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Pairing Up Strict Orthodox Jews : Matchmakers Tackle the Difficult Cases

Times Staff Writer

Tradition says that marriages are made in heaven, but three modern matchmakers don’t mind helping things along a bit.

“We’re three people helping God, because he’s very busy and he needs all the help he can get,” said Shirley Lamm, a rabbi’s wife.

Lamm, along with Anita Wincelberg, a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor, and Estelle Samson, a businesswoman, pursue an ancient pastime in a land of singles bars and swinging health clubs.

Theirs is a specific clientele--the strictly observant Orthodox Jews whose traditional life style makes them a minority within the Jewish community.

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Wincelberg said non-Orthodox Jews have an easier time finding mates than do the Orthodox, who constitute about 7% of the city’s Jewish community of 500,000.

“The Orthodox are more limited,” she said.

Known as “Zivug,” a Hebrew word meaning “life partner,” the free matchmaking service is based in a basement office at Beth Jacob congregation in Beverly Hills.

It deals only with single people who keep kosher and honor the Sabbath in time-honored tradition, such as observing complicated dietary laws and refraining from any work--including driving or riding--from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening.

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Beyond that, applicants need a letter of reference from their rabbi; some clients are rabbis themselves. If they are divorced, they need to show proof of a get, or religious divorce.

These strict guidelines sometimes anger would-be participants who do not qualify, but the Zivug women believe they must weed out those who do not share the basic premises of an Orthodox life style.

Others are referred to dating services run by other Jewish organizations with a wider membership.

“We don’t want to turn anybody off,” Lamm said.

The process begins with a preliminary application asking for information about age, height, occupation, any previous marriages and religious affiliation.

Then comes a three-page questionnaire and a personal interview in which clients talk about themselves and what they would like in a husband or wife.

“Maybe a man will say he wants a blonde or a Bo Derek--it’s a wish list,” Wincelberg said. But the conversation quickly turns serious, as the interviewer tries to identify the client’s social and religious values.

“The basic question is, is this person ready to get married?” Samson said. “This is not for just dating, but for people who are seriously considering getting married.”

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If all goes well, a woman will hear from a man, or sometimes vice versa. The three women of Zivug try to monitor developments closely, asking both parties to call them after the first date to find out how it went.

“We like the feedback, so we can do better next time,” Lamm said. “We’ll do our very best to find a tremendous match.”

Two happy people are Laura Ben Zvi and Leon Curchack, a San Fernando Valley couple who met more than year ago through Zivug and got married in December.

Both had gone out with three or four other people from the service, but had found them incompatible for various reasons.

“I have to commend Mrs. Lamm and the other ladies, because it did turn out that Laura and I have quite similar backgrounds and interests and feelings about religion and Israel,” said Curchack, 32, a packaging engineer.

He said the matchmakers proved invaluable in providing the original introduction, but “once that connection was made, the relationship had to blossom on its own. We didn’t decide to get married the next night. We went through many trials and tribulations, as many serious relations go through.”


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