirely with the couple. For this to happen there needs to be a basic alignment of values as well as a spark of chemistry. But there also needs to be a recognition there is no such thing as perfection and a successful marriage is a continual work in progress.
Naftali Brawer is chief executive of Spiritual Capital Foundation
Rabbi Romain: It sounds like they have been doing all the right things — going to events and exposing themselves to different social opportunities, so it must be very frustrating for both them and you.
It is true once you are in your late 20s or early 30s, social circles can shrink to the workplace, while friends who become couples tend to mix more with other couples.
In other ways, though, their plight is surprising as there are so many more ways of meeting people than before, particularly online and via apps.
A high percentage of those at whose weddings I officiate met via the internet, and whereas it was once deemed something embarrassing to admit, now it is seen as the best gateway to meeting others, so get them to use it if they have not already done so.
Yes, synagogues can always do more, but do not assume they know and make sure that the rabbi is aware so that he/she can make introductions. Jewish charities also offer a wide range of fun or challenging events specifically geared towards young singles. Dance nights have been superseded by Kilimanjaro hikes.
Still, I do not believe that there is only one person in the world with whom one can find everlasting happiness (though please don’t tell Mrs Romain that) and there are many people with whom one can have a fulfilling marriage.
So, as well as sympathising, I am bound to ask whether they are being too dismissive of those they meet. I raise this also because I am so often told by kind, humorous, intelligent, caring Jewish singles that other Jews they meet are only interested in bank balances and status symbols.
This is patently untrue, as so many kind, humorous, intelligent, caring Jewish singles make the same complaint that they are either missing each other or misjudging everyone.
It is often the reason why many young Jews end up marrying someone non-Jewish. They almost never intend doing so and, like your children, had wanted to marry within the faith, but could not find a suitable person.
It is also why many of them, without the slightest hypocrisy, say they would prefer their own children to marry someone Jewish. They may not have done so themselves, but still have a desire for the Jewish line to continue.
The best advice you can pass on to your children is not to give up.
Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue
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