In Israel, next Wednesday is Tu b’Av — the Jewish version of Valentine’s Day. The 15th day of Av, according to the Talmud, was when the “daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards” and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride.
This year, thanks to the global pandemic, it has been hard to find a partner. But, some love stories have blossomed in lockdown, thanks to some extraordinary matchmaking efforts made in quarantine.
Stuck in bed with suspected Covid-19 back in March, Shereen Salem came up with the idea of setting up a matchmaking group. Five months later it has almost 9,000 members (including married people looking to help single friends) with some saying they are on the brink of getting engaged.
Salem, who was born in LA and now lives in London, had long wanted to help couples find love but life got in the way. She married in her thirties and then had four children in quick succession. While recovering from the virus, she read Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, which tells the story of two French sisters who resist the occupying Nazis by hiding Jewish children. “I was so moved by the story. It made me ask myself: ‘What have I done to help humanity, to help society, to help people?’” She asked herself how single people were going to meet and find their b’sheret, in Covid-19 times. And so she set up the Facebook group RJ-Shidduch-IM, the R,J,I,M being the initials of her four young children.
“I was married in my thirties, which seemed like an eternity and I didn’t like being lonely,” she says. “I met my husband through an introduction. People facilitated my journey, everything was very serendipitous.”
She believes introductions are the best way to meet people, so her group encourages a friend or family member to promote the single person by posting two photos and a paragraph about them. That doesn’t preclude the single person from promoting him/herself as well, but referrals generally work better than self-promotion.
The group is truly international, showcasing people from all over the world, categorised by geographical location, thanks to the help of the other group admin, Rivka Frimer. Keeping the content original, she introduces regular talks by rabbis, who give their perspective on relationships, bringing spirituality and Judaism together. The comments enable viewers to tag friends. “It’s a seamless mitzvah, just a click away, it’s a real no-brainer.”
Another Facebook matchmaking group set up during the pandemic is CoronaCrush — creating Jewish couples in quarantine. It has nearly 16,000 members, five per cent of whom are based in the UK, with the majority aged 25 to 34. The group runs regular speed-dating events, which generates a lot of interest. Its computer program creates a schedule of typically seven rounds, where people are matched with each other based on age, geography and level of Orthodoxy.
One of the founders, New Yorker Ian Mark, who now lives in Jerusalem, believes the social-distance dating enabled people to focus on less superficial things, because they cannot be physical. He says there are multiple couples who have been dating for a few months, with a few expected to get engaged imminently.
Denise Phillips is the founder of Date on a Plate, a cookery class where singles could meet. Before the pandemic, the events involved six men and women, within a ten-year age span, preparing, cooking and eating a champagne dinner together at her home in Northwood.
However, since Pesach she has used Zoom and break-out rooms, enabling people to connect from afar from the comfort of their own home.
She has three Zoom events planned for August but hopes to return to the original format as soon as it’s legally permitted. Since she started the classes 18 years ago, at least 12 marriages have ensued, including her own as a result of meeting her husband when he attended her event.
“Meeting someone special in one’s life is not an easy task,” says Phillips. But by creating an event around a common passion for food, it makes for a relaxed and fun evening, often leading to unlikely matches.
“I make it clear that I am not a dating agency, but more of an opportunity to meet new people, new friends and hopefully more.”
The pandemic has caused many of us to slow down, become introspective and consider our life goals. For those who said they were too busy to date, they have no excuse now, says Salem. As lockdown has eased, virtual connections have led to real dates, with some fantastic success stories.
“I had given up on meeting someone Jewish. Through your page I met someone…” one woman messaged her.
Another summed it up in just a sentence: “I have been dating for 18 years and it finally happened.”
Facebook: CoronaCrush – creating Jewish couples in quarantine.